‘This could set women back generations’

The pandemic recession’s toll on the workforce and families

By: - April 7, 2021 6:37 am

Getty Images

When the COVID-19 pandemic began driving women from their jobs en masse a little more than one year ago, West Michigan Works employees were ready to help them return to the labor force.

But they’re not returning.

“Women are actually dropping out of the workforce; it’s not just an issue of they’re looking for work and can’t find it,” said Brittany Lenertz, talent solutions director at the organization that helps people who are unemployed find jobs. “They’re not coming to us for help because they’re dropping out of the workforce, which is alarming. I think we’re facing a crisis.”

Brittany Lenertz

As the pandemic plunged the country into economic turmoil not seen since the Great Depression, women found themselves bearing the brunt of a financial downturn. Millions of women have been pushed from the workforce nationally, including hundreds of thousands of women in Michigan. 

Experts say years of gender and racial inequities have paved the way for an economic crisis routinely referred to as a “she-cession.” In a single year, women nationwide have lost more than three decades of labor force gains, going from holding more jobs than men in January 2020 (the second time that’s happened in U.S. history, with the first being a brief stint during the 2008 recession) to dropping to workforce levels last seen in 1988. 

In Michigan, COVID-19 has translated to a 9.4% drop in the employment of women ages 20 and older. There were 213,000 fewer employed women in the state during the last three months of 2020 compared to the three months preceding the pandemic, the most recent data available, according to the state Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives’ assessment of numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  This compares to a drop of 60,000 employed men ages 20 and older during the same time period, or a 2.5% decline.

Behind these numbers are women who are deeply struggling.

The stories of the pandemic told to the Advance include women remaining with abusive partners because they didn’t have anywhere else to go, living in cars and campgrounds because they couldn’t afford rent, being evicted despite national and statewide eviction moratoriums, moving in with older parents in Michigan because of financial stress, and having to take unpaid time off from work to care for children sick with COVID-19.

They are stories of women feeling overwhelmingly alone as they wade through an onslaught of economic and emotional nightmares.

‘Some of the darkest times of my life’

For Rachel, a single mom from Grand Rapids whose name we’ve changed out of concern for her safety, this past year had “some of the darkest times of my life.” 

A mom of a now 3-year-old boy, Rachel was working two jobs when the pandemic began, one in the medical field and another in retail, and they both shut down because of COVID-19. Rachel immediately applied for unemployment in March, but she didn’t know when that first check would arrive and she worried she didn’t have the savings she needed to pay her bills, including rent and food. (Ultimately, she didn’t receive her unemployment until the end of April.)

To make ends meet, she decided to move in with her boyfriend. For a little while, things were going well, and she was especially grateful for the extra time she got to spend with her son while she wasn’t working. 

Then her boyfriend began abusing her. Rachel wanted to leave, but she had nowhere to go. Daycares were still shut down at that point, which meant that, even if she could find a job, there was no place for her son to stay while she worked. So she remained at her boyfriend’s house.

“That definitely was something that was really scary,” Rachel said. “I tolerated probably too much before I did leave because I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and it’s not something you love to tell people about.”

“The reason I finally left wasn’t because I was choosing to leave, but [the abuse] got so bad that he got arrested a couple times, and the last time he was arrested he went to jail,” she said. “The police told me I had to leave my boyfriend’s house because I wasn’t on the lease.”

Her experience with the police echoed her interactions with various systems throughout the pandemic, from a women’s shelter to the court system — institutions she had hoped would provide support for her but instead ended up making her feel further isolated.

“It got to a point where the police were telling me, ‘We don’t know what to do; everyone’s going through this [domestic abuse],’” she said. “They told me, ‘Just go to the shelter; it’ll be fine.’ But it wasn’t fine.”

When she went to a shelter, Rachel said it felt too unsafe for her and her son to stay there. She added that while she knew there were “good people who really wanted to help” working at the shelter, they weren’t able to connect her with the income she needed in order to find housing.

“The shelter was like, ‘There’s not a lot we can do because everything’s shut down; we can’t help you get a job right now because everything’s shut down,” Rachel said.

After finding a place to sleep at a couple different friends’ places, Rachel ultimately turned to living at a campground towards the end of the summer. She explained she’s always loved camping and there, under the trees, as well as in counseling, she was able to focus on giving herself time and space to heal from the violence that had upended her life. 

