By Francesca Chambers, featuring Carrie Lukas, president of IWF

So many women have dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic that the Biden administration has said it is an emergency and warned of a setback so severe that it could stand in the way of a full economic recovery.

The White House says it is concerned that women are taking themselves out of the running for promotions, off the frontlines of health care work and away from education opportunities that lead to higher paying jobs because their family responsibilities are piling up at home.

“In one year, the pandemic has put decades of the progress we’ve collectively made for women workers at risk,” Vice President Kamala Harris told women’s advocacy groups and female lawmakers recently. “And the longer we wait to act, the harder it will be to bring these millions of women back into the workforce,” she said.

Women workers are in crisis, experts agree. Layoffs in female-dominated industries and widespread school and daycare closures have had a crippling effect on economic opportunity and advancement for women.

Critics of the Biden administration say those policy proposals, which even liberals have disagreements on, could exacerbate the problems facing women who want to return to work. Conservatives have fought to prevent more government mandates on businesses and passage of Biden’s stimulus package.

“What is needed is open the schools, open the society, allow businesses to open, allow the free American people to resume their lives. That’s what we need,” said Carrie Lukas, president of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum. “We don’t need another just absolute boondoggle of a spending bill.”

Conservatives are backing a bill introduced last month that would give private employers the option of allowing their employees who work extra hours to choose between overtime pay and paid time off.

Some experts worry that many of the low-wage jobs that have disappeared are not coming back. The government will need to help with retraining women, they say, and that should be a focus of Biden’s next big legislative proposal.

“There needs to be targeted job creation efforts in the sectors that have been hardest hit,” C. Nicole Mason, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said of future legislation. “And then also a second piece of that is the education and training and support for women who will not be able to return to their jobs, who may need to integrate into different sectors altogether.”

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