Aug 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus forces rethinking of safety net for working women

Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Photo: "Axios on HBO"

The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for working women, but one prominent women's policy expert says it could provide a new opportunity to create the kinds of social supports they should have had all along.

Driving the news: In an interview with "Axios on HBO," Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said the pandemic has created a "she-cession" — a loss of jobs that has disproportionately affected women and highlighted the gaps in the safety net for working families.

  • The solutions to fill those gaps, she said, include universal child care, more funding for child care, paid sick leave, and more generous paternity and maternity leave at the federal level.
  • "Building a new infrastructure, an economy that works for all is costly, but it's worth it," Mason told Axios' Margaret Talev.

The big picture: As of the beginning of the year, women made up more than half of the non-farm workforce. But those gains have been wiped out by the pandemic, with women accounting for the majority of the jobs lost.

  • "At the start of the pandemic, women lost millions and millions of jobs. And the gains that we had made slipped away," Mason said.
  • That's largely because the service sectors were hit hardest by the virus, she said, and women are overrepresented in the service sectors.

The catch: Mason acknowledged that an agenda of universal child care, paid sick leave and other new social supports would be expensive: "It's definitely in the billions, and it could tip up to the trillions."

  • But the coronavirus has already unleashed spending on stimulus measures and extended unemployment insurance that would have been unthinkable before the pandemic, she said.
  • "There's an opportunity for us because of the pandemic to really think about what kind of policies do we need for working women and families," Mason said. "We're in a moment where we're saying the economy won't recover if you don't do these things."
  • "We should think about child care as a public good, in the same way we think about parks," she said. "You might not go every day, but it's actually a public good that benefits us all."

The bottom line, according to Mason: "You cannot have a full economic recovery without women."

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