Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Women — especially women of color — continue to be hit hardest by the economic fallout of COVID-19. The disparate impacts of the crisis threaten to derail decades of employment gains made by women. Millions have been forced to leave the workforce due to caregiving and other responsibilities, and sectors disproportionately employing women suffered the most job losses.
Black women are the core of the nation’s economy, holding the frontline jobs, running small businesses and more often acting as the single heads of households. If mothers of color are elevated through policy — ranging from paid sick leave to targeted stimulus programs — our entire economy will benefit.
Bolstering the U.S. care infrastructure is imperative to the country’s economic recovery. Without investment in children, elders and women’s ability to return to the workforce — while also caring for themselves and their families — women of color and our families will never truly bounce back from this crisis. We need large-scale public investments in the care infrastructure that makes all other work possible — including child care, home and community-based supports, and paid family and medical leave — to ensure that families can care for their loved ones.
We invest in roads, bridges and public transportation because they enable us to go to work, improve quality of life, and make the economy more productive and competitive. This common-sense logic holds true for investment in mamas, women and families as equal priorities. Fortunately, there are several pending legislative priorities where the advocacy of everyday mamas and allies can really make an impact.
The proposed American Jobs Plan recognizes that the backbone of our society is our care network and that public policy should be centered around the people who hold our communities together. Through over $30 billion in investments, the American Jobs and Families Plans are monumental for women, mamas and our families. The proposed legislation would extend expansions of the child care tax credits and the earned income tax credit to fight poverty, ensure children have access to healthy food and combat child hunger by expanding school and summer food benefits. It would also allow formerly incarcerated people convicted of felonies to be eligible for SNAP benefits for their families.
The legislation would also build on the Affordable Care Act to ensure families do not have to choose between buying food and paying for life-saving medication or medical treatment. It would expand access to clean water by eliminating lead piping nationwide and provide access to highspeed broadband for Black, Indigenous and families of color who have traditionally faced barriers to attaining services. It would also empower working women through the PRO Act and help women-owned small businesses and minority business enterprises to access capital and scale.
No president has ever proposed a national, permanent comprehensive paid family and medical leave program — until now, with the announcement of the American Families Plan.
As the pandemic continues to take its toll on working families and entire communities, passing legislation that ensures access to paid leave and paid sick days for all of our essential workers is literally a life-and-death necessity. Yet even today, only 20% of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave from an employer and over 33 million workers, including nearly 70% of low-wage workers, do not have access to a single paid sick day. And because women — especially Black and Latina women — are disproportionately represented in the low-wage and part-time workforce, we’re also the workers who are least likely to have access to paid sick days.
The American Families Plan recognizes child care as necessary infrastructure to get women back to work. This plan makes important investments in our care infrastructure by including universally accessible preschool for three- and four-year-olds using a sliding scale to ensure child care is affordable. Those most hard-pressed to pay will have child care costs completely covered and middle-income families will not pay more than 7% of their income. It also ensures families have access to care of their choice. All of this will prove invaluable in helping women return to the workforce.
However, all of this would be futile if we don’t address the other, less discussed pandemic affecting the health and lives of Black mamas and babies: the Black maternal health crisis. Even before the pandemic, Black women were three to four times more likely than white women to die from childbirth. Black babies are 2.3 times as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday.
With such pronounced effects of ongoing medical racism and overwhelmed health care staff, it is imperative that diversity measures and investments are made in the perinatal workforce. To help address this, Congress’ Black Maternal Health Caucus introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, a bill which “builds on existing legislation to comprehensively address every dimension of the maternal health crisis in America.”
While this act is well developed, our work on Black maternal health is far from finished. We need an all-inclusive approach to protect Black birthing people and babies and reduce the alarming number of preventable deaths. The Black maternal health crisis is in hospitals, but it is also in prisons, workplace policies, housing insecurity and communities. We need equity during labor and delivery, the baby’s first year, mamas’ first year postpartum and in the case of infant mortality. We have the opportunity to increase the probability of life for Black babies and mamas and must take action.
Contact your U.S. Senators and members of Congress to voice your support for the American Jobs Plan, the American Families Plan, the Momnibus Act and national paid leave, and urge them to vote for it in the earliest congressional package. Because when we invest in our care networks, we’re investing in women — especially women of color. And when we invest in mamas and women of color, we’re investing in our future, so we can come back from the pandemic stronger than we were before.
Eboni Taylor is Michigan executive director of Mothering Justice.