Ahead of the U.S. midterm elections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “The next election will be decided at the kitchen table, as American families determine who they trust to fight for them at this difficult time.”
In an atypical political upheaval, the Democratic Party maintained its majority in the Senate and outstripped the much-anticipated House Red Wave—by keeping margins slim. Voters have made it clear that they are tired of extremist politics and want real social and economic solutions: they want to expand protections for reproductive rights; improve the economic security of workers; and increasing the availability of nutritious food, affordable housing, health care coverage and child care. In short, voters massively took the problems of the kitchen table to the polls.
As we prepare for the winter holidays, let’s talk about how red and blue districts can work together to support American families.
Across the country, we are entering another holiday season with the surge in inflation driving up the cost of gas, food and other basics, exacerbated by increased spending associated with family life. The lack of comprehensive paid vacation policies, expensive and hard-to-find childcare create unique barriers for families that prevent them from building a strong financial future.
Even before the pandemic, the absence of comprehensive family support policies created significant economic burdens for parents. A shortage of affordable childcare options, in particular, is creating a world in which married couples spend an average of 10% of their income – up to 35% among single-earner households (nearly 5 times what that the US Department of Health and Human Services considers affordable)—on child care. Parents are forced to make tough choices about the quality of their children’s programs, the hours of work they commit to and, especially for mothers, whether or not they stay in the workforce. Even with a strong economic recovery in recent months, there are still 432,000 fewer women in the labor force than before the pandemic. The loss of women from the labor force jeopardizes the savings on potential taxable income (to the tune of nearly $35 billion a year), Social Security contributions, Medicaid, Medicare, and family purchasing power at large.
Overall, the US economy loses more than $57 billion a year in lost income, wages, and productivity due to persistent child care issues. The lack of comprehensive paid family leave policies cost American workers nearly $28 billion in income during the pandemic — and women were more than 40% more likely to take unpaid leave, especially women in color. According to the study by the Committee for Economic Development, a 1% increase in the participation of women in the labor market would generate $73 billion in new personal family income.
Limited family support policies create a powder keg for the future of our nation. The impact of the pandemic on women’s participation in the workforce and the cascading economic consequences have cast the fuse, and the high cost of family living expenses is a lit match. The kitchen table economy demands a bipartisan solution to these very real problems that exist on both sides of the aisle.
Millions of parents rely on the childcare sector to enable them to work – and research suggests that time spent in high-quality childcare has no negative impact on child outcomes and may even support school performance later. Additionally, increased economic well-being through parental labor promotes food security, better housing, better health, and more consistent access to health care coverage and services, better childcare and educational opportunities, and more nurturing family interactions – all factors that support stronger early development. But parents need supportive family policies to work, care for their children, pay off their debts, increase their savings and secure their financial future.
As the 118th Congress takes its place in the new year with a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House, bipartisan efforts to expand family policies must be front and center. Families need real policy solutions that touch the home—coupled with real investments—to make the math of having and raising kids work.
The American Congress includes fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers. As we prepare for the winter holidays, let’s talk about how red and blue districts can work together to support American families. Voters across the country have spoken: It’s time for policies and programs like comprehensive paid time off and accessible, high-quality child care to become the law of the land.
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