This Mother's Day, let's support working women. Affordable child care and early learning programs are a start.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all — remarkably clearly — societal shortcomings. Parts and pieces of our daily lives that we accepted without comment were revealed as the obstacles and challenges they are.
Many have talked about the health disparities between different racial and ethnic groups, for example. Others have pointed to health insurance status. But in honor of Mother’s Day, today, we would like to highlight the role played by women in our economy.
Unless we’re able to address the issues highlighted by the pandemic, we’re likely to see more than half of our population excluded in some way from the workplace.
Here’s the deal: Women in our society shoulder the responsibility of caregiving. So when schools transitioned to remote learning, it was often mom who then guided children through that process. If a child care center closed, it was mom who had to either take care of the kids during the day or find alternative arrangements.
This isn’t wholly about children, either. If older relatives are ailing, it’s often women who take care of them. And if nursing homes are closed or unsafe, these same women can be forced to sacrifice work or career ambitions.
What’s more, women in families often look after the health of others. So if a virus is circulating — as it has over the past year — they will be the ones keeping track and asking others to be safe. They themselves may act out of an abundance of caution, understanding how important their roles are to keeping family life rolling.
Employers are seeing the consequences of all this. Restaurants are struggling to hire, and businesses large and small are reporting difficulty in finding folks to fill jobs.
So what’s to be done? The government has a clear role. It’s critical that early learning programs be fully supported and funded. Available and affordable child care would go a long way for many families looking to return to work. Likewise, the government should ensure that K-12 schools have all the resources they need to open safely.
More broadly, government and residents at all levels should focus on ending the pandemic. That means getting vaccinated and continuing to practice commonsense safety measures. An economy hamstrung by a still-circulating virus can’t return to full strength.
And finally, employers should take a hard look at their wage and benefit packages. We’ve all had moments this past year of judging the value of our work and home lives, of how we earn money and our responsibilities to family. If jobs need to be filled, including ones in restaurants or warehouses, they need to be worth our while.
Perhaps that would be the nicest Mother’s Day present of all.