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Real COVID-19 relief? Use all tools to invest in the 'care economy'

Real COVID-19 relief? Use all tools to invest in the 'care economy'
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As Congress works to cut a deal on COVID-19 relief legislation, there are disturbing reports that lawmakers may ignore the economic needs of millions of Americans struggling to care for children and other loved ones who depend on them. If lawmakers don’t step up to help them now, new data from the 2020 elections suggest they could pay a price at the polls next time.

Let’s face it: Most people reading this are either having a care crisis themselves, or have a close relative or friend experiencing a care crisis. The pandemic has exacerbated America’s longstanding care crisis, especially for women and people of color. During the 2020 recession, women have been leaving the workforce at four times the rate of men. Two out of five mothers are the primary breadwinners for their families, which means that COVID-19 poses a particular challenge for single moms.  

Nearly half of voters in 10 battleground states reported that they had to take time off this year to deal with medical issues facing them or a family member — or couldn’t take time off because they would have lost wages. Around the country, a third say their caregiving demands have increased, and most report a serious problem even finding quality, affordable child care. Any COVID-19 relief measure, in order to provide real relief to Americans, must ensure access to quality, affordable child care and long-term care, as well as paid family leave and paid sick days. 

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That’s why it’s so shocking to hear that Congress may scrap a paid sick leave program that provides a vital lifeline, especially for low-wage workers, and that is proven to help slow the spread of diseases such as COVID-19 in our communities.

For example, in New Hampshire, the Rochester Child Care Center has 65 employees, 25 of whom have used federal leave from the COVID-19 relief programs that soon will expire. This aid kept the staff from getting sick, kept the child care center in business, and kept parents working during an economic crisis. 

Helping family caregivers is not just good policy — it’s good politics. New polling from the 2020 election, commissioned by the Women Effect Action Fund, shows that a rising class of “care economy voters” — including those battered by COVID-19 and facing personal and financial strains — are focused on the need for child care, elder care, family and medical leave, and paid sick days to stay in the workforce and care for loved ones.

Millions of these care economy voters played a decisive role in the 2020 election. They were critical to the coalition that elected Joe BidenJoe BidenKaty Perry and her 'Firework' close out inauguration TV special Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Tom Hanks: After years of 'troubling rancor,' Inauguration Day 'is about witnessing the permanence of our American ideal' MORE president, driving suburban victories that helped him flip key states that Donald TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE won in 2016. Biden championed these issues, and it made a huge difference for him by attracting more voters to the Democratic ticket. His platform for building a more resilient care system was supported by three in four battleground state voters, including large majorities from both parties — and almost six in 10 Trump voters.

The 2020 election showed that Americans now agree — across race, gender, class and party lines — that it’s time for the government to focus as never before on issues that address the health and well-being of all Americans. The nation now has a new “care economy” electorate that has delivered a mandate. 

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The care economy agenda is also smart economics, because it keeps more Americans in the workforce, providing for their families.   

Whatever COVID-19 relief legislation Congress adopts must include care economy support to address the issues families are facing. Only an approach that includes emergency paid family and sick leave, along with full funding of child care and elder care, can be called real relief.  Americans are struggling, and they’ve spoken. Now it’s time for Congress to listen.

Lisa Guide is co-founder of the Women Effect Action Fund and an associate director at Rockefeller Family Fund. She is a former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of the Interior, and worked at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Follow on Twitter @lguide.