“I’ve always worked and wanted to be independent and support myself,” Rachel said. “I’ve never been in the position I was in, when you’re like, ‘Is this real life? I don’t have a job; I don’t know how I’m going to be back in the swing of things.’ I needed to heal for a minute, physically and mentally, before I jumped back into work.”

‘Are those women coming back?’

Between February and December 2020, the most recent time period for which data is available, about 136,000 women dropped out of Michigan’s labor force entirely.

Many did so in order to take care of children whose daycares and schools were shuttered because of the pandemic, the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) said in its newly released “Women in the Michigan Workforce” report. Included in that number are women who lost jobs during the pandemic and are not actively seeking work and unemployed women whose job search has been temporarily interrupted.

Meanwhile, an additional 18,000 men joined the labor force — which includes people who are either working or looking for work — during the same time period, according to the DTMB. The drop of 60,000 men cited earlier solely takes into account the men who are no longer employed in Michigan, not men who are unemployed and searching for work. 

In other words, many of the women who lost jobs during the pandemic are not looking to return to the labor force, while men are.

The pandemic’s employment numbers in Michigan, and across the country, tell a story that academics, nonprofit leaders and civic activists from across the state explained is rooted in systemic racism and sexism that has left women, and especially women of color, with low-paying jobs with few or no benefits, often in industries that are dominated by women and which were hit hard by COVID-19, longstanding wage gaps, and wildly unaffordable child care

They are numbers that tell us: women are not OK. And they haven’t been for quite some time.

“This could set women back generations,” said Cheryl Bergman, chief executive officer of the Michigan Women’s Commission, a group of 15 members appointed by the governor who study the challenges women face in the state and make policy recommendations based on those assessments.

Michigan Women’s Commission CEO Cheryl Bergman

“January 2020 was the second time ever that women held more jobs than men in the workforce — now, a year later, more than 2.3 million women [nationally] have dropped out of the workforce,” Bergman continued. “Women were making great strides, and a year later we see decades of backward movement.” 

This didn’t have to happen.

But it did in large part because — as the academics, economists, researchers and nonprofit leaders interviewed for this story explained — women, and especially women of color, went into the pandemic being paid far less than men. On average, women are making 22% less than men in Michigan, and if you include part-time workers, women earn an average of 66 cents to every dollar made by men. Women also had less savings and more debt, experienced higher poverty rates and were more likely to work part-time or hourly jobs that offer few or no benefits — such as paid time off and health insurance. 

When the pandemic arrived, these factors collided with the fact that industries dominated by women were hemorrhaging jobs in Michigan, and across the country, including food workers, education and health services, said Afton Branche-Wilson, the assistant director of community initiatives at the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions

For example, women make up 57% of Michigan’s “accommodation and food services” sector, which includes jobs like waitresses and housekeepers and which saw the largest pandemic-related employment decline in the state. Fifty-five percent of its jobs (about 204,100 positions) were slashed between February and April 2020, and many of those jobs only began returning last month, if at all, according to the DTMB’s “Women in the Michigan Workforce” report.

“We see two phenomenons at work,” Branche-Wilson said. “Women, and especially women of color, are more likely to work in industries that have been hit by the pandemic, like retail, hospitals and local government.

Afton Branche-Wilson, the assistant director of community initiatives at the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions

“The second piece of this is women, particularly single mothers, have been forced to leave the workforce to take care of children not in school,” Branche-Wilson continued. “They’ve had to bear those burdens disproportionately to men who are fathers.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer emphasized during the Michigan Women’s Commission meeting at the end of March, when the “Women in the Michigan Workforce” report was unveiled, that it’s not that women should be the ones solely responsible for staying home, but, for a variety of reasons, from wage gaps to traditional gender roles, that is what happens more often than not.

“We should be clear: child care is not solely a woman’s or mother’s responsibility,” Whitmer said. “But the reality is women take on a significantly larger burden of child care responsibilities in heterosexual relationships. And millions of women across the country, and thousands in Michigan, have cited child care as the primary driver of leaving the workforce during COVID. … Women with children have seen the most unequal job recovery.”

Of course, the factors that have left women unprepared for a crisis of this magnitude have been well known. And they’ve been known and studied for long enough, experts said, that reforms could have been enacted long ago to better protect women from the deep economic fallout that they’re now expected to dig themselves from. 

Branche-Wilson, for example, said increasing the minimum wage would have been — and would still be — a “huge boost to women, and especially women of color and moms of color because they’re disproportionately working in lower-wage industries like retail and home health care.” Other policies like widespread paid sick leave and affordable child care would result in monumental changes for women, Branche-Wilson said.

