In the United States, women have been among the hardest hit economically by the COVID-19 pandemic, pushed out of the workforce by the double whammy of a child care crisis and the pandemic recession.
President Joe Biden’s roughly $ 2 trillion tax and spending bill, which could be voted on in the United States House of Representatives this week, seeks to address some of the main challenges that have pushed the participation rate of women to levels not seen in decades.
The bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, has already undergone changes and will be further revised as it moves through Congress. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a key vote on the bill, and other moderate Democrats have exploded its cost and have already signaled potential cuts, including paid family leave.
But if some of the pillars of the bill were to be crossed, it would represent a huge change for the economic reality of women. Here are the four proposals that would have the most impact:
1. Federal paid parental leave
The latest version of Biden’s bill would offer four weeks of paid leave to all new parents, which is down from the 12 weeks initially offered, but still historic for the United States – one of the few countries to offer no paid maternity leave. .
Currently, only 23 percent of workers nationwide have access to paid family leave through their employers or city and state programs. Instead, millions of parents, most often women, take unpaid time off or tinker with vacations; many drop out of the workforce altogether, losing valuable years of earning potential.
Any length of paid leave will help keep more of them in employment. Researchers at Rutgers University have found that those who take paid time off, regardless of how long, are more likely to work one year after the birth of a child than those who don’t. Meanwhile, women who only took one year of leave had annual incomes 39% lower than those who did not.
A US Department of Labor report found that if the US offered similar policies to countries like Canada and Germany, which both support new parents for many months, it could add more than 5 million. women in the workforce. This would translate into over $ 500 billion in additional economic activity each year.
âThis is an economic policy that would guarantee and consolidate the economic status of women and help the country’s economy by creating a more inclusive workforce,â said Vicki Shabo, senior member of the New Think Tank. America.
Those in low-paying jobs without benefits like Medicare could benefit the most. A 2011 analysis of a paid vacation program in California, which at the time offered six weeks of leave accounting for up to 55% of employees’ weekly earnings, showed these workers were more satisfied with the length of their vacation. and were more likely to return to the same employer after participating.
Under the current proposal, workers earning $ 290 per week would receive 90% of their salary. Those making $ 1,192 per week would get 90% of the first $ 290 they earn and a percentage, on a sliding scale, of the rest of their pay up to $ 62,000.
The proposal covers part-time and concert workers, as well as employees of small businesses and the self-employed.
Yet, if adopted, the United States would be far behind what other countries offer. Four weeks after giving birth, people still report bleeding, incontinence and difficulty walking. Research suggests six months of parental leave is the ‘right place’ – long enough for babies to reap the health benefits of breastfeeding and for parents to be available to take them to doctor’s appointments. , but not long enough to prevent women from advancing to work.
Lack of access to affordable and quality child care has been one of the main reasons women left their jobs en masse during the pandemic.
A few months after the start of the COVID-19 crisis, household surveys conducted by the US Census Bureau showed that young women were almost three times more likely than men not to be working because of childcare requests. ‘children. And even with the opening of schools, women still have not returned to work.
The problem for women is twofold: childcare services are expensive and workers, mostly women, earn low wages. In 2017, child care could cost as much as $ 24,000 a year in some places in the United States, more than tuition at a public university. Workers, many of whom have some form of higher education, earn less than many fast-food restaurant workers.
Biden’s proposal caps child care costs at no more than 7% of a family’s income for most households. Those who earn very little would pay nothing. It would also offer free preschool for all three and four year olds. If passed, states should ensure that caregivers earn a salary equivalent to that of primary school teachers with similar credentials. The details would largely be left to the discretion of states.
Study after study shows that having childcare services allows women to continue working. âWomen are more likely to reduce their hours or leave work for care, which interrupts their career progression,â Shabo said. âImproving access to quality childcare allows parents to participate fully in the labor market.
In an analysis of 13,000 households, married women with children under 12 were up to 10% more likely to work if they lived 40 kilometers from their mother or stepmother, as they could rely on them to help them take care of their kids.
Expanding access to affordable, high-quality child care would increase the number of women with young children working full time by about 17%, according to an April report from the National Women’s Law Center. and women’s lifetime earnings of about $ 94,000.
As part of the plan, $ 1.2 billion would be set aside for initiatives that support older Americans, such as home and community care services and nutrition programs. An additional $ 150 billion would be set aside to expand access to home care for the elderly and disabled.
Women provide a disproportionate amount of care to older and sick family members. In a 2019 AARP survey of around 1,400 unpaid caregivers, the majority of whom were women, 15% said they had to reduce their working hours. Another 14 percent said they had to take time off work.
Like new parents, those caring for elderly parents or family members with medical needs would also receive four weeks of paid leave. The AARP survey found that caregivers who had access to family leave, even unpaid, were more likely to continue working than those who did not. Lack of family or care leave cost women ages 18 to 64 an estimated $ 1.4 billion in lost wages between 2009 and 2018, according to the Center for American Progress.
4. Extended Child Tax Credit
Rebuild Better proposes to expand the existing child tax credit, which puts up to $ 300 in families’ bank accounts until 2022. The benefit is essentially an advance on the tax refund that families earn. less than $ 150,000 a year, would typically get each year.
âThis helps families pay their monthly bills compared to a traditional flat-rate tax refund that comes once a year,â said Dylan Bellisle, postdoctoral researcher at Project for Middle Class Renewal.
Early data from the US Census Bureau shows parents used the money to pay off debts and medical bills; fewer households reported not having enough to eat after the arrival of the first checks this summer. Experts say the benefit is expected to lift more than 4 million children out of poverty. The current proposal has no work requirement, but Senator Manchin has said he wants to add one. Studies are mixed on the impact this would have on labor market participation and employment.
Similar pilot programs in places like Chicago have shown that recurring tax payments – rather than a one-time refund – help reduce financial stress and even symptoms of depression. For single-parent families, many of whom are headed by women, the increased cash flow can help them fill the gaps in issues that would prevent them from working, such as finding daycare or solving transportation issues, experts say.