A New Deal, This Time for EveryoneBreaking News
tags: labor, New Deal, Child Care, family, Gender Equity
The New Deal was mostly for men. The great public works projects that endure in public memory employed men. Labor protections enacted between 1934 and 1939 excluded domestic workers, restaurant workers, retail clerks and others in jobs with large female work forces. New safety nets for the unemployed, for the disabled and for older Americans were similarly tailored for men, who were supposed to provide for everyone else.
Equally telling are the kinds of help the government did not provide. Unlike other industrial nations that unfurled safety nets in the same decades, America’s new laws did not require employers to offer paid family leave or paid sick leave. There was no attempt to provide or subsidize child care. At the time, relatively few mothers worked outside the home, and policymakers did not think they should. One irony in the efforts of later generations to force welfare recipients to find jobs is that the program, launched as part of the New Deal, was intended to make it possible for single mothers to stay home.
’Tis the season for comparing the new administration’s plans to the New Deal, but in one important respect, President Biden is seeking to chart a different course.
To paraphrase Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mr. Biden is proposing to include women in the sequel.
A big chunk of the money in the administration’s twin spending bills, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, is aimed at helping people better balance paid work and family obligations. The Biden administration has emphasized that child care subsidies will benefit children and that senior care subsidies will benefit seniors. It has emphasized that freeing caregivers to take paying jobs will benefit the economy. In other words, it has described these policies in terms of their benefits to others. What has not been emphasized sufficiently is the benefit to women, who bear most of the responsibility for providing care.
The necessity of these programs, which has been particularly obvious during the pandemic, may prompt some to wonder what has taken so long. One answer is that the New Deal taught Americans what to expect, and what not to expect, from government. Another answer is that social conservatives have long fought to preserve a particular version of family life — one that has never been as common in reality as in the popular imagination.
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