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Opinion Trump accidentally admits he’s abandoned working women

At a rally in Lansing, Mich., on Oct. 27, President Trump called out to suburban women, saying he is working on getting their husbands back to work. (Video: The Washington Post)

At a rally Tuesday, President Trump made his closing argument to the suburban women unpersuaded by his dog whistles and kidnapped migrant children: Hey, at least I’m helping your hubbies find jobs.

“And you know what else? I’m also getting your husbands — they want to get back to work, right?” he said. “They want to get back to work. We’re getting your husbands back to work, and everybody wants it.”

There are a couple of ways to interpret these tone-deaf remarks.

One is that Trump is sexist and still believes that “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing” and only men are expected to bring home the bacon. Perhaps. Trump’s defenders would remind us, though, of the women he has appointed to senior-level positions (Kellyanne Conway, etc.). Heck, the president’s daughter Ivanka even wrote a book called “Women Who Work.” So surely her dad is aware such ladies exist.

There’s another, slightly less chauvinist reading of Trump’s remarks, albeit one equally damning. It’s that Trump knows 21st-century women expect to hold down jobs and provide for their families; he also knows he has utterly failed to help them do so. In highlighting the (relatively) higher numbers of men finding jobs, the president tacitly admits he has altogether abandoned working women.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

In the past few months, employment among women has plummeted, with about 6 million fewer women working today than in February. Men have also lost a lot of jobs, but they’ve recovered more ground than women have. The number of men working is down, on net, by “only” 5.2 million.

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Women have also dropped out of the labor force in droves — that is, they are neither working nor even looking for jobs. The trends are especially stark among “prime working age” women, those 25 to 54 years old. Since February, nearly twice as many prime-working-age women as men have exited the labor force (1.7 million vs. about 926,000, respectively).

Why have women fared worse? Partly because of the industries more likely to employ women, such as retail, leisure and hospitality, and health care. These have all been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which has reduced shopping and dining outside the home and routine medical visits.

But the problem isn’t limited to women’s career choices (or options). Schools remain closed for in-person learning throughout much of the country, and child-care facilities are operating at reduced capacity if they’re open at all. Doting grandparents who might normally pinch-hit on child care are less available because they’re at higher risk for covid-19.

Whatever fragile work-life balance American families had going before the coronavirus has collapsed — with women disproportionately bearing the fallout.

As of this summer, 1 in 5 working-age parents said the reason they weren’t employed was that covid-19 had disrupted their child-care arrangements, according to a Census Bureau report. Among those not working, women ages 25 to 44 were nearly three times as likely as their male counterparts to blame child-care disruptions for their inability to work.

And as the pandemic wore on — and it became clearer the Trump administration had no plans to curb the virus that had shuttered schools and workplaces — the share of women pulled out of work because of child-care demands grew.

Those “Women Who Work” are on their own, it seems. Indeed, Trump had abandoned them long before covid-19 broke out, despite occasional attempts to pinkwash his record.

Once upon a time, Trump pledged another Nixon-goes-to-China presidency: that he’d usher in the traditionally Democratic priorities of helping parents overall and working moms especially, including through paid leave and affordable child care.

Trump signed into law parental leave for federal employees last year — as a concession to Democrats in exchange for Space Force. Other than that, though, Trump’s pro-women and pro-family pledges have been largely cast aside.

His administration stopped collecting data that helps reveal pay inequities by gender (and race). His promised universal paid leave for parents of newborns never materialized. Then, early in the pandemic, a glimmer of progress: Congress gave workers emergency paid time off for illness and child care through the end of 2020. Though temporary, these programs were a lifesaver to struggling families.

Trump’s response? To issue regulations severely restricting eligibility for this paid leave. (A judge blocked his regulations in August.)

Similarly, Trump’s main attempt to make child care affordable was signing a tax credit that primarily helps the wealthy. He has asked Congress to cut federal funding for child-care and related children’s programs. (Congress ignored him.) And in more recent coronavirus relief negotiations, the administration has lowballed Democrats who want to give generous relief to struggling child-care facilities.

Usually, Trump hand-waves away his poor track record on “working women’s” issues. It’s refreshing to hear him admit, even if accidentally, how much he’s let us down.

Read more:

Gina M. Raimondo and Mary Kay Henry: Women are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis. They must lead our recovery plans.

Dana Milbank: Why would any woman swipe right for this man?

Katrina vanden Heuvel: How Trump betrays the working people who elected him

Catherine Rampell: The U.S. is still ‘missing’ more jobs than it did at the worst point of prior postwar recessions

Greg Sargent: Why is Trump trailing? New polling shows it’s his slide among Whites.