I was surprised to read recently that the number of women in the workplace in the United States has declined. In a recent article, Gail Collins of the New York Times reported that the United States now ranks twentieth out of twenty-four industrialized countries for women in the labor force. We used to rank seventh. This can’t be good for a number of reasons, including the following:
- The US economy has not been robust since the great recession of 2008. Higher employment is needed to stimulate the overall economy.
- Wages have been stagnant, and Americans report feeling economically fragile.
- Most US households are more dependent than ever on two incomes to maintain a family. When one parent leaves the workforce in a two-parent family, the standard of living falls for the family.
So, why are women leaving the workforce in the United States in greater numbers than in other developed countries? Collins says the answer is the cost of childcare. She cites these statistics from the Economic Policy Institute
on family budgets:
- The cost of childcare for a family with a four-year-old and an eight-year-old exceeds housing costs for the family.
- A single working mother with those same two children spends one-third of her income on childcare.
- In most states, infant care is more expensive than college tuition.
Other countries, like Japan, which now has a higher proportion of working women than we do, recognize that higher employment rates for women is good for the economy. They implement family-friendly policies, such as subsidized childcare and paid family leave, in order to encourage women to enter and stay in the labor market. In a previous article
, I reviewed lessons learned from the implementation of family-friendly policies in other countries. There are many best practices we can learn from.
It really does not make sense for the overall economy, for families, or for women’s careers for these obstacles—childcare costs and lack of paid family leave—to exist in the United States of America. Let’s hold our presidential candidates and law makers accountable for correcting this problem.
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