WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vice President Kamala Harris underscored the importance of affordable childcare for improving U.S. competitiveness during a meeting with top executives of seven companies including Microsoft Corp and Etsy on Thursday.
Harris – seeking to build support for a $3.5 trillion measure that tackles childcare, climate, healthcare and other Biden administration priorities – said the business leaders had shown that providing child care and paid leave boosted productivity and aided their recruiting efforts.
The meeting, which included the heads of AirBnB Inc, Gap Inc, Chobani, Seventh Generation and Patagonia, is part of the Biden administration’s push to ensure passage of the new legislation, whose mammoth size has already caused divisions among even some Democrats. Affordable child care “when we prioritize it as a nation, contributes to our ability to be competitive globally,” Harris said, adding it also had a direct impact on recruitment, retention, worker productivity, and corporate profits.
The White House said the companies participating in the meeting supported child care and paid leave policies.
Harris said Build Back Better, Biden’s agenda for the U.S. economy’s post-pandemic recovery, was aimed at lowering costs for families, helping businesses and strengthening the economy, while addressing longstanding “fissures and failures” in American society.
Economists estimate that lack of access to family-friendly policies, such as child care and paid parental leave, explains nearly a third of the decline in U.S. women’s labor force participation relative to other OECD countries.
Nearly 2 million women left the labor force during the COVID-19 pandemic to care for children and elderly relatives, and many have not yet returned to work.
On Wednesday, Biden met with business and education leaders including the heads of United Airlines and healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente to discuss efforts to address ways to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19.
The coronavirus has upended the economy and killed more than 617,000 people nationwide.
Businesses have in general struggled to hire workers during the pandemic for various reasons, though unemployment has fallen after spiking last year amid widespread shutdowns.
After passing a $1.9 trillion coronavirus-related rescue plan into law in March, Democrats are now pushing the $3.5 trillion measure, which includes $726 billion for universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and child care for working families, and aids caregivers of the elderly and disabled.
“When workers don’t have adequate care for their families, that can translate to lower productivity, increased absenteeism, and higher turnover – all hurting the bottom line for businesses,” a White House official said, adding that a separate coalition of more than 275 businesses had backed the child care proposal.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Andrea Shalal and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Lisa Lambert, Hugh Lawson, John Stonestreet and Jonathan Oatis)