Tanzina Vega: It's The Takeaway, I'm Tanzina Vega. The pandemic has been hard on women, especially mothers trying to work parent and teach their children simultaneously. Since the pandemic began, more than 2 million women have left the workforce and as a result, women have also carried the brunt of the economic costs of the pandemic. Of course, it's not just about the money lost, working mothers are expected to fill in the social safety gaps brought about by schools and other social services that have had to close.
Katherine Goldstein is with me, she's the creator and host of The Double Shift podcast which talks all about these issues. Katherine, welcome to the show.
Katherine Goldstein: Thanks so much for having me.
Tanzina: Katherine, you've interviewed a number of mothers, one of them stood out to me, she said that in the last year, she's lost about $40,000 in income, and then she also had to liquidate about $10,000 in retirement savings. Katherine, is she typical?
Katherine Goldstein: Well, I think that the financial losses have been staggering for mothers, especially single mothers, but we've had some programs in place like unemployment, but those have been really inadequate to address the large-scale losses especially with entire industries going away. I think I asked women across the country to actually tally how much money they had lost because I think sometimes these things seem really intangible, but there are dollar amounts behind what people have lost in the last year and it's really staggering.
Tanzina: Is there a big number that we're looking at right now that your research has found because, and as I'm sure you know, unemployment only takes certain folks, but so far, it doesn't necessarily cover if you have a very high income, it's not necessarily going to cover that gap. Are there numbers that you can help us pin down what the collective loss has been for women?
Katherine Goldstein: I think it is very hard to pin down a total collective loss for women. I think what we do know is the numbers we do have about, for example, leaving the labor force, only capture a fraction of the total collateral damage, in my opinion, because we also are dealing with issues like people who are still looking for work, aren't counted in that number. People who are working at far reduced hours aren't counted in that number, and so it's very hard because the tools of measurements that we've had for past economic crises don't really capture what has happened in the last year for mothers.
Tanzina: I was tweeting this morning about this issue in advance of our conversation and one of the things that continues to stand out to me is where are employers in this conversation. I just think it's unacceptable to ask Americans, largely women to-- we understood in the beginning of the pandemic that all of us were wrapping our heads around this but at this point, it's been a year, and largely women, but there are some men, are struggling, continue to struggle with finding childcare. Next week, for example, is a holiday, many daycares will be closed, schools will be closed. Some schools haven't even reopened yet, so where are employers in all this? Are they shirking their responsibility to their employees, Katherine?
Katherine Goldstein: I think many, many employers had a tremendous opportunity to lead and help reimagine a more just and humane workplace that valued caregiving and I would say from what my reporting and what I've heard from mothers across the country, most employers have not stepped up to that challenge. I think in the very beginning of the pandemic there was this idea like, oh, we'll allow for flexibility, if you're a white-collar worker, you can work between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM to catch up. Well, of course, that's not sustainable for more than a few days, much less a year.
I think workplaces have not stepped up. Workplaces need to be offering childcare subsidies. We need to be radically rethinking the workplace like why do we have 40-hour work weeks during certain hours for a lot of white-collar workers? I think there's a tremendous amount of opportunity out of this crisis to think about what productivity is and I think workplaces have actually, for the most part, were very hostile places to mothers and caregivers before the pandemic and my reporting has shown for the most part it's only gotten worse.
Tanzina: The New York Times in its primal scream reporting called it outright a betrayal of women and particularly working women and I would have to agree with that assessment being in that situation myself, but Katherine, other women have had to suddenly rely on other networks, networks who during a pandemic may have also been strained; friends and families who themselves were struggling. How has that affected women, particularly in this moment?
Katherine Goldstein: I think community is really important. We need our communities to bring us soup when we're sick and give us a ride when our car breaks down, but communities cannot replace an active functioning government and an active functioning social safety net. Women, and especially mothers have been the shock absorbers of this pandemic and we can't rely on GoFundMes and friends and neighbors to get us through this. We need real government policies that support working families and actually address the realities of what mothers have experienced in the last year.
Tanzina: I want to play a clip from a woman you interviewed, her name is Jenna, talking a little bit about where she finds herself in terms of support.
Jenna: The past few times I've needed help, I go through, I've already asked that person for money and I've already asked that person and I definitely don't want to ask this person again because they helped me so much the last time, and you're thinking, who else can I ask that I'm close enough with to be that vulnerable?
Tanzina: This is where, as you said, companies can step in, the federal government can step in. In fact, the federal government stepped in last year, in 2020, and did offer some paid leave for caregiving. Where does that stand right now? My understanding is that it's not as strong as it may have been. The offer is not as strong as it may have been in 2020.
Katherine Goldstein: Caregiving, there was caregiving leave offered, not to everyone to certain kinds of employees at certain kinds of companies as a stopgap measure when we thought that maybe everything was going to go back to normal after a few weeks or a few months. Obviously, that's not the case. As of now, we have no national paid family leave, we have no national sick leave. All these things like if there was ever a crisis that showed why we need this, people need to be able to take care of people in their families to quarantine without fear of losing their jobs, livelihoods, being unable to pay their rent.
