What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency: On Work and Family

What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency: On Work and Family; child care; paid leave; medical leave
Then-Vice President Joe Biden reads Dr. Jill Biden’s new children’s book “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops” to a group of children on June 9, 2012. (USO / Dennis Brack)

Editor’s note: President-Elect Biden’s platform for women promises to be the most ambitious presidential agenda yet addressing issues that affect women and girls in the U.S. and around the globe. This piece is the third of a multi-part series covering the agenda, in areas including: health careeconomic securitywork and familyviolence and security and the Equal Rights Amendment, among others.

New installations of the series will be released on Wednesdays. Get caught up here.

President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to pursue an “aggressive and comprehensive plan to further women’s economic and physical security and ensure that women can fully exercise their civil rights.”

After four years of the Trump administration aggressively dismantling the federal government’s civil rights infrastructure and rolling back women’s rights, Biden has his work cut out for him.

Biden has provided details for how he will accomplish this pledge in an ambitious platform for women’s rights focused in five areas: health care, economic security, work and family, violence against women, and global women’s rights.

The work and family prong of Biden’s agenda for women includes high-quality, affordable child care for all families; free universal kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds; support for increased access to after-school, weekend and summer programs; programs to care for older Americans and people with disabilities; paid family and medical leave; and flexible, fair work schedules.

Invest in Child Care

In 1971, Congress passed a bill to establish a national system of affordable, comprehensive child care for families across the United States, but Nixon vetoed the bill. As women entered the workforce in greater numbers in the latter half of the twentieth century, the government and employers continued to operate under the assumption that workers had wives at home to take care of the kids as well as elderly parents and disabled family members. Schools across the country continued to operate under the same assumption, ending early in the day and recessing for the summer.

Federal and state governments have provided only spotty programs to address the vast need for high-quality, low-cost care. The resulting burdens have fallen disproportionately on women, particularly mothers, who still do most unpaid household labor and child care.

A recent study found that a woman in her twenties who leaves the workforce for five years to care for her young children earns nearly 20 percent less over her lifetime. The lack of comprehensive, affordable child care has contributed to the gendered wage gap and increased stress on women. And child care is expensive, costing roughly double the price of a year’s tuition to an in-state public university and costing up to 37 percent of a single parent’s household income.

As a whole, men have failed to step up and do an equal share of unpaid caregiving labor, and society has refused to create the infrastructure and programs to address the care crisis. Meanwhile, women who do care work in the market are undervalued and underpaid.

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the care crisis. With child care centers and schools closed, women have once again stepped up to do the unpaid labor of caring for society’s most vulnerable members. And the economic impact is stark.

According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, roughly 865,000 women had dropped out of the labor force in September alone compared with 216,000 men. Many women are quitting paid work to take care of their kids. The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to a child care sector already unable to support all families, and 4.5 million child care slots could be lost permanently. Women will feel the impact for decades.

What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency: On Work and Family; child care; paid leave; medical leave
Biden’s platform for women’s rights pledges free, high-quality, universal pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds. Pictured: Children at Thunder Hill Elementary School in Columbia, Md. in December 2012. (Howard County Library System / Flickr)

Biden’s platform for women’s rights pledges to make “substantial investments in the infrastructure of care” in our country, including:

  • Free, high-quality, universal pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds funded by greater investment, increased tax credits, sliding-scale subsidies, and an expanded Head Start program;
  • A tax cut for low-income and middle-class families for the cost of child care of up to $8,000 for one child or $16,000 for two or more children, available to families making less than $125,000 a year, partial credits for families making more, and the option to receive an advance for cash-strapped families;
  • Access to affordable, high-quality child care on a sliding scale, based on what families can afford, as proposed in the Child Care for Working Families Act introduced by Senator Murray and Congressman Bobby Scott. For children under the age of 5, no family earning below 1.5 times the median income in their state will pay more than 7 percent of their income for child care. The bill also provides funds for tribes to expand access to quality child care for Native children;
  • Establish high-quality child care standards, including small class sizes, a well-trained and well-compensated child care workforce, and an additional 1.5 million early education jobs;
  • Expand access to child care for working parents, including in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, and in rural communities and other child care deserts through bonus payments to providers who operate during nontraditional hours and a Child Care Growth and Innovation fund that will provide grants to programs serving families with high barriers to care;
  • Invest in child care and other wraparound services for parents at community colleges, so parents don’t have to choose between their own education and their children’s;
  • Build safe, energy-efficient, developmentally appropriate child care facilities, including in workplaces;
  • Ensure all families are able to choose high-quality child care that works for them, whether a child care center, home-based care with a family child care provider, or an informal arrangement with a friend, family member, or neighbor; and
  • Ensure families with school-aged children have expanded access to after-school, weekend, and summer care by providing a refundable tax credit and expanding Child Care Development Block Grant subsidies, including for community schools, after-school programs, community centers, and extracurriculars.

