More than 5.4 million women lost jobs during the pandemic compared to 4.4 million men. The pandemic was hardest on women working in low-paying, in-person jobs in the service industries, particularly child care, hospitality, customer service, waitressing, retail sales, housekeeping, and personal care providers. Women of color make up a high percentage of these professions. However, school schedules and a shortage of child care options keep many women from returning to work.
Nationwide, school openings are unpredictable. Some are opening at partial capacity, others are opening for limited hours and on specific days, and some schools remain closed. My 8 yr. old grandson attends school Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 8:20 am to 11:50 am. The balance of his day is a virtual school with his mother, who is fortunate to be working virtually, managing his time, and answering his questions. What happens to the mom who must be “present at work” on the 7 am to 3 pm shift? If her children are not safely cared for, work is not an option for her.
The child care industry collapsed during the pandemic, and it’s projected that 40% of child care programs will permanently close as a direct result of the pandemic. So, where is the recognition that a viable economy needs available child care at a reasonable price? Jessica Calarco, Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University, put it this way, “Other countries have social safety nets. The US has women.”
When the schools open fully, children under six need child care, and school-age children need after-school care. The average cost of full-time daycare in the US is $10,000 a year. At minimum wage, this is 33% of one person’s income. Paying one-third of your income for child care on a minimum wage job is unaffordable even if you can find a child care slot.
One more penalty for women and families is eliminating the federal portion of their unemployment benefits of $300/week. This reduction in benefits will impact twenty million people in mid-June. The most frequent justification for this change is that laid-off workers receive more money in benefits than they received when they were employed. Hmm, the average unemployment benefit (including the federal portion) is $650/week or $33,800/year. Whose benefits are too high? Women struggling financially after a full year of a life-threatening pandemic? Women and families without stable school schedules or daycare? These states are eliminating almost half of the weekly unemployment benefit: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Unemployed workers, half of whom are working women, in these states will lose $11 billion in federal benefits.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women held 50.04% of American jobs in December 2019 (excluding farm workers and self-employed). Thus, the time is now for child care benefits to be part of the economy’s infrastructure, joining health insurance, sick, and vacation benefits.
The Biden Administration has taken the first step by recognizing the current child care failure resulting from the pandemic and proposed the American Rescue Plan that passed Congress in March 2021. There’s $40 billion in the legislation for the “acute, immediate child care crisis.” The economic recovery needs an investment in child care and a consensus that child care is part of the infrastructure of a thriving economy. More investment in child care for women and families allows women to return to work. Let’s refocus the discussion from suggesting that “people are lazy and don’t want to work” to “how can we provide needed child care support to get women back to work.”
The $300 weekly supplement from federal funding is scheduled to expire in September 2021. So let’s call this reduction in unemployment benefits in mid-June what it is, just another Republican maneuver to obstruct the Biden administration no matter what the costs are at the expense of the American women who can least afford it.