As a working woman and a mother with six young children, I’m concerned that President Joe Biden is focusing too much on getting women into the workforce, and too little on supporting women’s personal pursuits.
While it’s true that women’s work was disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s no longer the case. And a report co-authored by the former chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisor’s found that despite school and daycare closures, parents of young children have experienced fewer employment losses.
What’s more important than the status of women’s work is their ability to pursue the choices they desire.
Striking the right balance between work and family (and other personal and professional pursuits) has never been easy. No one formula works across all ages and stages of life, nor across everyone’s unique circumstances and ideals. But Biden’s message is that politicians have figured it out, and if women follow politicians’ prescribed ideals, they’ll have an abundance of taxpayer-funded government programs to support them.
Women’s value is ostensibly measured by their work. Biden’s plan posits that the cost of childcare “make[s] it hard for parents – especially women — to work outside the home and provide for their families,” and that “When a parent drops out of the workforce, reduces hours, or takes a lower-paying job … there are lifetime consequences.”
That one-sided argument is insulting to tens of millions of women who sacrifice wages to spend time caring for their families. It ignores the tremendous personal and societal value of women (or men) caring for children.
Moreover, the claim that government-directed childcare is a high-return investment assumes that politicians and government bureaucrats are superior to families at raising children.
Instead of prescribing ideal roles for women, Biden should recognize women’s contributions and support their choices within and outside the workforce.
Women have made huge strides over recent decades. An increasing number of women are now their own bosses, a growing majority of employers provide paid maternity leave, and the so-called “wage gap” has virtually disappeared after accounting for the different choices men and women make.
Moreover, while the COVID-19 pandemic initially hit women harder than men, that’s no longer the case. Instead, women may be propelled forward by increased flexibility and family-friendly policies. Yet Biden says that women are falling behind, and they need government interventions to help them measure up to men.
Such efforts, like government paid family leave and childcare, have been ineffective at helping women’s incomes and careers. And they’ve been detrimental to children’s and parent’s relationships, mental health, and overall well-being.
Biden’s agenda also attempts to dictate the types of jobs available to women. In an attempt to push more workers into unions, Biden supports eliminating flexible and independent work that helps more women achieve the work and family balance they need and desire.
Instead of new interventions, Biden should help women by removing existing barriers that make it harder for women to pursue the career and family choices that are best for them.