See also: “The 12 Solution To Cut Poverty in the United States” by Arohi Pathak and Kyle Ross
Individuals and families need a range of supports to thrive, lead healthy and productive lives, and participate fully in the economy. An interconnected suite of policy interventions that addresses economic stability and family care needs—from job quality measures to paid leave to child care to tax credits for low-income families—is essential, not only for families’ economic well-being but also to grow and propel a strong economy. These policy interventions can go a long way in addressing the inequities in U.S. work-family policies that have placed too many families in precarious positions, forcing them to choose between work and care or between paying for rent or groceries.
The good news is that such a suite of interventions is already available as part of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda. These policies can help get millions of Americans back to work and on the road to financial stability. By passing these policies into law, through reconciliation or other means, federal lawmakers can comprehensively invest not only in the nation’s economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic but also in its individuals and communities who are struggling the most, including families, women, individuals with disabilities, and communities of color.
It is important to note that implementing one or two of these interventions alone is not enough to meet the needs of American families, who face complex challenges that require multiple, interconnected solutions. Consider how a suite of family interventions could help workers avoid making the tough choice between holding down a job to support their families and providing necessary care for loved ones. Affordable, quality child care ensures that parents, and especially mothers, can go to work knowing that their children are in a safe place that provides a quality start for their young lives. Parents should also be able to take time off from their job when their child or loved one is sick without the threat of losing that job or their livelihood. But caregiving responsibilities stretch across lifespans, not just over early years. Policies such as paid family and medical leave would give workers the flexibility to take time away from work to care for sick loved ones or aging family members who rely on them. Yet while some care needs can be met with paid leave, meeting other care needs requires a professional home health aide. Providing both options to families while helping them build their economic security through good jobs and monthly child tax credit payments would be truly transformative for people’s lives.
The Build Back Better agenda would make the following key investments.
Creating jobs that pay living wages and benefits
To equitably rebuild the U.S. economy, policymakers must invest in creating millions of good-paying jobs across major industries; importantly, these jobs must provide significant worker protections. The Build Back Better agenda would invest $2.3 trillion in green energy sector jobs, the expansion of essential caregiving jobs, and domestic manufacturing jobs, as well as in making sure jobs offer decent wages and benefits to parents, especially women, so that they can to return to the workforce. Such an investment could reform and rebuild the economy by helping regain a significant number of the 7.6 million jobs lost since February 2020 and by giving women the opportunity to build financial security and work toward their American dream.
For more information from the Center for American Progress on reforming the labor market, see:
Making the child tax credit permanent
The recently expanded and newly refundable child tax credit (CTC), which started going into the pockets of millions of parents on July 15, 2021, gives parents a reliable source of monthly income so that they not only can meet their families’ immediate and day-to-day needs but also can make plans for the future. Indeed, researchers estimate just a one-year expansion of the CTC would lift more than 4 million children above the poverty line. Policymakers should therefore make the CTC permanent and as widely accessible as possible, including by opening it up to immigrant families.
For more information from CAP on the child tax credit, see:
Providing parents access to high-quality, affordable child care and early education
With most available parents participating in the workforce, high-quality child care environments provide young children with necessary support during a period in which they experience explosive neural and social-emotional growth, as well as with benefits over their lifetimes. Yet more than half of all Americans currently live in a child care desert, where child care shortages lead to waiting lists, job disruptions, and fewer mothers in the paid labor force. Child care in the United States is prohibitively expensive, and as a result, low-income families can spend more than one-third of their incomes just to access child care.
President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda makes significant investments in early care and education, capping child care costs for low- and moderate-income families at 7 percent of household income and creating preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. The Build Back Better agenda also includes the Child Care for Working Families Act (CCWFA), which would ensure that 76 percent of working families with children under age 6 have access to free, or affordable, quality care. Congress must invest in affordable, high-quality child care and early education to provide families the flexibility to make meaningful choices regarding their workforce participation and the ability to build strong economic security.
For more information from CAP on the importance of child care and early childhood education, see:
Providing all workers access to paid family and medical leave
The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee its workers access to any kind of paid leave. As of March 2020, 4 out of 5 private sector workers did not have access to any paid family leave, and nearly 3 out of 5 private sector workers did not have access to short-term disability leave for their own serious health condition. Low-wage workers, and Black and Hispanic workers, are less likely to have access to paid family and medical leave. The millions of workers without access to comprehensive paid family and medical leave are forced to make impossible choices between keeping their job—thus maintaining their paycheck—and taking time to recover from a serious illness or to care for a new child or sick family member. Workers and their families lose an estimated $22.5 billion in wages annually because they cannot access paid family and medical leave.
Several proposals—including the American Families Plan in the Build Back Better agenda, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal’s (D-MA) Building an Economy for Families Act, and the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act—would create a permanent and national paid family and medical leave program for all workers in the United States, giving them access to up to 12 weeks of paid leave for these comprehensive purposes. Congress must prioritize passing a paid family and medical leave law, particularly to support the lowest-income workers.
For more information from CAP on paid family and medical leave, see:
Funding home- and community-based care to support older and disabled Americans
Home- and community-based services help provide necessary support for older adults and people who have disabilities who require assistance with medical needs or daily living, and give millions of care workers, especially women, the ability to return to work and build up economic security. President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda includes a significant investment in expanding access to Medicaid home- and community-based services (HCBS) for older adults and people with disabilities. This would not only enable more older adults and people with disabilities to remain in their homes and lead independent lives, but it would also support their family members with care.
Moreover, almost 90 percent of home health aides are women, according to the American Community Survey. Making home care jobs high quality and family sustaining would recognize the value of these services and is critical not just for families but for growing women’s economic security and the U.S. economy. To ensure better-paying wages and benefits, legislation must require states to hit specific benchmarks to receive further expanded funding for HCBS. One of those benchmarks must require states to provide evidence that a majority of home health workers receive competitive wages and benefits. The Biden administration has proposed requiring states to submit and gain secretary approval for individualized HCBS Infrastructure Improvement Plans.
For more information on investing in home and community-based services, see:
- “Investing in Home and Community-Based Care During the Coronavirus Pandemic and Future Disasters”
- “Report: Higher Pay For Caregivers” (SEIU 775 and Center for American Progress)
Federal policymakers can help millions of Americans get back to work by supporting economic recovery through a suite of policy interventions that includes accessible and affordable child care, permanent and comprehensive paid family and medical leave, investing in home- and community-based services and high-quality and good-paying jobs, and making the child tax credit permanent. These actions would go a long way in helping individuals, families, women, and communities of color manage work and care, ensuring that all families thrive. The interventions are intended to build on one another and should not be substituted or pitted against each other. Congress must act immediately to create supports that both reduce families’ economic stress and make tremendous positive impacts for them. By increasing investments in this suite of interrelated policy solutions included in the Build Back Better agenda, policymakers would invest in the nation’s economic recovery and long-term security.
Arohi Pathak is the director of policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Diana Boesch is a policy analyst for women’s economic security for the Women’s Initiative at the Center. Laura Dallas McSorley is the senior director of Early Childhood Policy at the Center.