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Opinion: The US social safety net has been ripped to shreds -- and women are paying the price

November 18, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Jessica Calarco writes that the government has systematically underinvested in our well-being, and as a result, people in the US -- especially those with limited power and resources -- are expected to self-care their way through hard times.

The work of building and maintaining that safety net is taking a serious toll on women.

And the only real way to reduce that burden is for state and federal policymakers to build a robust welfare state that does the work women currently do.

Even when women are working full time, and even when they earn more than their husbands, they still do an outsized share of housework and child care, as well as an outsized share of mental labor -- making sure bills are paid, birthdays are remembered, appointments are scheduled, school projects aren't forgotten on the kitchen table and nothing falls through the cracks.

In two new working papers, my co-authors -- Indiana University's Amelia Knopf, Emily Meanwell, and Elizabeth Anderson -- and I find that the work of holding together a broken safety net has real costs for women, taking a toll not only on their careers but also on their relationships and their well-being.

To reduce the cost of women's unpaid labor, we need state and federal policymakers to engineer a robust welfare state -- one that would reduce the need for unpaid labor and give women the support they deserve.

Sociologist Caitlyn Collins recently laid out an evidence-based case for four federal policies that all US families need, including: paid family leave (with incentives for fathers to take leave); affordable, high-quality child care (with sufficient federal funding to provide fair pay for the women, especially women of color, who disproportionately provide that care); fair work schedules (with paid sick leave, paid vacation time, and sufficient hours with adequate flexibility); and living wages.

First, high-quality universal health care would provide better support for the ailing and elderly, reducing the demand on women to provide unpaid care for their kin.

Unfortunately, the systems that led to US reliance on women's unpaid and underpaid labor -- capitalism, patriarchy, and White supremacy -- will work against any efforts to repair the broken safety net or build a robust welfare state.

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