Child care remains an issue for working mothers, and it was a major theme of the round table on Thursday. Nearly 400,000 child care jobs have been lost since the outset of the pandemic, Ms. Harris said. The closings of small businesses and the loss of millions of jobs have created the “perfect storm” for women, particularly for Black business owners, she added. “The longer we wait to act,” she said, “the harder it will be to bring these millions of women back into the work force.”
The administration’s relief proposal would provide some $130 billion to assist in the reopening of K-12 schools, a major component of child care. But how and when to do so — and how to explain the decision-making to Americans — has proved to be a stumbling point for the president and his advisers.
President Biden has promised to reopen as many schools as possible in the first 100 days of his administration, a pledge that has been questioned by teachers’ unions that want to be assured of safety measures before schools reopen. On Thursday, Ms. Harris kept her remarks on schools limited, saying the plan would “provide funding to help schools safely reopen.” Ms. Harris said in an appearance on the “Today” show on Wednesday that “teachers should be a priority” to receive vaccinations.
Several representatives from women’s advocacy groups participated in the call with Ms. Harris, including Fatima Goss Graves, the president of the National Women’s Law Center. She said that the vice president did not go into “granular” detail about school reopenings but that the group stressed other topics, including the importance of direct payments to struggling families.
“People are barely keeping it together right now,” Ms. Goss Graves said. “I was gratified to hear that she understood and spoke with urgency around getting this investment done.”
As the pandemic drags on, the statistics for women are indeed bleak.
A report published last year by researchers at the University of Arkansas and the Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California found that female employment began plummeting almost immediately once the coronavirus took hold last spring. Since then, the researchers found, women have shouldered a heavier load than men when it came to providing child care.
Non-college educated women and women of color have been disproportionately affected. Another report, published in the fall by the Brookings Institution, showed that nearly half of all working women have low-paying jobs. Those jobs are more likely to be held by Black or Latina women, and they are in sectors, such as dining and travel, that are among the least likely to return soon to a degree of normalcy.