The president-elect threw women a lifeline this week when he unveiled a massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal that aims to both address the pandemic and the economic crisis it’s caused.
With the bar set so low by the outgoing Trump administration, the plan is already remarkable simply for existing. President Donald Trump never once articulated a vision on how to address COVID-19 beyond “create a vaccine” and “open up the economy.”
With this plan, President-elect Joe Biden and his advisers clearly recognize that the economy can’t “open” without addressing the economic problems that have arisen as a result of the pandemic — namely, women’s economic needs and the dual burden so many are facing now, and have always faced, as both caregivers and breadwinners.
“Today, too many women are struggling to make ends meet and support their families. This was true before the COVID-19 crisis,” said economist Cecilia Rouse, Biden’s pick to chair the Council of Economic Advisers, on a call with reporters Friday morning about the $1.9 trillion plan. “Women, particularly women of color, have never had a fair shot at getting ahead in this country.”
For so long in the United States, women were left to figure out how to manage both a paying job and the unpaid work at home. There’s no maternity leave for new parents, and a chronically underfunded child care system staffed largely by women who are underpaid.
What’s more, women make up the majority of the lowest wage earners.
That already-fragile and untenable system is now at code red levels during the pandemic: Some 2.2 million women have been forced out of work, many of them mothers who had to care for children in virtual or hybrid school.
Millions of other women, overrepresented in some of the most hard-hit industries, have lost jobs. Women of color have borne the brunt: 154,000 Black women left the workforce in December alone; that same month, all the jobs lost in the economy were held by women, mainly women of color.
The Biden plan includes a raft of policies that will help: up to 14 weeks of paid family and medical leave, as well as increased funding to schools and child care centers so they can reopen (or stay open). There are also child care tax credits for parents (though they won’t actually see those benefits until 2022).
The idea is that parents (mostly mothers) can get their kids back to school so they can get back to work. If that’s not possible, there’s real paid time off — 100% of your pay up to $1,400 a week for 14 weeks ― so you don’t go broke doing the caregiving work that is getting so many families through the crisis.
“This is really throwing a lifeline to caregivers, mostly women, to make it through to the end of the pandemic,” said Michelle McGrain, the director of congressional relations for economic justice at the National Partnership for Women & Families. She was echoing the sentiment of most progressive women’s advocates, who are pleased with the Biden proposal.
“This is really throwing a lifeline to caregivers, mostly women, to make it through to the end of the pandemic.”
There are also two key measures in the Biden plan that, at first glance, wouldn’t seem to fall in the category of “women’s policies.” Biden is calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and get rid of the tipped minimum wage, the reduced hourly wage floor paid to restaurant servers who must then rely on tips to get by.
Because women make up the majority of minimum-wage workers, raising the minimum wage is a way to narrow the pay gap between men and women. Right now, women make about 80 cents for every dollar men earn. And the gap for Black women is far wider.
A recent study found that raising the minimum wage back in 1966 was responsible for shrinking a significant percentage of the Black-white earnings gap, and it is far more effective than any kind of diversity training.
For now, though, this is all a dream, though one that is closer to coming true than at any other moment in recent memory. Advocates and others are hopeful that with a slim majority in Congress, Democrats will be able to get this plan through.
And policies like paid leave do have bipartisan support around the country, polls have shown. So far, even business interests seem on board. Both the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable have put out statements supporting this massive proposal.
It’s also important to remember that these so-called “women’s policies” are really important for everyone, as Rouse said Thursday: “Every issue is a woman’s issue.”
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