If women hadn’t faced the kinds of wage gaps they’ve faced for years (currently, for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes in Michigan, a white woman earns 76 cents, a Black woman makes 65 cents and a Latinx woman sees 57 cents), this pandemic would have still inevitably hurt. 

But, the experts interviewed by Michigan Advance said, women almost certainly would have been able to weather the pandemic better than has happened because they would likely have more money set aside for a crisis, would be able to pay for the significant increase in food their households need as children stay home all day, and wouldn’t be facing the evictions looming over our state and country. 

Here’s why low-income Michiganders were ‘completely unprepared’ to weather the COVID-19 pandemic

As of mid-March, 17% of women who are renting homes in Michigan said they are not caught up on rent payments, and 37% of those individuals who aren’t up to date on payments said they expect to be evicted within two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

“When you look at an underlying issue like wage disparity, you go, ‘Man, we still haven’t solved this?’” Lenertz, of West Michigan Works, said. “And now we’ve taken this huge step backwards, and what impact does that have long-term on the workforce as a whole? Are those women coming back? Are they not coming back?”

Now, as millions of Michiganders become vaccinated, schools and daycares reopen, and we start to use the term “rebuilding” when talking about a post-pandemic world, everyone from poverty experts and single mothers to activists and those in workforce development said we have a chance to learn from what went wrong over the past year and make lasting, systemic change for women — and everyone.

“COVID has shone this giant spotlight on the disparities that have existed for a long time,” Lenertz said. “I think there’s more of an appetite and will to make permanent, long-term change for women. I think there’s more conversation happening about it; I think there’s more people who can make changes listening because right now it’s hurting all of us. I want to say, ‘Yes, I think we can make long-term changes that will benefit everybody, not just women.’ If there were to be another crisis like this, things have to be more stable. We have to spend some time figuring it out and coming up with solutions.”

And that, Bergman said, means “we cannot let things go back to the status quo.”

“We’ve got to strike while the iron’s hot,” she said. “Just because the pandemic will be over, we still need affordable and accessible child care, a living wage, paid leave, higher paying jobs. We’ve got to push for this.”

‘I wish I could just talk about the women who lost their jobs’

For JoAnna Underwood, an activist and founder of the Detroit Black Women’s Council, it’s inclusive systemic changes that must occur in order to reach those who are barely keeping their heads above water during the pandemic.

“I wish I could just talk about the women who lost their jobs like the sisters in bars or strip clubs, but it’s so much more,” Underwood said when asked about the pandemic’s impact on women and employment. “The Black women I work with, they are the essential workers, the fast food workers, the home health care workers. The poor, working-class Black women at Walmarts and fast food restaurants who have been forced to work long hours and don’t get hazard pay. We are overworked and can’t find child care.”

JoAnna Underwood with her son, Anthony Malik Hudson

To understand the pain the pandemic has caused for women, especially Black women, you have to talk about more than women being furloughed, laid off or needing to leave their jobs to take care of the children doing virtual schooling, she said. 

You have to talk about the matches that lit this fire for the women who have been overwhelmingly, and disproportionately, burdened during the pandemic: the systemic racism; the wage gaps; the lack of access to affordable housing and child care and paid leave. You have to talk about the rot that has long been there, about a history of institutionalized racism and misogyny that the pandemic has illuminated.

When you talk about the fallout of Black women losing their jobs, or not having the opportunity to take off from work to care for their children, you have to look at the fact that Black women working full-time annually earns an average of $36,430 in Michigan, compared to $56,321 for white, non-Hispanic men and $42,691 for white, non-Hispanic women, according to the DTMB. 

Too, Black women in Michigan hold thousands of more dollars in debt than their white female counterparts, white families have about eight times the wealth of Black families, and 60% of Black families in the state struggle to pay for such basic needs as food, rent and transportation.

“There are a lot of hard realities of how Black women and children are living in Detroit,” said Underwood, who works with individuals and families on everything from finding housing to searching for missing Black women. “I’ve gotten calls from women who’ve been beaten; they’re in relationships where they take the abuse because they need a place to live. I have women who couldn’t find jobs. You’ve got kids in houses with no utilities; we’ve got a housing shortage. A lot of people’s water was shut off in the city of Detroit.”

Underwood herself well understands the struggles of the past year: the single mother of a seven-year-old son is a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and was without work for six weeks during the pandemic, first because her client died in October and then in November because she had to take unpaid time off to care for her son when he contracted COVID-19.