The U.S. lags behind most other countries in the world in its failure to provide a comprehensive national program of support for child care. Biden’s platform will bring the U.S. up to speed in providing high-quality, affordable child care to all families.

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

Expand Care for Elderly and Disabled People

Approximately 800,000 people are on the waitlists for home and community care under Medicaid. The average wait time is two and a half years, and some have to wait up to five years to get the services they need.

In the meantime, women often fill the gap in care by providing these services unpaid, often requiring that they reduce their paid work hours or leave the workforce entirely. This has devastating short-term and long-term impacts on their earnings and their ability to financially provide for their families.

Biden’s platform pledges innovative solutions to help families provide dignified care for elders and loved ones with disabilities, including:

  • Eliminate the current waitlist for home and community services under Medicaid and increase Medicaid funding to pay the full cost of care;
  • Establish long-term care services for the elderly and people with disabilities and create an innovation fund to help expand home- and community-based alternatives to institutional care such as day programs and respite services that enable unpaid caregivers to work, alternative home and community models that coordinate or directly provide care, and a Medicaid buy-in model;
  • Allocate $450 billion to give more people the choice to receive care at home or in supportive community situations;
  • Support informal caregivers—family members or loved ones who do this work unpaid, including a $5,000 tax credit for informal caregivers, Social Security credits for people who care for their loved ones, and professional and peer support for caregivers of wounded, injured, or ill active duty service members and veterans;
  • Support the CAPABLE (Community Aging in Place-Advancing Better Living for Elders) Program that provides home repairs and modifications to help create safer, more functional home environments for older adults; and
  • Improve caregiving and health outcomes in our nation’s most underserved communities by adding 150,000 community health workers.
What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency: On Work and Family; child care; paid leave; medical leave
Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Hiatt Middle School in Des Moines on Feb. 2, 2020. (Wikimedia Commons)

For all home care workers and early educators, Biden pledges to increase pay and benefits, ensure stronger legal protections and the choice to join a union and collectively bargain, and develop training and career ladders for these workers.

Guarantee Comprehensive Paid Leave and Fair and Flexible Schedules

Less than one in six American workers has access to paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a sick family member. The U.S. lags behind most other countries in its lack of paid family leave. Out of 193 countries in the United Nations, only a few do not have a national paid parental leave law: New Guinea, Suriname, a few South Pacific island nations—and the United States.

Biden pledges to ensure all workers have guaranteed access to up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, can earn seven days of paid sick leave (although a better policy would provide ten days of paid sick leave, or two weeks, which is the standard in business), and have fair and flexible schedules so they can more easily manage their families and careers. To achieve this, he promises to:

  • Create a national paid family and medical leave program for all workers paid for by taxing the super wealthy. Biden supports the FAMILY Act, providing all workers at least two-thirds of their paycheck up to $4,000 so they can better afford to take leave;
  • Guarantee paid leave for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, to give them time and space to seek physical or mental care or counsel, find new housing, or take other steps to recover;
  • Require employers to provide all workers up to seven days of paid sick, family, and safe leave (for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking the ability to use their sick leave as “safe days” to get the services and assistance they may need to heal). Biden supports Senator Murray and Congresswoman DeLauro’s Healthy Families Act;
  • Support workers’ ability to have fair and flexible schedules, including fair, predictable schedules and “fair workweek laws to give workers more stable and predictable schedules, treat part-time workers with dignity, and provide workers with options for more flexibility”; and
  • Ensure that informal caregivers — family members or loved ones who do this work unpaid — are supported with a $5,000 tax credit for informal caregivers, Social Security credits for people who care for their loved ones, and professional and peer support for caregivers of wounded, injured, or ill active duty service members and veterans.

Biden’s ambitious platform for women’s rights will go a long way toward enhancing women’s ability to balance work and family by increasing access to affordable child care, elder care and care for people with disabilities, and by providing paid leave and other important workplace benefits and protections.

While many of these policies require congressional action—which is why winning the two Georgia Senate seats is critical—some of the policies Biden can implement within the executive branch without Congressional approval.

Get caught up on the entire Biden women’s agenda series:

You may also like:


Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.