The devastating economic hit taken by working women during the Covid recession (hence the new term: “she-session”) is severe. Female participation in the U.S. workforce has dropped to 57%, the lowest level in 30 years. Over 4 million women have left the labor force, disproportionately represented in the hardest-hit industries: hospitality and leisure, education and health service.
Many of those still working have faced reduced income since women working part-time are more likely to have shorter hours or be on zero-hour contracts. In addition women bear an increased burden of care for children, exacerbated by school closures, and for family members falling ill. Restrictions of movement have resulted in increased incidents of domestic violence and has limited access to reproductive healthcare. Academics estimate women have lost years of progress in the workforce in the last 12 months.
There is good news since the election of President Biden and Vice-President Harris - beyond the vastly increased rate of vaccinations. Democrats have started taking action to reverse these negative trends for women, and Legislators in Congress and policy specialists in the White House have been working on several fronts:
- President Biden nominated six women members to his Cabinet, including Janet Yellen, as the first woman Secretary of the Treasury and Marcia Fudge, the first Black woman Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Academic research has shown women in leadership positions will bring priorities and issues to the discussion that have otherwise been ignored. As Senator Warren said, “If you don't have a seat at the table, you're probably on the menu.” These senior appointments have demonstrated the importance this administration places on the principles of gender diversity and inclusion.
- Through the economic impact payments and expansion of the Child Tax Credit, the American Rescue Act will immediately benefit women and their families. Of major importance for women, the bill includes significant funds to address the crisis in child care facilities around the country. And, as we all know, lack of adequate child care will present a major barrier to women returning to the workforce.
The American Rescue Plan provides about $15 billion which will be released by states’ block grants to support families and providers, while an additional $24 billion will go towards a stabilization fund for child care providers to cover a range of expenses.
- Reliable child care provisions are finally being recognized as the critical part of American infrastructure that they are, freeing women to re-enter the workforce. This major investment also represents a significant step in bringing more equitable and affordable access to child care for families in poverty and communities of color.
- On March 8, 2021, the Biden-Harris administration created a new government entity to advance women’s rights: the White House Gender Policy Council. It will establish a government-wide focus on “…gender equity and equal rights and opportunity for women and girls.” Unlike previous Democratic administrations, this Council will be well-staffed with the two co-chairs reporting directly to the President. Every Cabinet member will participate. And a specific goal is “…Increasing economic security and opportunity by addressing the structural barriers to women’s participation in the labor force…”
- In December, 2020, the House Democratic Women’s Caucus wrote an 8-page letter to President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris listing over 60 areas that executive actions could promote “…a transformative agenda for women and families…” and reverse the damage done by the outgoing administration. It sets a framework for an impressive range of actions to reverse the depredations of the Trump administration’s attack on federal support for a range of gender equity regulations.
Here at Democrats Abroad, the Global Women’s Caucus is thrilled with the many steps Democrats are taking to advance the agenda of women’s economic well-being and reverse the impact of this pandemic. The DA 2020 Platform contains a range of similar economic policy recommendations to advance gender parity, and we look forward to engaging DA members to advance these policies over the coming months with our Democratic colleagues in Washington, DC. For more information on our initiative, visit: https://www.democratsabroad.org/wc_the_state_of_american_women_project