Is this really such a mystery? It might remain so after reading Politico’s “deep dive” on the slow rate at which women are returning to the workforce after the pandemic. That phenomenon is already well known, with almost two million women having left the workforce entirely, and the fallout has the Biden White House concerned:
Overall, 57.5 percent of women aged 20 and older were participating in the U.S. labor force in June — down from 59.2 percent in February 2020 and a level that, even after months of improvement, is still the lowest in more than 30 years. Economists caution that women’s workforce participation in the U.S. has been stagnant for decades, more or less plateauing around 2000 — a phenomenon experts say shows that even before the pandemic, working women needed more societal supports than were available. But the pandemic still dealt a resounding blow.
The question now, which holds major implications for the economy, is how many of those women will come back.
There’s cause for concern. So far, low-income women and women of color are lagging far behind other groups in how fast they are returning to work and recovering financially. Mothers across the income spectrum have been forced to take on additional child care responsibilities as schools and day cares have closed. And some higher-income women are moving to lower cost of living areas — allowing two-parent families to justify going down to one income — or opting to pause or downshift their careers. Barrick and her husband downsized significantly in their move from Ohio to North Carolina, and the lower mortgage payment is part of the reason she’s been able to stay home.
Data showing so many women on the sidelines has amped up pressure on Congress and the Biden administration to funnel new federal investments into the child care industry and to enact benefits, including paid family leave. Employers, too, are fielding calls to allow for more flexible hours and more remote work — two changes that experts expect would particularly benefit women.
Oddly enough, given the emphasis on shortages of child supervision in the article, reporter Megan Cassella only passingly mentions the biggest shortage — fully functional public schools. And even then, Cassella treats it like an infrastructure issue:
Other policymakers and child care advocates are bullish that because of the spotlight the pandemic put on the country’s lack of so-called caring infrastructure — school and daycare shutdowns made it impossible to ignore — it started a national conversation that could lead to actual policy changes, especially around child care and paid leave.
“The pandemic made a preexisting problem worse, and so it heightened the need for an intervention that was already needed,” said Jocelyn Frye, a former Obama White House official who now works on issues relating to women and families at the Center for American Progress. “To do nothing is not only to have missed the lesson of the pandemic — it is to affirmatively say, ‘We don’t care.’”
Biden has made clear that improving the country’s child care system and family leave policies are priorities for his administration. Susan Rice, who leads Biden’s Domestic Policy Council, joined a coalition meeting of more than 20 child care advocacy organizations in early July to emphasize the importance of including the president’s child care plan in the infrastructure package that’s currently being negotiated, according to a person familiar with the meeting — a sign of the White House’s focus on the issue.
And … that’s it. Cassella doesn’t make a single mention of the teacher unions that refuse to return to work, and thus makes no mention of their alliance with Joe Biden’s own party. That’s a stunning omission, especially given that it’s now literally the only thing that has changed since pre-pandemic female participation in the workforce. There isn’t even a mention of “union,” “teacher,” “classroom,” or “Randi Weingarten” in the entire analysis.
If the White House wants to accelerate the return of women to the workforce, the answer is painfully obvious. They need to push their union allies in education to get back to work. Why didn’t Cassella explore that issue? How “deep” can this dive be without mentioning the concerted effort by teachers unions to keep their shops closed and force at least one parent to stay home with their students? One would think that a proper analysis, even one with a distinct and disclosed point of view, would at least address the union issue that has drawn headlines consistently over the past year for this very concern — getting parents back to their jobs and revving up the economy.
Instead of a deep dive into this issue, this reads more like Politico taking a dive for CAP and the Democratic Party. There may be some good arguments for that infrastructure spending (although probably not convincing given the massive spending conducted over the past year), but parents are already paying for schools that unions refuse to fully reopen. Perhaps we should start there before tossing more money out for “infrastructure.”
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