Testing, contact tracing, effective treatments — these protections may be necessary for the U.S. economy to reopen, some experts and elected officials have said. Philanthropist Melinda Gates told Yahoo Finance on Thursday that an often overlooked form of healthcare is similarly vital: caregiving.
An economic recovery from the coronavirus outbreak will require policymakers and business leaders to make caregiving more accessible for those who need it and more viable for the people — mostly women — who provide it, said Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and founder of investment firm Pivotal Ventures.
She said she envisions a future in which some workers return to their jobs while others remain home to care for sick family members or children educated remotely.
“We have had a broken caregiving system in the United States for over 50 years now, and we’re the only industrialized nation that doesn’t think about caregiving and value it,” she says.
“So what’s happening is during this COVID-19 time it’s exposing that broken caregiving system,” she adds. “We can’t get people back to work and rebuild the economy unless we really focus on this caregiving piece and do the right things.”
She called on Congress to improve the paid sick and family leave expansion passed in March, which excluded many companies from the benefits requirements. Moreover, she advocated for a nationwide paid medical and family leave plan — a proposal backed in part by both parties, though they differ sharply on the details.
“If there were ever an excuse for inaction, there isn’t one anymore,” Gates writes in the Washington Post on Thursday. “To ensure a fast and inclusive recovery, governments, business leaders and investors need to make caregiving a priority.”
“The emergency provisions recently passed by Congress are an important first step, but they provide too few sick days and cover to too few workers,” she writes. “Lawmakers can start by expanding access to paid sick and family leave for the duration of this crisis.”
“Congress should also enact a national paid family and medical leave policy that will guarantee men and women the ability to take time away from their jobs to care for a loved one or recover from an illness without threatening their financial stability,” adds Gates, who released a book last year entitled “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.”
The Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House remain divided over an additional stimulus measure, while President Donald Trump has sought likely-polarizing tax cuts to be included in the bill, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Trump said on Tuesday “there’ll be more death” as states lift stay-at-home measures but has urged a path toward normalcy in order to blunt the damaging economic effects caused by the mandates.
Payroll company ADP said on Wednesday that more than 20 million Americans lost their jobs in April. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its monthly employment figures on May 8, analysts expect the worst losses since the Great Depression.
Women at a disadvantage
Observers have noted that the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak will have a disproportionately negative effect on women, since they already make less than their male counterparts and suffer additional salary losses for time spent out of the workforce.
Women also do the majority of household tasks and caregiving, Gates noted in her op-ed. Such work has grown amid the coronavirus outbreak as children take part in schooling from home and families cook their meals.
“It’s no mystery who will bear most of the burden,” Gates writes in her op-ed. “It’s women. It’s always women.”
The emergency offers an opportunity to remedy a system that she notes has been broken going back to at least World War II, when women took up jobs as men went off to war, but the nurseries that opened to provide childcare closed when the soldiers returned.
“We may not have created the broken caregiving system, but our only chance of recovering and rebuilding is to be the ones who fix it,” she adds.