By Hailey M. Gibbs, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
Ahead of the U.S. midterms, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “The upcoming election will be decided at the kitchen table, as America’s families determine who they trust to fight for them in this challenging moment.”
In an atypical political upset, the Democratic party maintained its Senate majority and edged out the highly anticipated red wave of the House—keeping margins slim. Voters made clear that they are tired of extremist politics and they want real social and economic solutions: They want to expand protections for reproductive rights; enhance workers’ economic security; and increase the availability of nutritious food, affordable housing, health care coverage, and child care. In sum, voters overwhelmingly took the kitchen table issues to the polls.
As we prepare for the winter holiday, let’s talk about how red and blue districts can work together to support American families.
Across the country, we enter another holiday season with the sharp sting of inflation raising the cost of gas, food, and other basic goods exacerbated by heightened expenses associated with family life. Lack of comprehensive paid leave policies, high-priced, and hard-to-find child care create unique barriers for families that prevent them from building strong financial futures.
Even prior to the pandemic, a lack of comprehensive family support policies created significant economic burdens for parents. A dearth of affordable child care options, in particular, creates a world in which married couples spend 10 percent of their incomes on average—up to 35 percent among single-earner households (nearly 5 times what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers affordable)—on child care. Parents are forced to make difficult choices about their children’s program quality, the working hours they commit to, and, particularly for mothers, whether they stay in the labor force at all. Even with strong economic recovery in recent months, there remain 432,000 fewer women in the labor force compared to before the pandemic. The loss of women from the workforce shortchanges the economy on potential taxable income (to the tune of nearly $35 billion, annually), contributions to social security, Medicaid, Medicare, and broader family spending power.
On the whole, the U.S. economy loses more than $57 billion annually in lost revenue, wages, and productivity due to persistent issues with child care. A lack of comprehensive paid family leave policies cost American workers nearly $28 billion in earnings during the pandemic—and women were more than 40 percent more likely to take leave without pay, particularly women of color. According to the Committee for Economic Development study, a 1 percent increase in women’s labor force participation would generate $73 billion in new personal family income.
Limited family support policies create a powder keg for our nation’s future. The pandemic’s impact on women’s labor force participation and cascading economic consequences laid the fuse, and the high cost of families’ living expenses is a lit match. Kitchen table economics demands a bipartisan solution to these very real problems that exist on both sides of the aisle.
Millions of parents rely on the child care sector to be able to work—and research suggests that time spent in high-quality child care arrangements has no negative impact on children’s outcomes and may even support school performance down the road. Moreover, boosts to economic well-being through parents’ labor force promotes food security, better housing, improved health and more consistent access to health care coverage and services, better child care and educational opportunities, and more enriching family interactions—all factors that support stronger early development. But parents need supportive family policies to work, care for their children, pay off debt and add to savings, and secure their financial futures.
As the 118th Congress takes its place in the new year with a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House, bipartisan efforts to expand family policies must take a front seat. Families need real policy solutions that hit home—coupled with real investments—to make the calculus of having and raising children work.
The U.S. Congress includes dads and moms, aunts and uncles, and grandmothers and grandfathers. As we prepare for the winter holiday, let’s talk about how red and blue districts can work together to support American families. The voters across the nation have spoken: It is time that policies and programs, like comprehensive paid leave and high-quality, accessible child care, become the law of the land.