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Wed Jun 7, 2023, 03:38 PM

As US aims to bring back manufacturing, supporting women is key

(and yet, the WAR ON WOMEN continues)

As US aims to bring back manufacturing, supporting women is key

In Asia women factory workers powered manufacturing growth. Are there lessons there for the US?
Line worker Cheryl Simpson moves a transmission from the assembly line to a pallet at the Ford Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, US

Rising costs of childcare have been among several factors that have led to a steep fall in women’s participation at work [File: Carlos Osorio/AP Photo]
By Saumya Roy
Published On 5 Jun 20235 Jun 2023

Alicia Black’s four-year-old daughter, Rain, chats with her, trying to speak over the phone conversation her mother is also having. Black keeps up the two conversations while driving through rush hour traffic after working a shift at a factory in Milwaukee, where she makes lead acid batteries for cars and trucks and marine batteries for submarines. Black sends her daughter to childcare three days a week because it is all she can afford. It has led to an intensely complex and fragile high-wire act to look after her daughter while keeping her job. While Black works day shifts, her husband works night shifts at the same factory. Her mother-in-law looks after their daughter on days when there is no childcare.Black had to leave work during the pandemic when childcare centres and schools were shut and her daughter was home. “I could not drop out. We need the salary,” she says of why she returned to work after spending nearly two years at home.

Supporting women workers, such as Black, is becoming a key piece of the challenge of bringing manufacturing back to the United States from China and other East Asian countries, where women factory workers have powered manufacturing growth. On February 28, the Biden administration announced that computer chip manufacturers could avail themselves of billions of dollars in federal subsidies provided through the CHIPS Act if they provide childcare facilities at their factories. During the pandemic, the Biden administration also provided the Child Tax Credit to support working parents, but the Build Back Better bill, which it was a part of, couldn’t pass in the Senate. Today, it is pushing for more measures to support women workers, but as it re-examines long-held practices and regulations that have held them back, the federal government encounters women’s challenging work lives, which have only gotten harder since the pandemic.

While in China, nearly half of all factory workers are women, in the US, women make up barely 30 percent of manufacturing workers. This number may have worsened, new studies have suggested.

A study of working parents with children under three years old showed that the number of those who quit their jobs had doubled in 2022, while those who were fired had tripled. “While fathers reported taking a temporary hit, mothers reported taking a more long-term impact, such as quitting or being fired,” said Sandra Bishop, research director of the Council for a Strong America, an advocacy organisation that also did this study in 2018 to look at the effect of childcare on parents and the economy. Part of the reason for this, as well as Black’s break from work, is that when childcare facilities closed during the pandemic, already low-paid childcare workers moved to higher-paying jobs, such as Amazon delivery or at Target stores. As many as 54,000 childcare workers have left the profession, according to research by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California at Berkeley. The resulting shortage left formerly working mothers unable to return to work.
. . . . .
After a three month campaign, workers at a factory in Wisconsin won a two week maternity leave in their contracts for the first time [Photo via Brenda Scott]

. . .

Supporting women workers, such as Alicia Black (pictured), is becoming a key piece of the challenge of bringing manufacturing back to the United States [Photo via Alicia Black]
. . . . .

And it is not just Black. Women’s employment is five to eight times more likely to suffer due to caregiving responsibilities, a recent study by the think tank Center for American Progress showed. And while college-educated women returned to work at the same pre-pandemic rates, as many as 1.6 million fewer non-degree-holding women were working in January 2023 than from three years ago, according to the study. That number included women who work on shopfloors, in retail stores and restaurants, and other positions where degrees are not required.“The manufacturing of the past is going,” said Yale’s Troyer Moor. “The manufacturing of the future … will have to be women-friendly.”
Source: Al Jazeera


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