Pamplin Media Group – Wyden and Paluso: Little one care, paid depart are important. America must put money into each

Andrea Paluso is the executive director of Family Forward Oregon. US Senator Ron Wyden, a Portland Democrat, is Oregon’s Senator.

US Senator Ron WydenMillions of women have been sidelined across the country since the COVID-19 health and economic crisis began. Women in Oregon have also felt the crisis and left the workforce significantly more often than men in Oregon. Black, Latin American and Pacific islanders are hardest hit by job losses, compounding the already diverse health effects of the virus on their communities.

The research is clear: care has always and still fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of women, meaning a lack of affordable, accessible childcare and robust paid vacation programs are more likely to drive women off work than men. This is an urgent employment crisis that deserves a judicial press for resolution by policy makers in Washington, DC. If we invest in a recovery that doesn’t address women’s underlying problems, we risk making the inequalities they face even worse.

Our child care system was broken even before the pandemic. For too long, working families have had too few opportunities for affordable, quality childcare in their communities. In Oregon, all of our counties are a desert of childcare for at least one age group of children, which means there is little or no access to affordable childcare. Nearly 50,000 Oregon parents have made professional sacrifices due to childcare issues. Child minders, who are disproportionately colored women, also earn incredibly low wages, although their job is important in making sure our children are well looked after and that the rest of us can work. Their work should be valued and they deserve a living wage that reflects their essential importance.

Investing in childcare means improving the availability and quality of affordable options for all families. This allows parents to keep their jobs and ensure that their children are looked after in a safe and supportive environment while they work. A robust childcare system – one that makes childcare available to all families – would mean economic security for Oregon women and families, childcare workers, and our entire state. More than that, affordable, reliable childcare is an economic opportunity for mothers, Oregon, and our entire country. There is no better way to fuel our economic recovery than by investing in mothers and care.

The pandemic has also increased the importance of paid family and medical leave, another inequality faced by working families, and especially working mothers. The United States is one of the few highly affluent countries that does not guarantee paid sick and family vacations at the federal level. As of today, many employers are not offering paid vacation, especially in jobs that are considered “essential” during the pandemic, forcing too many hard-working people to make the impossible choice between their health or the health of their family and their paychecks to meet. Again, this political failure is largely borne by women, who are more likely than their male counterparts to leave work to look after children or family members in need.

Comprehensive paid family leave would make it easier for everyone to reconcile work and family without sacrificing their livelihoods or endangering their future. Paid vacation is one of the most effective tools to keep mothers and caregivers in the workforce and is essential to the health and economic safety of any family during a pandemic and beyond.

Proponents have been saying this for years: extensive paid family and sick leave allows working parents to raise children or care for sick family members while keeping the lights and food on the table. An Oregon Paid Vacation Bill that comes into effect in 2023 will go a long way toward helping Oregon mothers and caregivers avoid having to choose between work and family. However, more needs to be done at the federal level to provide equitable support to everyone in this country – including family members of many Oregonians in other states. America’s working families cannot rely on states to invest in their welfare alone.

As Congress is putting together the upcoming infrastructure package, it is important for all of us to remember: Childcare is an essential infrastructure. Paid vacation is an essential infrastructure. Nursing work is essential work. These are key elements in getting all Oregonians back to work and in supporting equitable economic recovery.

Together, from the halls of the U.S. Capitol to communities across Oregon, we are committed to continuing to fight tooth and nail to adequately meet the childcare and paid vacation needs of families in Oregon. Oregon’s mothers and caregivers deserve better, and we are committed to building a fairer economy that works better for women and their families.

Andrea Paluso is the executive director of Family Forward Oregon. US Senator Ron Wyden, a Portland Democrat, is Oregon’s Senator.

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