Right now, most of those protections and opportunities have expired and so that's why really not stop-gap measures, but actual long-term permanent measures, like paid family leave, absolutely need to be a part of a more just future coming out of this pandemic.
Tanzina: Speaking about what companies can do and we talked a little bit about what leave was available in 2020, but I want to talk a little bit about the child stimulus tax credit because the last stimulus package included that, and it's supposed to give parents between $200 and $300 per child per month. Tell us about that. How effective is something like that?
Katherine Goldstein: I am overwhelmingly excited about this policy. I think this policy, while it may not seem like a huge amount of money, the fact that this is going to be coming out in monthly payments, first of all, it predicts that it's going to cut the child poverty rate in half in this country, which is tremendous. I think also, what's so exciting about it is that for the first time, there's an acknowledgment from our government that raising children is expensive and our ethos should not be every family for themselves and every parent for themselves.
This will not fix all the problems that parents and especially mothers have faced in this last year, but this money definitely will help and I think it'll actually increase labor participation for mothers, rather than decrease anything.
Tanzina: Now, of course, that's not available to all parents, that's available to people who are making under a certain amount of money, right?
Katherine Goldstein: Yes, but it extends up to joint filings a $400,000 a year, so it actually is going to cover a vast majority of families.
Tanzina: As we look ahead, what do you think is necessary? I don't want to act as though I'm not personally affected by this fight, I've said this on the show before that I do think that we need some sort of national childcare system apparatus, something to really support working parents. I, however, don't see how realistic that is. Am I being a pessimist or is there something to be optimistic about when we think about if we're going to help working parents and working mothers specifically going forward?
Katherine Goldstein: It's interesting because I totally agree we need to fully revitalize the childcare industry and make it far better than it was before. Before the pandemic, it was already expensive and hard to access. Now there's even more closures, there's more costs. The idea that we believe children have a right to public education starting at age five, doesn't really make any sense, like why age five, why kindergarten? Why not before that?
I think that maybe it doesn't feel like it's going to happen immediately, but if you had told me a year ago, we would be getting this childcare tax credit where families would be getting between $200 and $300 a month for children for a year and with the potential to become permanent, that would have seemed like a complete pipe dream. I think because we're in this moment of tremendous change and crisis, this is our opportunity. This is the moment where historians will look back and see what we did and what we didn't do. I think that there is an opportunity to help raise consciousness about what a better future could look like, and help mobilize people around that.
Tanzina: Change is slow in many instances as you know. Not to continue to be a pessimist, but I wonder Catherine, if what we saw this year in terms of employers largely, maybe not intentionally shrugging their shoulders, but really not having a plan in place to help their employees manage childcare and other caregiving needs. That was the worst of it, right? We were really in the worst of it, we're now starting to come out into a post-pandemic world, and my fear is that employers will say, "Well, you managed to get through 2020, you can definitely manage to get through 2021 and '22 without additional supports."
Katherine Goldstein: Yes. I think we are at a moment where we have to demand change. One of the things I've come to after working on these issues for a number of years is, nobody's going to come fix things for mothers. Mothers have to get angry and demand that things be changed on our behalf; no one's coming to fix this for us. I think that the last year has shown that in a very, very harsh way. To me, there's a couple of different things in place. The change we need can't fully come at the employer level, because it's always going to be really unequal, and we see that with paid family right now.
Some people by virtue of where they work have relatively, "generous policies," while most Americans literally get nothing and 25% of women go back to work after two weeks after having a baby. This is why we have government. Government should exist to help citizens with basic needs. That's why we pay taxes, and that's why we have this organization. I think that saying employers need to do better, I think that the government can help push for that a lot. Also, from the employer's side, employers are going to lose a vast amount of talent. Women are more educated than men in terms of college graduation rates and--
Tanzina: Katherine, do they care if that's how they're treating women? Again, I don't want to [chuckles] lead into pessimism, but I just wonder if employers really care about the talent that they stand to lose, particularly if those women are more educated, as you mentioned, more mature, probably cost more. I just wonder if that is a priority for employers or maybe they'll see it further down the line? I agree with you. I just don't know if employers are necessarily going to see that as a loss, but maybe I'm wrong.
Katherine Goldstein: I think the best example we have around this of like recent history because obviously we've never been in a moment quite like this, but I have seen really effective campaigning for paid family parental leave from employees, basically making a business case. The thing is that a lot of these policies in terms of supporting people with caregiving needs, supporting family, supporting a diverse workforce, there is actually a compelling business case for why you should do this.
I'm not believing that people are going to do this out of the goodness of their hearts, but I think that there's actually a pretty cold capitalist calculation especially with higher-skilled workers if you basically just can't retain people, have a lot of open seats, don't have top talent to compete in the workforce within your industry, people respond to that argument, and it's not about altruism. I think the idea that employees or employers are going to do this out of the goodness of their hearts isn't going to happen, but I think that there is an economic argument to be made.
Tanzina: We'll see if the current presidential Biden-Harris administration hears what many mothers are saying. Katherine Goldstein is the creator and the host of The Double Shift podcast, a show that challenges the status quo of motherhood in the United States. Katherine, thanks so much for being with us.
Katherine Goldstein: Thanks for having me.
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