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 made $13.02 an hour. On average, child care workers make 23 percent below workers who do not work in child care. The President’s plan would ensure child care and preschool teachers are paid at least $15 an hour and comparable to kindergarten teachers if they have similar credentials. The President’s plan to expand HCBS under Medicaid will support well-paying caregiving jobs that include benefits and the ability to collectively bargain. Investment in higher labor standards for care workers improve these jobs and supporting the economic security of women who fill them, help close the gender pay gap, and attract more workers to the care industry.
- Addresses Maternal and Infant Health Disparities. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to tackling health disparities that are rooted in bias and systemic racism. America’s maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the developed world, and they are especially high among Black women and Native American women— regardless of their income or education levels. The Build Back Better proposal would make health insurance for women who buy it on their own more affordable by making the American Rescue Plan’s premium reductions permanent, saving women $600 a year. It also includes a $3 billion investment to improve maternal and infant health outcomes. Growing and diversifying the perinatal workforce, improving data collection to better understand the causes of maternal death and complications from birth, and investing in community-based organizations are priorities of this Administration.
Strengthening Family Economic Security
When households do not have enough income, they are forced to make impossible trade-offs between paying for rent, education, healthcare, and food. These choices have consequences and limit the investments made in oneself and one’s children. The Build Back Better agenda makes significant investments to increase household stability and economic security.
- Supports the construction or rehabilitation of over 1 million affordable rental housing units in building and small towns across the country. Before the pandemic, HUD estimated that nearly 5 million female-headed households that didn’t receive federal housing assistance paid more than half their income in rent or lived in severely inadequate units. The Build Back Better plan would bolster funding for successful housing subsidy programs to produce and preserve housing that is affordable for very- and extremely-low income renters.
- Addresses longstanding public housing capital needs. Nearly two million people across the country live in public housing. Approximately 75 percent of households living in public housing units are headed by women, and 33 percent of all households are headed by women with children. Nearly half of the nearly 1 million units of public housing are over 50 years old and many contain lead paint, mold, and other health hazards. The President’s plan calls for a transformative investment of $40 billion to rehabilitate and preserve public housing, addressing residents’ critical health and safety concerns. This is not just a safety issue but a racial justice issue, as approximately three in four public housing residents are people of color.
- Extends the Expanded Monthly Child Tax Credit. The Build Back Better proposal would extend the Child Tax Credit (CTC) expansion first enacted in the American Rescue Plan – increasing the credit from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child six-years-old and above, and from $2000 to $3,600 per child for children under six. This means a monthly payment of $300 per month per child under 6 and $250 a month for each child six and older. Parents can use this tax credit on everything from diapers, to putting more food on the table, to paying the rent or mortgage. An estimated 66 million children (90 percent) and their parents will benefit from this tax credit expansion including 9 million Black children and 18 million Latino children.
- Supports nutrition security. Nutrition insecurity has a negative and lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and can put children at higher risk for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. However, provide adequate nutrition can be an incredible financial burden for parents. The Build Back Better plan will expand free meals to an additional 9.3 million children during the school year. Additionally, the plan will invest more than $25 billion so that the families of all 29 million children eligible for free and reduced-price school meals will receive a $75 per child per month benefit to purchase nutritious foods during the summer.
Expanding Education, Training, and Job Opportunities for Women
The Build Back Better agenda will ensure that the economy is built on a foundation of equity, by strengthening the education and workforce pipeline for more women to obtain high-quality in-demand jobs. These workforce development investments are based on evidence-based approaches to supporting workers, including women and people of color. Some of these approaches include wraparound services –such as child care and transportation – income supports, counseling, and case management, paired with high-quality training and effective partnerships between educational institutions, unions, and employers. These investments will ensure jobs have fair and equal pay, safe and healthy workplaces, and that workplaces are free from racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination and harassment. They will also help more women enroll in college, reduce their need to rely on student debt, and ensure they have the supports they need to complete their training program, certificate or degree.
The President’s Build Back Better plan:
- Protects the health, safety and rights of working women. This includes jobs with fair and equal pay, safe and healthy workplaces, and workplaces free from racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination and harassment. In addition to a $10 billion investment in enforcement as part of the plan’s workforce proposals, the President is calling for increased penalties when employers violate workplace safety and health rules. President Biden is also calling on Congress to ensure all workers have a free and fair choice to join a union by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. Unions benefit women’s wages; in 2020, the median weekly earning of full-time workers 16+ was $1,067 for women who are members of unions, $1,057 for women who are represented by unions, and $862 for non-union women. His plan also ensures domestic workers receive the legal benefits and protections they deserve and tackles gender pay inequities.