“I had to take off of work to take care of my son; I do private home care as a CNA, and they don’t offer sick time or personal leave,” Underwood said. “They said, ‘We can’t guarantee you’ll have the same job when you come back.’ I said, ‘That’s fine. This is my baby’s life.’ So I didn’t get any money to take off of work to care for him, and I was behind on all my bills because of that.”

Survey: Michigan women of color harmed economically by COVID-19, 78% back stay-home order

Even when people are able to work, employers take advantage of the fact that “they know you’re in a vulnerable situation” during the pandemic, Underwood said.

“You work 18-hour shifts because you have to,” she said. “I was working forced overtime. I got paid for it, but it was still forced. You can’t quit and go somewhere else because everything is shut down.”

This vulnerability also translated to spaces outside of work, Underwood said. 

“The pandemic amplified the conditions women already faced by restricting people’s ability to move,” she said. “If you’re in an abusive situation or your landlord was a slumlord, there’s nowhere for you to go. Before the pandemic, all these conditions existed, but you could maybe go out and find another job, find another place to live.”

‘Unable to go back to work’: The world Michigan women now face

COVID-19, of course, has affected everyone, and both women and men in Michigan experienced staggering drops in employment at the start of the pandemic. 

However, with female-dominated industries such as food services and education being hit hardest by the pandemic, women saw their jobs disappear at a faster rate than men. In Michigan, women experienced a 26.3% reduction in employment in April 2020, while the drop for men was 23.3%, according to the DTMB.

Additionally, that initial massive job loss for women has continued for a longer period and has failed to recover, while men’s employment levels have nearly bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, the DTMB wrote in its “Women in the Michigan Workforce” report. Ultimately, the state saw 213,000 fewer employed women in Michigan at the end of 2020 compared to the months just before the pandemic. The number of employed men fell by 60,000 in Michigan during that same time.

Women’s jobless rate also peaked at a higher percentage, 23.4% in May 2020, compared to men’s 22.6% in April 2020, the DTMB reported. Those numbers have since declined: Michigan’s average unemployment rate for 2020 was 9.9% for men and 9.6% for women, and the jobless rate for both men and women dipped to 7.3% by the end of 2020 — about 2.5 times women’s pre-pandemic rate — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

However, economists have warned those numbers can be especially deceptive in regards to women right now because they don’t include the women who have dropped out of Michigan’s workforce entirely. If the unemployment rate for women included the 136,000 women who have left Michigan’s workforce during the pandemic and aren’t looking to rejoin it, that statistic would be significantly higher than what’s currently being reported.

“There are still quite a few people staying out [of the workforce],” said Sandra Gaddy, chief executive officer of the Women’s Resource Center, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that works to empower women to be economically self-sufficient. “Child care is extremely expensive, and there’s been a lack of affordable child care in our community specifically. Add that to our current crisis, and so many women have had to make the decision that they are unable to go back to work. When you think about those women who are unable to go back to work, you have to think about how employers can better support these women in getting back to work.”

Women’s Resource Center Executive Director Sandra Gaddy

Gaddy also emphasized systemic racism plays a major role in whether or not women are able to return to the labor force. 

“The wage gap, that hits Black and Brown women much more than it does our white female counterparts,” she said. “We need to reduce that gap. You look at what that wage gap means: there are Black and Brown women in rural and urban settings who may not have education, may not have transportation; there are housing inequities that Black and Brown communities have dealt with for decades. Those are all things that impact their ability to go back to work, or, if they’re working, their ability to advance in the workplace.”

It is the 136,000 women in Michigan who have dropped out of the workforce entirely during the pandemic who are especially emblematic of deep societal failings, such as the fact that so many women and families are unable to afford child care, said Bergman of the Michigan Women’s Commission. 

According to a recent Michigan Association of United Ways report, about four in 10 Michiganders are unable to financially make ends meet, including being able to afford child care. That number goes up for women, with, for example, 73% of single female-headed households struggling to pay for such basic needs as child care.

“In late 2019 and early 2020, we had some conversations with women around the state asking what the most pressing issues they face are,” Bergman said. “Everywhere we went economic security issues were at the top of their priority list: affordable child care, paid leave, access to higher-paying jobs — and that was before the pandemic hit.”

“Child care was an issue before the pandemic and has been an issue for women and families for years now, and the one good thing about the pandemic is it has shone a light on this issue, so much so that the business community paying attention, our Legislature is paying attention, and our governor’s budget takes this seriously,” Bergman continued.

