Why widespread family prosperity must be our mandate in 2021
By Anne Mosle and Trene Hawkins
How will our children remember 2021?
It will be the first anniversary of a global pandemic many predicted, but for which our nation was woefully unprepared. It will be the first year of the Biden-Harris presidential administration. And it will be a symbolic moment for policymakers to start fresh and get it right – on our health, our economy, and crucially, on supporting our nation’s families. This can be the year we scale up solutions that embrace a culture of health and expand family prosperity. Access to a good job, education, health, and whole-family well-being are the foundations of family prosperity – as is an inclusive and expansive definition of family, that honors the multitude of ways in which we live and care for one another.
Well before the pandemic hit, we needed to do better for all families. Our nation continues to perpetuate systemic disparities in health and wealth along race and gender lines, intensifying at their intersections. This can be seen in the devastating – and disproportionate – blow COVID-19 has dealt to working women forced to leave the workforce at record rates, often due to the child care crisis – with mothers of color most affected.
One of the greatest barriers to family prosperity is the false narrative of “rugged individualism” and meritocracy. As a nation, we must come to the realization that the well-being of families depends on our capacity to stop judging them and instead listen and learn from them. Working parents with a child at home make up 41 percent of the workforce. With many schools only open virtually and dwindling child care options, we must assert that breadwinning and caregiving go hand in hand and finally make them compatible responsibilities. Our leaders in state houses, in Congress, and in the White House can change this narrative by embracing data-driven solutions that change outcomes for families, economies, and communities.
One way to put this this shift in motion is by focusing on one of the greatest gaps in supports for families across the nation: the aforementioned child care crisis. The solution: follow the lead of All Our Kin, which partners with family child care businesses. These small, home-based child cares are run by and serve families facing the greatest barriers to accessing child care. All Our Kin offers bilingual (English and Spanish) services including business and education training, peer-networking, zero-interest loans and grants, and marketing and referral opportunities. The result is a triple win: family child care providers succeed and contribute to the economy, parents go to work knowing their children are safe and learning, and children receive the foundation for success. Families and small businesses know what they need, and scaling up funding for and solutions to the child care crisis can not only drive up rates of family prosperity, but do so in a way that dismantles white supremacist systems and uses public resources responsibly, equitably, and effectively.
We also need to expand the policies that keep families physically and economically safe right now: specifically, paid family and medical leave policies. In California, an additional 6 million workers can now safely take paid family leave and know their jobs will be waiting for them when they return. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new bill into law that enforces job-protected paid leave for workers (including adoptive or foster parents) to bond with a new child or care for their own or a family member’s serious health condition – a vital need as COVID-19 infections surge in the state. Without this protection, parents of color, particularly Black mothers, and low-wage workers were most likely to be fired after taking needed leave. In San Francisco, only 58 percent of non-Hispanic Black parents and 54 percent of Hispanic parents could be assured their jobs would be there when they returned – the new law will increase job protection to 73 percent for non-Hispanic Black parents and 71 percent for Hispanic parents. This is progress –but health, prosperity and opportunity should be accessible to all families, everywhere.
Our mandate is clear: scale up family-centered innovations that put their health and economic well-being first. Make them a part of new systems and structures that lift families up instead of holding them back. As we walk into the new year, we must learn from the past and reimagine better. We have the resources – public and private – but it comes down to a matter of choice, and the responsibility of our policy leaders and the private sector to act in families’ best interests.
Let’s make 2021 the year we set an ambitious vision for family prosperity and a bold agenda to achieve it. The year we righted the wrongs that unfairly kep too many families from health and economic security. And the year we rejected old narratives and put real policies that create the conditions for families to thrive in their place.
Anne Mosle serves as a vice president of the Aspen Institute and executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute. Trene Hawkins is a program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Thanks to American Forum for sharing this piece.