- Invests in gender equitable workforce development programs and creates new career pathways for women. As more Americans rejoin the workforce or seek out new opportunities in a changing economy, we must ensure workers have ready access to the skills they will need to succeed, and improve racial and gender equity. This includes registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships, creating one to two million new registered apprenticeships slots, and making these opportunities accessible to underserved populations, including women and people of color, through successful pre-apprenticeship programs, such as Women in Apprenticeship and Non-Traditional Occupations grants that help to expand pathways for women to enter and lead in all industries. It also includes sector-based training programs that provide millions of workers, including women and people of color, with in-demand training that leads to high-quality jobs in high-growth and critical industries and sectors including information technology, clean energy, public health, home care and child care, manufacturing and infrastructure. The President’s plan also creates a new subsidized jobs program that will invest in the creation of hundreds of thousands of subsidized employment opportunities for workers adversely affected by the economic crisis, especially public assistance recipients, long-term unemployed individuals and the underemployed. These investments also include the creation of career pathway programs in middle and high schools, prioritizing increased access to computer science and high-quality career and technical programs that connect underrepresented students to STEM and in-demand sectors through partnerships with both institutions of higher education and employers.
- Increases the affordability of, access to, and student success in education beyond high school. Women constitute more than half of all college students. At the same time, a number of women in higher education are raising children while pursuing a certificate or degree, often at community colleges. More than 20 percent of all college students are parents; of those, over 70 percent are mothers and 43 percent are single mothers. Only 8 percent of single mothers who entered college between 2013 and 2017 earned a degree or certificate within six years, compared to 49 percent of women students who were not parents. Additionally, women are more likely to face financial barriers while in college. They are about seven percentage points more likely to take out federal loans than men, and have more federal student loan debt on average. Increased financial support for college can boost completion rates. Increased financial support for college can boost completion rates. The President’s $109 billion plan will ensure that first-time students and workers wanting to reskill can enroll in a community college to earn a degree or credential for free. The President is calling for a $39 billion investment in tuition subsidies to increase affordability at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions. The plan also increases the maximum Pell Grant award by approximately $1,500 and allows DREAMers to access Pell Grants. This will support the 43 percent of women in college who rely on Pell to afford their higher education goals. Finally, the President is proposing a bold $62 billion grant program to invest in completion and retention activities at colleges and universities that serve high numbers of low-income students, particularly community colleges, which can be used for student support services that include child care.
- Advances equity in research and development and science, technology, engineering, and math. Discrimination leads to less innovation: one study found that innovation in the United States would quadruple if women, people of color, and children from low-income families invented at the same rate as other groups. Persistent inequities in access to R&D dollars and to careers in innovation industries prevents the U.S. economy from reaching its full potential. The President’s plan includes $10 billion in new grants to HBCUs and MSIs, in addition to, funding for research infrastructure (ex. labs) and funding for equity in STEM education.
- Helps small businesses, including women-owned businesses and minority business enterprises, access capital and scale through over $30 billion in investments. President Biden is calling on Congress to invest in federal programs that empower small firms to participate in federal research and other research and development initiatives that have the potential for commercialization. His plan will also support new grantmaking through the Minority Business Development Agency that will help small businesses owned by people of color access private capital. And, it will enable small businesses to drive the economic recovery by investing in the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) loan program and Small Business Investment Company program.
- Invests in teachers. For too long, we have underinvested in our teachers, 76% of whom are women. From teachers in training to veteran teachers, the President’s plan invests $9 billion in teachers, addressing teacher shortages, recruiting more teachers of color, improving teacher preparation and supporting teachers. The plan would invest in innovative and effective teacher training programs like residencies, that provide future teachers with a year of experience before they take charge of a classroom, double the annual scholarship for future teachers from $4,000 to $8,000 per year, and help schools leverage their expert teachers as mentors supporting new and struggling teachers, or as leaders in other areas, and compensate them for this work. All of these policies will disproportionately benefit women.
 The study, which uses data from 2008, finds a loss of approximately $274,044 in 2008 dollars. This number is adjusted for inflation.