Jun 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Obama: Women "found themselves in an impossible situation" during pandemic

Photo of the Obamas holding hands and waving to a crowd
Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

Former President Obama, speaking to The 19th, called on the government, spouses and partners to play their role in addressing the decline in women's labor force.

Why it matters: Women's labor force participation in the U.S. was at a 33-year low in January. The pandemic has driven mothers out of the workforce, and there's reason to be concerned about "permanent scarring," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in March.

  • When women are not maximized in the labor force, they earn and spend less, resulting in less economic growth, according to Nicole Goldin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Program.
  • Women of color are also disproportionately impacted by economic inequality.

What he's saying: "Women play a critical role in shaping economies, not just here in the United States but around the world," Obama told The 19th's Errin Haines in an interview published Monday. "And if women aren’t participating in the workforce, it makes everyone worse off."

  • "Over the last year, the pandemic has forced a lot of women to juggle working from home, online school and a lack of child care — on top of everything else they were already doing. They’ve found themselves in an impossible situation, and in many cases had to make a difficult choice," he added.
  • "We all have a role to play in reversing this trend."
  • "Government can help by mandating more parental leave and better pay to begin with. But those of us who are spouses and partners need to make sure we’re doing our part, too — sharing the load and helping our sons and daughters understand that marriage and parenting is a partnership."

The former president also highlighted the need to protect voting access amid a slew of GOP-led voter suppression bills across the country.

  • The U.S. must guarantee that "every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C., and in Puerto Rico, and the formerly incarcerated," Obama said.
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