Despite the progress our nation has made over the last four months, there remain two million fewer women in the workforce than there were before the pandemic struck – taking a toll on our economy and on millions of families across the country. Thirty years of progress in women’s labor force participation has been eroded; millions of women are still struggling to return to the workforce. And while the pandemic has exacerbated this reality, many of the challenges facing women aren’t new. Historically, women have typically held jobs with lower wages and fewer benefits and protections. Women of color are even more likely to work in jobs that have lower wages and few benefits and protections.
Our economic recovery depends on addressing longstanding discrimination and barriers that have hampered women-including women of color-from fully participating in the labor force. One economist finds the President’s plan, and especially its investments in the care economy, would increase labor force participation by almost a full percentage point-with even greater gains for women-and boost the economy’s real GDP growth by 10 to 15 basis points in the long-term. Increasing women’s labor force participation is also critical to supporting America’s working families, including the over 4 in 10 mothers – disproportionately women of color – who are sole or primary breadwinners for their families, contributing significantly to their families’ total earnings.
When women are better off, we’re all better off. The Build Back Better Agenda rests on our commitment to ensuring every American is given a fair shot to get ahead in this country. It will strengthen our families, our communities, and our nation by making bold and necessary investments in women’s employment and ensure a broad and deep recovery – one on which the success of the entire U.S. economy rests. Our economy cannot reach its full potential when half of the population is forced to leave their jobs, cut back on their hours, or unable to access good jobs. These issues are not simply women’s issues. They are issues that affect all families, our economy’s stability and growth, and our nation’s competitiveness.
Supporting Women’s Caregiving Needs
Too many American women struggle with the high costs of raising children, caring for a sick family member, providing long-term care for people with disabilities or older adults, and addressing the myriad other caregiving challenges. Although professional care is costly for families, caregivers themselves – disproportionately women of color – remain some of the most underpaid workers in the country, often having to rely on public income supports to get by. And, many American women fill the gap in professional caregiving options by providing unpaid care to their loved ones, often causing them to reduce working hours, choose lower-paying jobs, or leave the labor force entirely.
In part due to the lack of family friendly policies, the United States has fallen behind its competitors in the share of women in the labor force. The United States is one of the only countries in the world that does not guarantee paid leave — 95 percent of the lowest wage workers, who tend to be predominately women and workers of color, lack any access to paid family leave. Only 57 percent of children under six years old have parents who report there are good choices for child care where they live. And, high costs and increasing shortages of care for disabled and elderly people leave many to rely on unpaid caregiving – more than one in six adult women are unpaid eldercare providers. One study estimates that women who leave the labor force early to care for elderly parents lose $330,000  in lifetime wages and Social Security benefits.
Research shows investments in the care economy would increase employment, especially for women, reducing the gender employment divide. Not only would this support women’s economic security, it would lead to a more robust and equitable economy. The President’s Build Back Better plan:
- Creates a National Comprehensive Paid Family and Medical Leave Program. The program will ensure workers receive partial wage replacement to take time to bond with a new child; care for a seriously ill loved one; deal with a loved one’s military deployment; find safety from sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence; heal from their own serious illness; or take time to deal with the death of a loved one. This program guarantees twelve weeks of annual paid parental, family, and personal illness/safe leave, and also ensures workers get three days of bereavement leave per year. The program will provide workers up to $4,000 a month, with a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced, rising to 80 percent for the lowest wage workers. In California, one study found that the state’s paid leave law increased new mothers’ likelihood of working a year after the birth of their child by 18 percentage points. In addition recent research shows that in the short term, paid family leave policies are associated with positive health outcomes including better maternal physical health, infant mortality, improved infant attachment and childhood development. Paid family leave encourages men and women to take time off. This is crucial in an economy in which fatherhood increases men’s wages and motherhood decreases women’s (by four percent per child), exacerbating the gender wage gap.
- Guarantees access to high-quality, affordable child care for low- and middle-income families and offers universal free preschool to all three- and four-year old children. President Biden’s Build Back Better plan offers free, high-quality preschool to all three- and four-year old children, fully covers the cost of high-quality child care for young children for the most hard-pressed working families, and ensures that families earning up to 1.5 times their state’s median income will pay no more than 7 percent of their income for all children under age five. This is estimated to increase labor force participation of these parents, and especially women, by up to 20 percent. The President’s plan would also make permanent the dramatic expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) enacted in the American Rescue Plan. With this expanded credit, families can receive up to half of what they spend on child care for children under age 13, up to a total of $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children. In addition to reducing the cost of child care and freeing up money for other spending, child care and preschool programs also increase mothers’ incomes, as mothers continue working and earn more over time.
- Expands Access to Long-Term Care Services under Medicaid. In addition to caring for children, families feel the financial burden of caring for aging relatives and family members with disabilities, and there is a financial strain for people with disabilities living independently to ensure that they are getting care in their homes. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people who need better care are unable to access it, even though they qualify under Medicaid. Aging relatives and people with disabilities deserve high-quality care that meets their unique needs and personal choices. President Biden is calling on Congress to put $400 billion toward expanding access to quality, affordable home- or community-based care. One recent study finds that for every 2.4 to 3 women whose parent receives formal home care through Medicaid, one additional daughter works full-time.
- Boosts compensation of child care and home care workers. About nine in ten care workers are women, and nearly five in ten child care workers are women of color. As of 2020, the median child care worker made $12.24 per hour and the median home health and personal care aide