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Women Left Their Jobs To Be Caregivers. A Business Coalition Wants Companies To Help

May 26, 2021
Originally published on May 26, 2021 7:42 am

The coronavirus pandemic has been especially tough on women, who are still bearing the brunt of the demands of child care and housework.

About 400,000 more women than men have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic. The percentage of women in the paid labor force has not recovered from the steep drop in the spring of 2020.

Many had to leave their jobs last year to take care of their children when schools closed.

A new business coalition wants companies to take the lead in creating better options for child care and elder care, as well as push the federal government to create a minimum standard of federally funded family and medical leave. The group also advocates better working conditions for people who work as caregivers.

The Care Economy Business Council was created by the Time's Up advocacy group, which advocates for gender equality in the workplace.

"The pandemic has really, really just exposed to everyone how critical the need is to have caregiving in this country," says Tina Tchen, the CEO of Time's Up.

Google, McDonald's, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Verizon, PayPal, Uber and Spotify are among the some 200 companies that have already signed on to the council. Tchen says the group asks its members to be committed to caregiving for their workers. The council plans to regularly meet with its members and advocate for the issue in Congress.

President Biden has proposed hundreds of billions of dollars to help people afford child care in the American Families Plan.

Tchen talked with Rachel Martin on Morning Edition about the role of the private sector in child care. Here are extended web-only excerpts of the interview:

Can you just get granular, explain the connection between women leaving the workforce and the lack of child care?

The pandemic, I think, has made it even worse with schools out, trying to figure out how to work from home or go into your job during a pandemic while you've got kids at home. You might have elderly parents who need care, your own spouse or loved ones who needed care during this time and without having a caregiving infrastructure in this country.

Fifty percent of the country lived in a day care desert, child care desert before the pandemic started. And then child care businesses were closing up during the pandemic. We don't have enough caregivers to hire in this country because we've never invested in caregivers as a workforce. They've been left out of the traditional labor market and labor protections going all the way back to the New Deal. ... They are still predominantly women and Black and brown women who do this work. So we don't invest in them.

And we don't have paid leave. We started the pandemic as one of only two countries in the world that has no national paid-leave policy. We don't even have a national sick-leave policy.

Where are you placing your priorities in this new iteration of your organization?

We've got the twin priorities of working for survivor justice and working to build these safe, fair and equitable workplaces. They're related. That's why we're continuing to support the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, which is our first initiative. But I believe we also need to work with companies to do better. We're going to hold them accountable. But we also have to help them do better, because a workplace, an employer can actually provide paid leave tomorrow without waiting for Congress to act, which as you and I know is kind of a long and slow slog sometimes, but a lot of companies just don't know how to address caregiving right now. They know it's an urgent need, but this is a new area for them.

So that's why we formed this Care Economy Business Council — is to be able to not only advocate for public investments, as we see in the American Families Plan and [American] Jobs Plan, but also work with companies to give them new solutions to provide new ideas to innovate in this space. We cannot as a country have a sustainable economy if we don't have everybody able to participate, including women. And to do that, we really for the first time now have to invest as a nation in a caregiving infrastructure that supports all workers.

It's good PR for these companies to sign on to a coalition and just pledge that they support this idea. How do you make sure they make good on that promise and actually create paid family leave programs, paid child care programs?

It's not just a one-time effort to talk about these things while they're pending in Congress. This is an ongoing effort over the course of the next two years to really work with all these companies.

I also recognize we have a full range of businesses in here: the Soul Popped popcorn shop in Texas, you know, the ice cream shop in Washington state, because this isn't just for big businesses. We need it working in every sector of the economy. And we're going to need different solutions for different companies. If you're a manufacturing company that operates three shifts, overnight care looks really different than 9-to-5 care. And we're going to help companies figure that out.

Nina Kravinsky and Jill Craig produced and edited the audio interview. James Doubek produced for the web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

More than 2 million women have left the labor force since the beginning of the pandemic. The nonprofit organization Time's Up is trying to reverse that by launching a business council to support caregivers. CEO Tina Tchen told me why she thinks doing this will help the U.S. economic recovery.

TINA TCHEN: We were born out of the moment - the reporting about Harvey Weinstein's sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and spread across to other industries in supporting women up and down the wage scale in bringing claims of sexual harassment and combating sexual harassment. But, you know, Rachel, we imagine a world where sexual harassment doesn't happen in the first place. That's what we're also fighting for. And to do that, you have to build safe, fair and equitable workplaces for everyone. And to achieve that, you really need to have full representation of women, LGBTQIA, disabled, people of color up and down the wage scale. But the pandemic has really, really just exposed to everyone how critical the need is to have caregiving in this country.

MARTIN: Can you just get granular? Explain why that is. Make the connection between women leaving the workforce and the lack of child care.

TCHEN: Well, look; we - you know, women are - you know, the pandemic, I think, has made it even worse with schools out, you know, trying to figure out how to work from home or do - you know, go into your job during a pandemic while you've got kids at home. You might have elderly parents, you know, who need care, your own spouse or loved ones who needed care during this time.

And without having a caregiving infrastructure in this country - you know, we started the pandemic with - as one of only two countries in the world that has no national paid leave policy. We don't even have a national sick leave policy. So we started the pandemic with 106 million workers in this country without even the guarantee of a paid sick day. So what did they do? They had to go to work sick, which is not a thing we now know is wise from a public health perspective or an economic perspective.

MARTIN: So where are you placing your priorities in this new iteration of your organization?

TCHEN: Well, you know, we've got the twin priorities of working for survivor justice and working to build these safe, fair and equitable workplaces. They're related. And, you know, that's why, you know, we're - continue to support the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, which is our first initiative. But, you know, I believe we also need to work with companies to do better, right? We're going to hold them accountable, but we also have to help them do better because a workplace, an employer can actually provide paid leave tomorrow without waiting for Congress to act, which, as you and I know, is kind of a long and slow slog sometimes.

But a lot of companies just don't know how to address caregiving right now. They know it's an urgent need, but this is a new area for them. So that's why we formed this Care Economy Business Council, is to be able to not only advocate for public investments, as we see in the American Families Plan and Jobs Plan, but also work with companies to give them new solutions to provide, you know, new ideas to innovate in this space.

We cannot as a country have a sustainable economy if we don't have everybody able to participate, including women. And to do that, we really for the first time now have to invest as a nation in a caregiving infrastructure that supports all workers.

MARTIN: It's good PR for these companies - right? - to sign on to a coalition and just pledge that they support this idea. How do you make sure they make good on that promise and actually create paid family leave programs, paid child care programs?

TCHEN: It's not just a one-time effort to talk about these things while they're pending in Congress. This is an ongoing effort over the course of the next two years to really work with all these companies. You know, look; I also recognize we have a full range of businesses in here - you know, the Soul Popped popcorn shop in Texas, you know, the ice cream shop in Washington state - 'cause this isn't just for big businesses. We need it working in every sector of the economy. And we're going to need different solutions for different companies. If you're a manufacturing company that operates three shifts, you know, overnight care is - looks really different than 9-to-5 care. And we're going to help companies figure that out.

MARTIN: Tina Tchen, CEO of Time's Up, thank you so much.

TCHEN: Oh, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SARAH LOUISE'S "FIELD GUIDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.