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Weathering the storm of motherhood requires a care infrastructure

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Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Ice storms. Natural disasters destroy what hasn’t been reinforced, and show us who and what we’ve prioritized.

So do pandemics.  

Imagine this: A natural disaster strikes and 32 percent of our infrastructure collapses around us.  Thirty-two percent of roads and bridges fall and electric lines collapse, stopping commerce and putting families at risk. That would be a clear sign that the pressures on each of these systems was already at a breaking point long before any storm clouds formed. 

Motherhood in America was at this breaking point before the pandemic. 

Then COVID-19 struck: A full 32 percent of women ages 25 to 44 were pushed out of jobs simply because they didn’t have access to child care. Black, indigenous and women and moms of color experienced the most devastating economic and health harms. To put this in perspective, women were half of our paid labor force at the start of the pandemic but now job rates for women have plummeted to 1988 levels, with women losing 1 million more jobs than men and women of color disproportionately experiencing job losses. These were much-needed jobs. Women in the U.S. are key breadwinners in the majority of families. 

We have foundational work to do. Just like people need roads and bridges to get to work and electric lines to keep our economy going, we need a care infrastructure so parents and family caregivers can work, children can thrive and care workers are paid living wages. 

But right now our care infrastructure isn’t just broken. It’s non-existent.  

Our country has completely failed to do what most other industrialized nations take for granted: Build a care infrastructure. Our care infrastructure must include universal child care, paid leave for all, access to home- and community-based services for people with disabilities and the aging, living wages, a permanent child tax credit (CTC), health care for everyone, a path to citizenship for all essential and care workers, Dreamers and temporary protected status (TPS) holders, investing in communities and believing them when we hear punishment and policing doesn’t makes them safer and, importantly, a fair tax code to help pay for these infrastructure investments. All are highly supported by Republican and Democrat voters alike

Now, on this Mother’s Day, we as a nation stand at a decision point. 

We can pretend that when the pandemic is over, when we are all vaccinated, that this raging maternal crisis will be over. And we can pretend that we can just keep stacking up more and more on the daily to-do lists of the moms our nation professes to worship on Mother’s Day but on no other days. Or we can act now for this generation — and for future generations — to finally build the care infrastructure our nation, our economy, our businesses and the people doing the extremely essential paid and unpaid work of caring need. 

There’s hope that we’ll take the leap. Quite a lot of hope, actually. More and more people are running the numbers and finding that when we short moms and caregivers, we all come up short. There’s a rising reckoning that the extreme wage and hiring discrimination that moms face — and that moms of color face in compounded ways due to structural racism — not only hurts our families but also depresses our consumer-fueled economy since women and moms make the majority of purchasing decisions. 

In fact, President Joe Biden centered the importance of building care infrastructure in his national address to Congress as he urged immediate action to advance the American Families and Jobs Plans. And Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell recently raised the importance of building a care infrastructure to maintain international competitiveness and boost our economy. Powell testified in February, “Our peers, our competitors, advanced economy democracies, have a more built-up function for child care, and they wind up having substantially higher labor force participation for women.” 

There’s a good reason for this focused attention. Studies show that building a care infrastructure would create millions of new jobs for the women hit hardest by this crisis, ignite hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity and allow millions more women who have been pushed out of much-needed jobs to return. Building a care infrastructure not only enables parents and caregivers to work, it saves tax dollars (studies show high return on care infrastructure investments including big savings to families) and these investments also create good care economy jobs. 

The cost of inaction is high: Moms being pushed out of the labor force is amounting to an estimated $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity. 

Seismic shifts happened in our nation during the pandemic, unmasking failures but also opportunities to do better. It’s been made clear that unless we rapidly build a care infrastructure, the aftershocks of the pandemic will hurt us all for decades. It’s also clear that hope is on the horizon. The unveiling of the American Families and Jobs Plans show us the opportunities, not just as lip service, but with specifics like 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, no one spending more than 7 percent of their income on child care, a $15 per hour minimum wage, extending the CTC that are set to lift 50 percent of children out of poverty, immigration reform, tax reform so our tax system works for us and not against us, and so much more.  

We can make the decision as a nation to come through the storm the pandemic unleashed on us better than we went into it by building the care infrastructure that not just moms, but every one of us needs. 

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is the executive director of MomsRising, the online and on-the-ground organization of more than one million mothers and their families, and author of “Keep Marching: How Every Woman Can Take Action and Change Our World.

Tags American Families Plan American Rescue Plan Caregivers Coronavirus COVID-19 female workforce Joe Biden Motherhood Pandemic women caregivers working moms

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