The Unity Agenda is the Women’s Agenda
By Rachel Pearson
It’s all there in the facts. Women outnumber, outvote, and outlive men.
President Biden in his Inaugural address asked Americans, emotionally and practically, to end this “uncivil war.” He asked this of us, a nation divided, scared and utterly exhausted by COVID and its deadly wake. He must devise a unity agenda.
How to begin? It’s all there in the facts. Women outnumber, outvote, and outlive men. The well-being of American women is, to a significant extent, the well-being of America. Secure their economic prospects and you will have gone a long way in securing the prospects of our many diverse communities. Crafting domestic policy agenda with the goal of advancing women’s economic security offers President Biden his very best chance at uniting this nation.
Three policy priorities to get the unity agenda rolling: paid family leave, Internet connectivity for all, and retirement security. It will be difficult and require bipartisan compromise and private sector partnerships. The Business Roundtable, US Chamber of Commerce, and NFIB, please take note.
Women are almost always the caregivers. AARP research shows that the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman taking care of an aging parent or a sick child. Seven out of ten family caregivers are women, which impacts the daily reality of their mental, physical, and financial well-beings. How is a working mother who makes less than $75,000 a year on average — and many earn much less — supposed to manage her life and take care of a child with special needs, a father with Alzheimer’s, or a mother who needs to be driven to chemotherapy? Even for women with greater financial means, caregiving draws down resources she will need later in life or was hoping to pass on.
Likewise, families must have high speed Internet in order to be productive and succeed. If we didn’t realize the significance of connectivity before COVID, we certainly do now. How is a child supposed to learn when Mom has to drive around looking for four bars of connectivity? This lack of digital access is most dramatic for rural Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics. 31 million Americans still do not have access to computer technology in their homes, according to Connect the Future, a coalition focused on connectivity.
These millions of Americans have been economically and socially trapped by a lack of technology. Besides education, the absence of access impacts healthcare and economic security — think of telehealth and entrepreneurs whose small-businesses depend on connectivity. The Internet exists thanks to US government funding, and our companies have been at the forefront of its commercial development. The Internet is a public good to which all Americans have a right. Simply put, connectivity is nothing less than an issue of economic justice.
A lifetime of these inequities leads to an ever-growing problem: we are heading over a retirement cliff. Women are living longer lives, and if they have partners, they usually outlive them. One in three Baby Boomers has only between $0-$25,000 in retirement savings. The majority of women earn less than their male counterparts, take time off to raise children, and are often poorer after divorce or widowhood.
In addition to the high cost of healthcare, the fact that women have borne the brunt of job losses in the pandemic and that women-owned small businesses were less likely to receive government aid places the US in a full-blown crisis. All these disadvantages make saving for retirement a daunting challenge for American women, which is further compounded by gender gaps in financial literacy. We must immediately grapple with how to support generations of destitute retirees. The good news? There is a bit of it. Congressional leaders and the private sector are actively working on common-sense solutions — all of them ready for presidential leadership.
Women awarded President Biden and Vice President Harris their victory, women of every color and every political persuasion. Women are the deciders of elections, but it would be wrong to think of women as a monolith. We are as varied as the stars in the sky, yet united every night, when our heads hit the pillow with worries about our own health and economic security and that of those we love. In advancing women’s economic security, you will, by extension, be lifting up our fathers, our brothers, our husbands, and our sons. There is your unity agenda for ending the uncivil war.