Amanda Aguirre-James, the workforce development manager at the Grand Rapids-based Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, emphasized child care is one of the major barriers for the women she assists.

“A lot of the women coming to us, either they can’t find child care or they can’t go to work because their children are at home trying to learn virtually, so a lot of them have been seeking unemployment,” Aguirre-James said.

“There’s a major rise — 100% — in assisting people with unemployment at the center,” she continued. English is their second language and a lot of people have education barriers and technology barriers along with the language barriers, so we help them with unemployment. It’s been a struggle because it takes twice as long to get in touch with anyone at unemployment who speaks Spanish.”

Dartanya Croff with her dog, Greysun

Being able to access unemployment is obviously crucial for a variety of reasons, including having the money you need to survive, but Dartanya Croff, a Flint native, noted the funds could also help people search for a job — including her return to her job as a tour guide in New Orleans.

When the pandemic hit last March, Croff was living and working as a tour guide in the Louisiana city where she had moved four years prior. As with jobs across the country, Croff’s position, which she adored, evaporated in what seemed like the blink of an eye and has yet to return.

To make ends meet, Croff moved in with her parents in the Flint suburb of Grand Blanc. Before she returned to Michigan, the 34-year-old applied for unemployment and figured she would soon receive it. Instead, she was told that because she had moved out of state, she was not eligible. That information, however, was entirely false, but Croff had to spend countless hours fighting for her benefits. 

It wasn’t until November that she got her first unemployment check — and she still hasn’t seen the thousands of dollars in back pay that she’s owed. On top of that, Croff’s unemployment checks recently stopped coming because the Louisiana Workforce Commission, which oversees the state’s unemployment benefits, is arguing that she left her job because of her physical health and not the pandemic — something both Croff and her own boss have said is patently false. 

“It is so stressful,” Croff said. “I’m grateful that my parents have let me come back and live with them, and it’s been so good to spend time with them. But, last year, when I came home, my spirits were up. Now, in March, it’s a challenge. It’s really difficult that I have to fight for the pennies they’re giving us; the fact I have to fight for simple pennies is a slap in the face to me.”

‘An inability to pay the bills’: The pandemic’s toll on single moms

When Dr. Carla Ludwig, the founding director of Hope for Single Moms in Grand Rapids, answers the phone at her small nonprofit these days, she’s never sure where in the world the person on the other end of the line will be calling from. Sometimes it’s West Michigan, other times it’s places hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away.

“Yesterday I talked to someone from Georgia, and I said, ‘I’m so sorry; I only work in West Michigan,” said Ludwig, whose nonprofit provides a variety of supports for single mothers, from helping them attend college to financial mentoring. “Someone from Zambia even contacted us. …I think what it speaks to is women are feeling desperate right now.”

Dr. Carla Ludwig, the founding director of Hope for Single Moms

The overwhelming majority of single parents in Michigan are women, according to the DTMB — and unemployment is leaving them to deeply struggle during the pandemic, Ludwig said. There are about 335,900 single parents in Michigan with children under the age of 18 in their household, and 79% of those individuals are women, the DTMB said. Single moms have long experienced a deep well of barriers prior to the pandemic, including steep wage gaps and unaffordable child care, and, faced with furloughs, layoffs and children home from school, the pandemic has resulted in an overwhelming “inability to pay the bills,” Ludwig said.

“We have one mom who was a restaurant manager, and, of course, that industry has really taken a hit,” Ludwig said. “She’s not working, she has three boys, and she’s renting a house. She hasn’t been able to pay for rent, and while no landlord is able to evict a family right now, she’s uncertain when she’ll be kicked out. If she has to pay all that back rent, that’s just not going to happen.”

The most frequent requests for help Ludwig receives these days is for housing.

“There’s a lot of women with children who have no housing; it’s super sad,” she said. “The shelters are full and have been full for months. You have to have some kind of income to get low-income housing, but if you’re not working, how do you get housing? They’re really struggling.”

‘We need a child care revolution’

There is a lot that needs to be done to make the lasting, systemic change to address the deeply-rooted issues facing women, and especially women of color, that have become so evident during the pandemic, those interviewed said. 

The wage gap must be closed, women (and, of course, all workers) need access to paid leave, and hourly and gig workers should always be provided with unemployment benefits — not just during the pandemic — but one of the biggest issues that can be tackled immediately is making child care affordable and accessible, essentially everyone the Advance spoke to said. 

Should that happen, people like Afton-Branche said, it would not only better prepare women for the next crisis but would allow them to return to their jobs now.

