Chairman Davis Opening on Universal Paid Leave and Guaranteed Access to Child Care
(As prepared for delivery)
At our full Committee hearing last month, we heard directly from five women about the impossible choices they face every day. Their stories represent so many families across the country: struggling to find and afford child care; lacking paid leave to bond with a new child, care for a loved one, or cope with a serious medical issue; and being trapped in low-paid work to accommodate their family responsibilities. They are doing their best, but they are exhausted, and scared, and financially-fragile. We owe them better.
This problem is not new, although the pandemic has spotlighted it. The United States does not guarantee child care. It is the only industrialized nation that does not provide paid leave to new parents, and one of only two that does not ensure that workers dealing with serious illness can take paid leave. And we pay the price in lower workforce participation and greater inequality.
Critics sometimes disparage universal benefit access as “one size fits all” or “involuntary.” But really, universal benefits recognize the essential nature of the benefits - paid leave "fits all of us"; guaranteed child care "fits all of us" - all workers, businesses, and a strong economy. The pandemic made crystal clear that the current patchwork system leaves most of us out and harms our economy by removing millions of workers from the labor force and hundreds of millions in earnings. Universal benefits are not a gamble or a whim; we have the benefit of decades of research from state and international implementation that comprehensive protections do not overly burden businesses. They remove burdens from workers and families, which strengthens businesses, workers, and the economy.
These struggles are personal for me because the people I represent on Chicago’s West Side are disproportionately among those left out.
These workers are Black, which means they are 86 percent more likely to be unable to take leave when they need to care for others or themselves. Black women work and use paid child care at higher rates than other groups, but they earn less; so they struggle to pay the bills.
These workers are poor, in part because the need for caregiving flexibility forces single parents and grandparent caregivers into lower-paid work and part-time schedules that lack paid leave. About one-third of highly-paid workers get paid leave from their employers, but only 8 percent of the lowest-paid workers do. Further, poor communities like mine are disproportionately likely to be “child care deserts,” or places where there are more than three young children for every available child care slot.
We have reached a crossroads. As we rebuild our economy, we must decide whether to advance an economy that works for all types of families or to continue an economy that makes it impossible for most workers to earn a decent wage while also caring for their families.
Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee have made our choice. Last month, we published a discussion draft of the Building an Economy for Families Act that lays out our plan to invest in child care, provide universal paid family and medical leave, and sharply reduce child poverty. We asked for ideas and feedback on how to make our plan even stronger.
Today, we invited any Member of the House with a plan to testify before us, and we invited a panel of experts to advise us about the most effective ways to solve these problems for all workers, right now. I understand that my Republican colleagues on the Committee have just offered some proposals in this area as well, and I look forward to reviewing them and discussing in the future.
I look forward to hearing from our Member panel and our expert witnesses, and I hope that all my colleagues will join me in taking action to truly support all workers and all families across the United States.
And with that I will recognize the Ranking Member, Mrs. Walorski, for an opening statement.