Women Voters say U.S. Health Care and Workplaces Must Change Post-Pandemic, Poll Shows

Most women are worried about both racial and economic disparities in vaccine rollout, as well as the toll of the pandemic on low-income workers.

Errin Haines | This post was originally published by The 19th

A majority of women voters say they want a new normal at work and in health care in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis’s disproportionate impact on their mental and economic health, according to a new poll from the Women & Politics Institute at American University and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

The poll also found that more than 7 in 10 Democratic women believe there are too few women in elected office, compared with about 1 in 4 Republican women. Almost 6 in 10 women overall believe that electing more women could help address the issues facing the country, including the ongoing pandemic and recovery.

This pandemic has brought the role of government to the front doorstep of many women, said Betsy Fischer Martin, executive director at the Women & Politics Institute at American University.

“For some, who perhaps had been focused on living their lives rather than paying attention to politics, it arrived with a bang: How would they keep their families safe, teach their children, or help with aging and vulnerable parents?” Martin said. “They spoke up, they voted and now they have a vested interest in how this country recovers.”

Nearly 8 in 10 women — including 62 percent of Republicans — said they agreed that the pandemic has exposed even more flaws in the American health care system and that the country needs to expand Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. At least 80 percent of the women polled said the pandemic has made them more supportive of better pay for and investment in elderly caregivers, and of policies like paid sick leave and paid family or maternity leave.

In 2020, it was women — the majority of the U.S. population, electorate and workforce — who were largely the deciders of the election. Women also made history in November, with the expansion of racial and gender diversity in Congress and the ascent of the first woman vice president, Kamala Harris. President Joe Biden also nominated a record number of women to Cabinet positions, including many who are the first of their race or gender to serve in their respective roles.

But women also bore the brunt of last year’s economic calamity brought on by a global public health crisis. Women are overrepresented in heavily affected fields including nursing and teaching, and more often serve as caregivers to both children and elderly family members. Women of color, in particular, make up roughly 80 percent of home health aides and nursing assistants.

In the pandemic, women have been the frontline workers who have kept the economy going, even as roughly 2.5 million women had to leave the workforce in 2020, many of them unable to balance child care needs with their employment.

The poll showed that women are concerned about the inequality exposed by the pandemic. More than 9 in 10 responded that they were concerned that COVID-19 has taken a much bigger toll on low-income workers and service industry workers who have to go to work and don’t have an option to work from home. Similarly, 77 percent of women — and 81 percent of suburban women — responded that the pandemic has made the country’s inequality worse.

There were also concerns about racial disparities in the vaccine rollout, though Biden and Harris have been working to address that through more aggressive outreach. More than 3 in 4 women said that they are concerned that vaccines are not as available to low-income Americans and disproportionally going to higher earners, and two-thirds of women said they’re concerned that vaccines are disproportionately going to White Americans and are less accessible to Black and Hispanic Americans.

The American Rescue Plan, which Biden signed into law last week, includes billions of dollars in aid to specifically address the impact of the impact on women and marginalized communities, including money for school reopenings, child care, unemployment, hunger, gender-based violence and housing assistance.

As the country looks to reopen, many women are cautiously eyeing how they will balance home and professional life going forward.

Only a quarter of women responded that they preferred going back to a workplace in person, and 45 percent said they preferred to work from home permanently. Nearly 3 in 10 women responded that they believed their employer had put them at risk of contracting COVID-19, including 36 percent of women under 40.

Mothers who are employed also expressed conflicting feelings about their children returning to the classroom. While 86 percent said they loved having more time with their children, 66 percent said they “could not wait” for their children to be back in school. Still, a majority of women regardless of political ideology said not enough is known yet about the potential for spread of the virus among children and the risks for teachers to return to the classroom safely. Republican women are nearly split on the issue, with 53 percent in favor of making schools reopen for in-person learning, compared with 14 percent of Democratic women.

The Women & Politics Institute at American University, Barbara Lee Family Foundation and Benenson Strategy Group conducted an online survey of 809 women who voted in 2020 and said they were likely to vote in 2022. The margin of error is 3.5 percent.

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