“We need a child care revolution in Michigan and the country,” she said. “Expecting a family to pay for most of it out-of-pocket just doesn’t make sense. Child care is essential infrastructure for our economy. In her budget, the governor included much more funding for child care and parents; we [University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions] would like to see that become permanent.”

Whitmer’s proposed $67 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2022 includes $370 million to expand child care and make it more affordable. The proposal calls for increasing the income limit for families to be eligible for state aid and child care, which would make about 150,000 more families eligible for subsidized care, according to state officials. 

Currently, child care subsidies are only available to families earning up to 150% of the federal poverty level — which translates to $26,130 for a family of two; $32,940 for a family of three, and $32,940 for a family of four. Under the governor’s proposal, that income threshold would increase to 200% of the federal poverty level — $34,840 for a family of two; $43,920 for a family of three; and $53,000 for a family of four.

The proposed budget also calls for boosting pay for child care providers and offer funding to help child care centers, which have been hit hard during the pandemic, remain open.

“Investments in child care are clearly beneficial to children and their families,” Whitmer said during the Michigan Women’s Commission meeting last week. “They’ll uplift our economy and empower us to new highs.”

The governor’s budget also includes $2.2 million for what’s known as the “tri-share pilot program,” an initiative that splits the cost of child care evenly between the family seeking the care, the family’s employer, and the state. In February 2021, three sites were selected to participate in the pilot program, including Goodwill Industries of West Michigan, which will serve Muskegon County; the Saginaw Intermediate School District, which will work with the Great Lakes Bay region; and the United Way of Northwest Michigan, which will serve a five-county rural area in the Lower Peninsula’s northwest region.

“If our lawmakers and business community had been paying more attention to and making strides like they seem willing to do now around child care, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” Bergman said. 

She urged legislators to back the governor’s recommendation to increase the child care subsidies. 

“If employers are willing to start thinking about child care as an employee benefit that helps to retain and attract workers, I think that would be a huge mindset shift that would be really important,” Bergman said. “We’ve got to figure out ways to support our child care providers, pay our child care providers and create opportunities for more people to start child care businesses. Most of those businesses are women-owned, women-of-color-owned, small businesses. How do we support that? Those are things a lot of people are thinking about.”

Getty Images

In the American Rescue Plan, hope for women

At the federal level, the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in March, is expected to provide a significant boost to women and families, Julie Chávez Rodriguez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, said during the recent Michigan Women’s Commission meeting.

The sweeping legislation, which is slated to bring more than $5 billion to the Michigan state government, included $1,400 stimulus checks for individuals, an expanded child tax credit that results in regular monthly payments for qualifying families, an extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, $30 billion in housing assistance, and $40 billion to expand access to affordable child care, among other initiatives.

“We need an economic recovery that’s not only bringing women back into the workforce but also breaks down the barriers facing women, especially women of color who are unseen, undervalued and underpaid in the workforce,” Chávez Rodriguez said. “We started that work with the American Rescue Plan, which promises immediate relief for working families who have been hit hard by this pandemic, and it takes critical steps in addressing issues fundamental to advancing an economic recovery that works for women…including opening our schools safely; expanding paid sick, family, and medical leave; and addressing our country’s caregiving crisis.”

The American Rescue Plan especially focused on intersectional efforts to combat systemic racism facing women of color, Chávez Rodriguez said. For example, the White House said the legislation is expected to cut child poverty by more than half. Poverty levels for Black children are expected to fall by 52%, by 45% for Hispanic children, and by 61% for Indigenous children.

Under the new legislation, the child tax credit is temporarily increased from $2,000 to $3,600 for each child under 6 and $2,000 to $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17. It also expands the number of people who are able to receive the tax credit; in Michigan, about two million children are expected to benefit from the tax credit and about 117,000 children will be lifted from poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Ultimately, Chávez Rodriguez, said, addressing the longstanding inequities facing women will result in improvements for everyone.

“When we make these investments for women, like providing paid leave policies and making child care more affordable, they’re good for working families and they’re good for our local economies,” she said. 


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country. She began her journalism career reporting on state politics in Wisconsin and has gone on to cover government, racial justice and immigration reform in New York City, education in Connecticut, the environment in Wyoming, and more. Previously, Anna lived in Argentina and Morocco, and, when she’s not working, she’s often trying to perfect the empanada and couscous recipes she fell in love with in these countries. You’ll likely also find her working on her century-old home in downtown Lansing, writing that ever-elusive novel and hiking throughout Michigan.