Janet Yellen received bipartisan support in her historic appointment as secretary of the Treasury Tuesday. She’s aiming her first big policies at alleviating the economic suffering of women, who saw major losses in the pandemic’s unemployment crisis.
Vice President Kamala Harris swore in Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary on Tuesday. The Senate confirmed Yellen Monday with bipartisan support. Yellen has made clear that among her top priorities are getting economic aid to women, who lost the vast majority of jobs in the past year.
For Courtney Ange of Matthews, North Carolina, child care would make all the difference. The single mother of two has a nonverbal son living with autism. She was forced to quit her job at a grocery store bakery to take care of him and her daughter full-time when schools closed in March 2020.
“I didn’t really have a choice,” Ange told COURIER. “I told my supervisor I had to go home. It’s been a struggle, but I’d rather be home with my babies to make sure they’re okay.” The initial $600 unemployment supplement included in the CARES Act helped, but the Republican-led Senate allowed it to expire in July 2020, leaving millions in the lurch. Since then, she’s been barely making ends meet on an unemployment check of $146 a week.
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“The pandemic has caused widespread devastation,” Yellen told the Senate at her hearing, Politico reported. “Whole industries have paused their work. Eighteen million unemployment insurance claims are being paid every week. Foodbank shelves are going empty. The damage has been sweeping, and as the President-elect said last Thursday, our response must be, too.”
Yellen’s economic recovery plan, via President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid proposal, focuses on helping the neediest families first, particularly those led by women. Women in the United States lost more than five million jobs in 2020 and 156,000 jobs in December alone. Men, however, gained 16,000 jobs in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to job loss because of pandemic-related business closures, school closures and lack of child care have pushed women out of the workforce.
“Where we stand out is that the United States does much less on the front of child care and paid leave than most other developed economies. It’s really critical to address those shortages, and it’s been more than evident in the pandemic,” said Yellen, former Fed chair and White House policy adviser, according to The 19th.
Safely reopening schools, procuring more funding for unemployment insurance, boosting the minimum wage, developing a national paid leave policy, rental assistance, addressing food insecurity, and mitigating the child care crisis are all on her agenda.
The final week of Trump’s presidency saw 900,000 new cases filed for unemployment benefits. Black and Latina women, disproportionately represented in the service industry, have been the hardest hit due to pandemic work and school closures that forced them into caregiving for children at home. Currently, Latinas have the highest unemployment rate at 9.1%, while Black women struggle at 8.4% and white women at 5.7%.
“The focus right now is on providing relief and on helping families keep a roof over their head and food on the table,” Yellen said. “But longer-term, I think it’s important to [be]… investing in people, investing in infrastructure, investing in research and development, in manufacturing and things that will create good jobs. To make our economy more productive, we need to think about taxes in the context of a package that aims to do those things.”
She faced pushback from some Republicans cool to the idea of borrowing more money for another stimulus package during an economic downturn on the heels of last year’s package. Yellen was clear that these are emergency aid and longer-term investments in the country’s well-being.
Emergency relief is what Ange needs. Borrowed money from her family has kept her afloat, but she says it can’t last forever.
“Right now, I have to make the choice between being home and helping the kids or making arrangements to go back to work,” she said. “But $146 a week isn’t really doing anything for anybody, and I can’t go back to work unless I have help. Childcare would be very helpful.”