‘Men have done much better,’ Biden’s Commerce Secretary says as the share of women in the workforce hits a 30-year low

Gina raimondo
Commerce Sec. Gina Raimondo. Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Fortune/Time In
  • The lack of caregiving has forced women out of the labor force during the pandemic.
  • Commerce Sec. Gina Raimondo told Fortune that caregiving needs to be a part of infrastructure.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris has called women’s exodus from the workforce a “national emergency.”

Jobs are once again being added to the labor market and the economy is showing signs of recovery from the pandemic. But this recovery is not equal, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan represents an opportunity to change that.

“You cannot have a strong workforce, a strong economy, and a strong democracy if women aren’t included,” Raimondo told Fortune in an interview.

Raimondo is referring to the toll the pandemic has taken on women in particular, which Vice President Kamala Harris called “a national emergency” in an opinion piece she wrote in February. The latest monthly jobs data found that over 1.6 million women are still missing from the workforce, putting their labor participation rate 11 percentage points lower than men, and at its lowest levels since 1989. A major reason for this is the lack of caregiving opportunities that are keeping women from returning to work, which is why “men have done much better” in the economic recovery, Raimondo said.

Despite a labor shortage, 97% of women who rejoined the workforce are still unemployed

Insider reported in the beginning of July that even as more women are rejoining the labor force, the vast majority of them – 97%, that is – are still unemployed, compared to just the 12% of men who rejoined. And August research from the Census Bureau found that, among those not working, 32.1% of women ages 25 to 44 weren’t working because of childcare, while The New York Times reported that potentially 1.5 million mothers had left the labor force between the onset of the pandemic and September 2020.

That’s why a major part of Biden’s American Families Plan included investments in care-economy measures, like $225 billion for affordable childcare and $225 billion for a national paid family and medical leave program.

“Businesses need to support these investments in the care economy, in the same way that they would support investments in anything else-roads, bridges, airports, Amtrak,” Raimondo said. “Women need to be able to go to work and reliably hold down a job without worrying if their kids are being cared for-or spending half their income on childcare.”

Raimondo’s call is the latest from a growing number of Democratic lawmakers who want to ensure care-economy measures are not left behind in the final draft of Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Although Biden reached an agreement with a bipartisan group of senators on the American Jobs Plan, it left a number of measures out, like caregiving for the elderly, and some Democrats have said they will not support this bipartisan agreement unless a reconciliation bill consisting of care-economy measures is passed alongside it.

“Now is the time to make critical investments in our care economy and care infrastructure, so we can increase women’s participation in the labor force and have vibrant economic growth,” Raimondo said. “We cannot wait. It has to happen now.”