For 400+ years, we’ve been playing by their rules. (You know—the ones cisgender white men made.) Not any more. Women are the majority of voters in this country and together we have the power. It’s time for a new set of rules that values all of us—our bodies, our lives and our work. The Majority Rules project—an artful essay and op-ed series from Ms. and Supermajority Education Fund—marks an essential step toward achieving gender equality.
Majority Rule 4: Our families are supported.
(video narrated by Stephanie Beatriz; op-ed by Amanda Brown Lierman)
Caregivers are the backbone of our economy, and the majority are women. Let’s be real: Without these caregivers, our country would not function. Like our physical infrastructure (think: roads, bridges, green energy), our care infrastructure needs permanent investment to ensure our families and communities can truly thrive.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced our nation to look critically at how our societal infrastructure, or lack thereof, has failed women in our roles as both workers and caregivers. As one sociologist put it: “Other countries have social safety nets. The U.S. has women.” U.S. workers lose $22.5 billion in wages each year due to a lack of paid family and medical leave. This disproportionately affects women, particularly women of color and women with low incomes.
The Center for American Progress found that 13.1 percent of Black parents say they have quit their jobs, changed their jobs, or not taken employment due to the hardships of finding childcare. Only 7.2 percent of white parents reported these same hardships.
Out of 195 countries in the world, 120 of them provide paid family leave and health benefits by law. But here in the United States, only 23 percent of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave, and it isn’t enshrined in law. This lack of support has compounding effects, not just for individuals and families, but for our economy, for the strength and resilience of our social fabric, and for our futures.
So what can we do? I’ve recently been inspired by a group of childcare workers in New Mexico, organized by the state’s predominantly Latina workforce. They achieved a constitutional amendment that will push lawmakers to tap into a surplus state fund to pour millions of dollars directly into its early childhood education system.
“It took a decade of advocacy by childcare workers steeped in the hard reality of low wages and underfunded classrooms, and a campaign that energized these workers—nearly all women, and predominantly Latinas—to take their pleas directly to the doors of voters across the state,” The 19th’s Mel Leonor Barclay wrote. But they won: Childcare providers will soon be paid more money per child by the state, more families will be eligible to receive free childcare, and workers will earn an hourly wage of at least $15 per hour.
Eighty-four percent of voters in the United States—an overwhelming majority—support a national paid family and medical leave policy that covers all working people to care for a new child; a seriously ill, injured or disabled loved one; or their own health issue. And yet, year after year, lawmakers diminish and deprioritize caregiving and leave policies.
The powerful women from New Mexico give me hope. Because when women and caregivers come together, we can make giant leaps forward to strengthen the care economy this year.
In Minnesota, a state analysis found that “two-thirds of Minnesota mothers took some unpaid leave after giving birth. And among those, low-income mothers were more likely to take exclusively unpaid leave.” But according to the White House, Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic are making paid family leave a top priority this session.
Every day, women face impossible and unfair choices between family and work. The people we love, including our chosen families and extended families, need care, or will one day need care. When our families are supported, society benefits from women’s talent, labor and skills—and we should settle for absolutely nothing less.
I know I’m not alone in sometimes feeling isolated and invisible when the demands of family care and work feel like too much to handle.Stephanie Beatriz
Explore The Majority Rules series, a collaboration between Ms. and Supermajority:
- Our lives are safe. (feat. Mariska Hargitay and Alicia Garza)
- Our bodies are respected. (feat. Cecile Richards)
- Our work is valued. (feat. Reshma Saujani and Ai-jen Poo)
- Our families are supported. (feat. Stephanie Beatriz and Amanda Brown Lierman)
- Our government represents us. (feat. Alicia Garza and Katherine Grainger)