On Wednesday, April 21, 2021, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing entitled ‘In Their Own Words: Paid Leave, Child Care, And An Economy That Failed Women.’ The hearing showcased stories of struggles experienced by working moms before and during the pandemic.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) began the hearing with an opening statement. Chairman Neal noted the failure to recognize essential caregiving obligations in the U.S., which has driven millions of women out of the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic; notably, the majority of these are women of color. Chairman Neal also highlighted the difficulty in finding child care before the pandemic, but now, estimates suggest over 4 million spots could now be permanently gone. Neal accurately pointed out that the United States is the only industrialized nation with no paid maternity leave. Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) noted the detrimental effects the pandemic has had on the economy and working mothers leaving the workforce to care for their children. Congressman Brady reported that before the pandemic, “women and their families were some of the biggest beneficiaries of strong economic growth in tax cuts” and that “[t]he unemployment rate for working mothers hit a 66-year-low at 3.5%.”
Nevertheless, before the pandemic, working mothers were still struggling. The pandemic has peeled back the curtain on paid leave and child care, exposing a system that has not been working for mothers; further, it has also highlighted the unsatisfactory and substandard treatment of child care workers.
Molly Moon Neitzel, a business owner and mother, highlighted paid leave, specifically the racial and gender equity aspect. She mentioned the racial wealth gap, which “means employees and business owners of color have less of a financial cushion for taking time off, but they also have more limited access to paid leave.” And, in terms of child care workers during COVID, “higher rates of COVID-related illnesses, death, and business closures [show that] the need for paid leave is higher than ever in Black and brown communities.” In her home state of Washington, she celebrated the recent Paid Family & Medical Leave Program that has eased some of her burdens to pay her employees herself and benefitted her employees as well. Mother Bethany Santos Fauteux described how she left her child care occupation because the food service industry would pay her more. As a previous child care worker, she described the treatment child care workers receive: “To be treated as if you’re disposable was truly heartbreaking. I think care work is so undervalued because it’s historically a woman’s job — child care workers earn poverty wages in 40 states.”
It is clear that “America’s child care system is largely failing all involved,” Mother Joy Spencer declared. She struggles to pay her bills because ⅓ of her monthly income goes to childcare. Reporting from The Bipartisan Policy Center, Linda K. Smith discussed the following points:
- Child Care is unaffordable.67% of parents said the maximum weekly amount they can afford to pay is less than $200 per child ($10,400 per year)—considerably less than the cost of high-quality care in many states.
- Child care is inaccessible.
- Accessing and affording child care impacts the ability to work.More than two-thirds of parents said child care impacts their ability to stay in the workforce (68%) or work more hours (66%).
CWLA has been a longtime supporter of Family and Medical Leave. In 1989 Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) spoke to the CWLA Annual Conference in support of his leave legislation.