When It Comes to Family Policies, the Public Doesn’t Want to Pick and Choose

For decades, we have endured the cultural zeitgeist about women “having it all” without anything material to back it up. This is the moment for Congress to actually deliver on that promise.

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This year, as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on schools, daycares and nursing homes, women’s workforce participation hit a 33-year low. (Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels)

Held hostage by Senator Joe Manchin’s demands, Democrats continue to scramble this week, searching for items to scale back or cut in order to reduce the cost of the Build Back Better Act.

The latest shuffle comes on the heels of Manchin’s reported demand that progressives “pick one” of Biden’s three family policies included in the bill: extending the child tax credit; childcare; or paid family and medical leave.

Although this initial position may have softened a bit, his personal reservations continue to hamper passage of the most important and consequential pro-family agenda in generations. On Friday, Manchin said in a statement he would not vote for a “reckless expansion of government programs.” But most Americans don’t see investments in critical family policies as reckless—and they don’t want to choose between them.

The new national Family Story poll conducted by GQR found overwhelming support for all of the family policies included in the Build Back Better Act, including childcare subsidies (80 percent), universal pre-K (80 percent), paid family and medical leave (81 percent), extending the child tax credit (70 percent) and more.

And it’s not just women or parents, who stand to benefit most directly, who are fans. Parents and non-parents alike demonstrate high levels of support across the board for all the child care and family support policies proposed as part of the budget reconciliation bill. Some perspective on these numbers? In a deeply polarized country, these policies are more popular than hamburgers (73 percent). 


There is overwhelming support for the family policies included in Build Back Better: childcare subsidies (80 percent), universal pre-K (80 percent), paid family and medical leave (81 percent), extending the child tax credit (70 percent). In a deeply polarized country, these policies are more popular than hamburgers (73 percent). 


Manchin’s demands to reduce the scope of the bill from $3.5 to $1.5 trillion seems increasingly arbitrary, driven largely by a desire to be less generous and more targeted. But the public doesn’t agree. When asked about childcare specifically, 63 percent of survey respondents said that the federal government is currently investing too little, including a majority of Republicans. When presented with a forced choice exercise presenting arguments for and against greater investment in childcare, 60 percent of survey respondents said the pro-childcare investment argument better represented their view.

The American public, it turns out, is less concerned about the price tag or increased government control or about childcare catering to affluent families with two working parents than they are about all families having real, affordable options. Similarly, even after being presented with an argument that the child tax credit is too expensive, a majority (64 percent) still support extending it, including 70 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of independents, and 57 percent of Republicans.

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Rep. Lauren Underwood and President Joe Biden hosted a town hall on the American Families Plan at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Ill. (Instagram)

Paid family and medical leave, initially a cornerstone of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, suddenly seems vulnerable to being scaled back or eliminated altogether, despite widespread popularity, and the fact that the U.S. remains one of only two countries in the world that does not provide any paid leave for new parents.

Reducing the paid leave provision to four weeks—as some reports say the administration is now considering—would leave the U.S. far below the average (20 weeks) provided by 41 comparable wealthy, industrialized countries and with a fraction of the 52 weeks of leave provided to parents in Japan and Norway.

“It is non-negotiable that a meaningful paid leave program be in this package,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, director of Paid Leave for All.


Paid family and medical leave, initially a cornerstone of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, seems vulnerable to being scaled back or eliminated altogether, despite widespread popularity, and the fact that the U.S. remains one of only two countries in the world that does not provide any paid leave for new parents.


After an economic crisis in which women lost 2.9 million jobs, a recovery that is benefitting Black women the least and a pending infrastructure bill that delivers 90 percent of its new jobs to men, women are understandably wary of being told to negotiate down our demands, and to compromise on things that can materially improve our lives.

But at a moment in which advocates who work across the range of families’ policies are being asked to embrace a scarcity mindset—a warning that could have resorted to infighting in an effort to keep advocates’ favored policies on the table—the opposite is happening.

Behind the scenes, leaders working on paid leave, childcare, pre-k and the child tax credit extension are coming together in key moments to support each other and demand that no family policy gets left behind. There is an intimate understanding that this is not a buffet; these policies work in concert with each other and are mutually reinforcing. This show of solidarity is moving, and moreover, it is powerful.

For decades, we have endured the cultural zeitgeist about women “having it all” without anything material to back it up. This is the moment when the policy arena has a chance to actually deliver on that promise for us and our families. Senator Manchin should not be asking  us to fight over scraps.

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About and

Nicole Sussner Rodgers is the founder and executive director at Family Story, a nonprofit organization that works to address and dismantle family privilege in America.
Julie Kohler is a Family Story Advisory Board member, the president of BMK Consulting, and the host of the Wonder Media Network podcast, "White Picket Fence."