Pro-Worker, Pro-Family Policies Are Pro-Women
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it’s worth examining the significant role women continue to play in America’s workforce today. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a sharp decline of women in the workforce. By April 2020, the female unemployment rate peaked at 16.1 percent, while the unemployment rate for men was 13.6 percent. Fortunately, as the most recent employment numbers show, the number of prime-aged women (those between 25-54 years old) has increased since pandemic lows. While that is encouraging, the number of prime-age women now working remains roughly 500,000 below the pre-pandemic level of February 2020.
While women in the workforce have increased from the 25 percent participation rate in 1940, in the midst of today’s severe labor shortages, policymakers should consider more ways to facilitate opportunities for even more women to enter the workforce of today. Now that most businesses and schools have opened and the effects the shutdowns brought on working women have mostly ended, it is time to continue embracing the positive changes in workplace flexibility and pro-family policies for the future. Instead of proposing deeper government intervention in the economy, which would create additional hurdles, policymakers need to remove existing barriers and enable women to pursue the family and career choices that are best for them. So, what policies would help us get there?
Recent history from the Trump Administration offers a few sound policy recommendations that increased the number of prime-aged women we saw enter the workforce. For example, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 created the first-ever paid family leave employer tax credit and the largest expansion of the Child Tax Credit. Importantly, the Paid Family Leave tax credit rewards companies for providing paid leave to employees earning $72,000 or less to care for a new child, spouse, parent, or personal medical condition. The pro-work Child Tax Credit put more money back into working Americans’ pockets so they could determine the best childcare options for their families.
The impact these policies also had on women re-entering the workforce was readily apparent. Specifically, in the initial post-TCJA period after implementation of these policies, as well as others, labor force participation among women age 25 to 34 increased three times relative to that of similarly-aged men and by nearly twice that of women overall. Pro-work, pro-family policies help families thrive. By contrast, the current administration’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit has transformed it from a support mechanism for working families into a universal basic income entitlement with no work requirement, causing a rupture in the bipartisan consensus on the importance of work for recipients of the credit that has existed since 1996. Recent research finds that this policy change is likely to drive 3 percent of working families out of the labor force and cause a loss of 1.5 million jobs without making much of a dent in child poverty.
Women have come a long way in adding to our workforce, but we still have a long way to go. Despite the hardships imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it also provided opportunities for different, more flexible roles than previously available. Rather than propose additional spending, policymakers should continue to embrace policies that reward work over government dependence. Pro-work, pro-family policies are inextricably intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Implementing these policies will not only lead to a stronger workforce but a stronger Nation as well.