COVID-19 has done a number on the economy, and working women have borne more than their fair share of the economic losses for two principal reasons. First, the industries that employ more women (e.g. hospitality, retail, healthcare) were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Second, the closure of childcare centers and schools en masse has meant that mothers, who tend to provide the majority of childcare, have felt more pressure to leave the workforce to take care of the kids.
Women have left the workforce in huge numbers. Between February and August, mothers of children 12 years old and younger lost 2.2 million jobs compared to the 870,000 jobs lost by fathers. A report from the Dallas Federal Reserve made it clear that it’s even worse for women of color, as 6.4 percent of Black mothers have left the workforce compared to 2.4 of white mothers.
In the pre-pandemic months of 2020, American women actually held more jobs than men, something that had happened only once before in American history. By December, women lost 156,000 jobs while men gained 16,000. In 2020, men lost one million fewer jobs than women did. The pandemic crushed decades of slow work at wage and labor equality in a matter of months, and it could take decades for them to recover.
In light of this situation, a coalition of 50 female CEOs, actors, and activists are calling on Joe Biden to do something about this problem, one that existed before the pandemic and was torn open by it. The group, led by former political candidate and Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani, placed a full-page ad in the New York Times on Tuesday and published op-eds in The Hill and The Independent. (Disclosure: My wife is a former Girls Who Code employee, and I met Saujani once.)
What Is The Marshall Plan for Moms?
The ad, an open letter to President Joe Biden, calls on him to “establish a task force” to create such a plan in the first 100 days of his administration. Right now, some demands are vague, and others are asking Biden to prioritize many of his clear campaign promises that have yet to be passed in his short tenure as president. The most specific ask is to provide means-tested, short-term monthly payments of $2,400 to mothers. The others are “long overdue policies like paid family leave, affordable childcare and pay equity.”
There is reason to believe that Biden will act on at least some of these issues. His Build Back Better platform includes 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, and he’s also promised “to make child care more affordable and accessible for working families.” Early moves in the Biden administration to gather more pay data from companies are widely seen as a precursor to action to shrink the pay gap.
Without many specific policy asks, it’s difficult to know what the effect of the Marshall Plan for Moms would be if it were implemented. We do know that monthly payments to stay at home parents would change the financial calculus of what it means to raise children. And it doesn’t seem politically outlandish. After all, the conversion of the child tax credit to a $300 or $350 refundable monthly payment is currently being discussed by senior Democrats in both houses of Congress.
Are there concerns with the Marshall Plan?
For progressive advocates of a basic income for parents, the language in the letter that asks for the payment to be means-tested could be a non-starter. On the other hand, for moderates, the $2,400 could seem like too much money. Regardless, it’s a good thing if this initiative starts a conversation about motherhood as labor — especially when that labor is unpaid and has forced millions of women out of the workplace in the past ten months.
The other good news for parents is that the Marshall Plan is one of many proposals that would put more money in parents’ pockets. There’s the Romney-Bennet plan to pay parents, the proposed American Child Benefit of $374 a month, and universal basic income, which is being piloted in cities around the country.
And even if the monthly payments begin as a short-term program, it’s entirely possible that they prove so popular that it’s easy to make them permanent. Conservatives railed against Social Security when it was proposed, after all, but now it’s seen as the “third rail” of American politics. And the Democrats negotiating the aforementioned changes to the child tax credit plan to pass it as a short-term program in the hopes that it’s popular enough to extend.
Either way, moms (and, it should be noted, dads) everywhere need help. By putting public pressure on the President, it’s possible that the people behind the Marshall Plan for Moms will be part of the solution.