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WREN: Working Women at Higher Risk in School Reopening

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By: The Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network

Today, Governor Henry McMaster held a press conference on COVID-19 and school reopening. Despite overwhelming evidence that masks are the most effective tool we have to curtail the surge in Covid infections among children, the Governor has refused to take decisive action. Unfortunately, his wishful thinking about “personal responsibility” will hurt children and working women the most.  Over the last 18 months, children have suffered from being out of school. Women have also suffered – economically, emotionally, and physically – as they left the workforce to care for these kids. McMaster’s emphasis on “personal responsibility” doubles the burden on working moms, requiring them to make a terrible choice between keeping kids safe from Covid versus keeping kids in school. We need our leaders to lift the burden from working parents and do their jobs to protect the lives and livelihoods of South Carolinians. 

Women are essential to our economy; they are doctors, nurses, cashiers, restaurant workers, and teachers. Most educators in our state are women and they have been on the front lines of helping our children thrive through the pandemic. They have also suffered the majority of job losses during the pandemic, leading to what economists have dubbed a “she-cession.” We know that there is no path to economic recovery without meeting the needs of working women. Two-thirds of South Carolina women are either the sole or co-breadwinner for their families. Women provide for themselves, their families, and our economy, but they do not receive the same support.

Governor McMaster acknowledged that, “Working parents cannot stay home with students.” We agree, so our leaders should implement policies that support parents and caregivers.  If we do not prioritize controlling the spread of COVID our state’s workforce, especially working women, will suffer.

This moment demands a multi-pronged approach and the cooperation of public health experts, employers, educators, and elected officials.  Increasing the use of masks and vaccines will help keep kids in school and help keep working parents on the job. These policies will not prevent every single infection, so it is also important that employers provide emergency and permanent sick leave; this policy is proven to reduce COVID infections among working people.  Employers should also utilize tax credits provided by the American Rescue Plan to cover the costs of providing paid time off related to COVID-19. Though these tax incentives are set to expire in September, our leaders at the local level can intervene. At the executive level, our leaders have the ability to provide time off for vaccinations and introduce comprehensive paid sick leave policies.

We must allow schools to take precautions necessary to halt the spread of this pandemic.  They know how to best protect their teachers and students, but our decision-makers at the state level stand in their way.

If our legislators, employers, and schools do not take immediate measures, children and the working women who raise them have the most to lose.

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