Democratic women are putting the crisis of female unemployment in their sights, focusing on child care and industry incentives in promoting President Biden’s coronavirus relief package.

Women have been among the hardest hit in a recession that has devastated the hospitality and service industries, where women make up a large percentage of the workforce. Shuttered schools, meanwhile, have created more family responsibilities that disproportionately fall on women.

Since January 2020, just a month before the recession began, some 2.5 million women have dropped out of the labor force, according to the Labor Department. By comparison, 1.7 million men have exited the workforce during the same 12-month period.

The recession’s disproportionately harsh impact on women has led some economists to dub the downturn a “she-cession.”

Prominent Democratic women are now playing a central role in drawing attention to the issue.

“This mass exodus of women from the workforce is a national emergency, and it demands a national solution,” Vice President Harris wrote in a Feb. 12 op-ed in The Washington Post.

She said the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue package would help by providing $1,400 stimulus payments, additional payments for children, and increases in the earned income tax credit and child tax credit. All in all, she said, families would get upwards of $3,000 per child.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) last week devoted her first hearing to the issue of child care, for which $40 billion has been set aside in the relief package.

"To be clear, women are not opting out of the workforce, but rather they are being pushed out by inadequate policies,” she said on Friday.

“COVID-19 did not create the child care crisis, it exacerbated it, and it exposed the racial disparities with regard to providers, with workers, and to families,” she said.

Ninety percent of child care providers, she noted, are women or people of color, and frequently get by on very thin margins. The $13.5 billion Congress approved for child care in the past year, she said, was not enough to meet their needs.

Republicans have readily offered support for some efforts to boost child care and help more women get back into the labor force economy while emphasizing the need to reopen schools.

"Prioritizing options for child care and providing options for parents to get back to work has been something both Republicans and Democrats have been able to support," said Tom Cole (Okla.), the top Republican on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education.

"I think in addition to ensuring child care options remain available to parents, we also need to ensure our public schools begin opening their doors to students. There's no substitute for in-person learning," he said.

Katharine Stevens, a scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, argued that school closures, not lack of child care for young children, was the main catalyst for women leaving the labor force.

"According to the most recent reliable evidence, no extreme pandemic-caused crisis in child care for young children really exists,” she said.

“Studies show that, in fact, the primary crisis working women are now facing is due to school closures, not a lack of child care for children under five."

The Biden administration has stumbled on its stated goal of reopening schools in the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency, something Republicans have seized on.

Both Biden and Harris dodged questions last week as to whether teacher vaccinations were a prerequisite for reopening schools, despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating it was safe to return with other precautionary measures in place. They both said teachers should be prioritized for the vaccine.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said teacher vaccinations were not a prerequisite to reopening, said the relief bill’s $129 billion for K-12 education would help schools open safely.

“I think it is a fact that we all want children back in school, she said. “There has to be a recognition that it's going to take resources to do so.”

But when schools fully reopen and the vaccine is widely available, it’s unclear just how quickly women will be able to reenter the workforce.

While more women than men have left the labor force during the coronavirus-induced recession, the overall proportion of women outside the labor force has remained steady at around 60 percent.

That means women will have to return to work at even higher rates to bring down that disparity when the economy recovers.

The Biden administration will temporarily prevent big businesses from applying for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, restricting applications to businesses with fewer than 20 employees, according to administration officials.

 The White House wants to target small businesses and ensure that they are not shut out of the application process, as some were during the first round of the program last spring.

  • On Wednesday, a two-week window will open, where only businesses under the 20 employee threshold will be allowed to apply.
  • The administration wants to ensure that small businesses, which account for 44% of GDP and employ roughly half of America's workers, have ample time to work with their banks and apply for loans and keep their businesses afloat.
  • The administration will also change some eligibility requirements, concerning applicants with felony records, outstanding student loans, and uncertain citizenship status.
  •  In the $900 billion relief package signed by President Trump in January, the Small Business Administration received an additional $284 billion to allocate to businesses.
  • Some $134 billion of that pot of money has already been obligated.
  • Since the first relief packages were passed last year, Congress has authorized $806 billion.
  • In his American Rescue Plan, Biden is proposing an additional $7 billion.
  • Applications for the latest round of funding closes at the end of March.