Last weekend, in the run-up to International Women’s Day today, the US Senate voted to allocate funds to an issue that has long preoccupied socialist feminism: the unpaid work of women in the House.

To be sure, Senator Mitt Romney and Representative Rosa DeLauro did not debate Lenin’s thoughts on this subject, nor analyzed the intricacies – or the sweeping implications – of Selma James’ famous 1972 call for “Wages for Housework!” But an expanded version of the child tax credit under the $ 1.9 trillion stimulus bill offers a modest and long-awaited way to compensate parents – especially mothers – for all the hard work of additional care implied by the coronavirus.

It is extraordinary that those who reproduce the human race are still not supported and impoverished for this fundamental biological and societal work. Without pay, in a world dominated by money.

Selma James, founder of the socialist feminist campaign Wages for Housework in Britain in the 1970s and one of the organizers of the Global Women’s Strike, which helps coordinate the annual protests and walkouts on International Women’s Day, wrote these words in the Independent around the same time last year, just before the global COVID-19 lockdown made the reality she described more visible and less tenable. During the coronavirus pandemic, with the closure of schools and daycares, many women had to work simultaneously or double as workers and parents. Others have found it impossible to do both tasks; as a result, a record number of women have had to leave the labor market or significantly reduce their working hours.

The 2021 Child Tax Credit does not address the enormity or depth of this crisis, or the larger and more persistent problem that James describes, but it does provide a bit of compensation for all this self-employment. Parents already benefit from a tax credit of $ 2,000 per child. The new legislation increases it to $ 3,000 for each child aged 6 to 17 and to $ 3,600 for each child under the age of 6. What makes the measure significantly more progressive than these increased dollars – although they are much appreciated – is that for the first time in twenty-four years of credit history, the money will be offered even to people with no income. taxable. .

All of this is more important than it would be in a better society. Against the backdrop of little government or social support for Americans to raise their children – how lonely we are – child tax credit extensions will make a big difference to parents. They will lift nearly five million children out of poverty, halving the number of children living in what policy researchers call “deep poverty.” For many more parents, this will ease the economic stress. The tax credit will be very welcome, a small reward for the extra hours of care that this pandemic has eradicated from all of us.

In addition, one aspect of this policy change is both redistributive and politically disruptive: it grants a “tax credit” to people who do not fall into the “taxpayer” category, a conservative ideal, a racialized paragon. “Deserving”. This implicitly recognizes that if people earn enough money to owe taxes, they still deserve it, and raising children is a job.

Yet while the idea of ​​”housework wages” runs deep and its urgency in any form is real, the child tax credit has glaring limitations in its current form.

Leftist political analyst and Jacobin Contributor Matt Bruenig called the policy a “comically complicated and bad policy design,” requiring far too much administration and too much paperwork for beneficiaries. Other critics have rightly pointed out that while this lifts people out of poverty, it only pushes them a few hundred dollars above the official poverty line, which still makes them poor, even if this is not officially the case, while possibly depriving them of other government benefits. This poverty line is far too low to reflect American economic and social realities, and the Child Tax Credit does little to transform those realities.

In addition, the extension is only temporary. There was a child care crisis affecting women’s participation in the workforce before COVID-19. Having children already took a heavy economic toll on the middle and working classes. Raising children has always been a socially necessary work that requires support to do well. This support should be long term, not just a stopgap to prevent economic collapse during this public health crisis. Encouragingly, Biden is reportedly in favor of making the tax extension permanent, and the measure is widely understood by lawmakers as a first step towards a permanent extension, although congressional policy is not easy.

As welcome as this measure is, it should be noted its sad neoliberal ideological framing. Benefits for private families should not have to come in the form of tax breaks. It sends the wrong message: that taxes are an absolute evil and that by cutting yours, the government is doing you a favor. This policy reinforces the dominant American idea that taxes exist in pure opposition to private welfare and that the best way to promote private welfare is to minimize taxes. For most people the opposite is true: taxes fund our playgrounds, ball fields, daycares and schools, without which (we noticed this especially last year) it is much more difficult to raise our children.

There is a similar problem with Biden’s $ 40 billion provision for child care (also in the relief package); too much is allocated in the form of a tax credit, again because of the latter’s conservative appeal. While the legislation provides for a bailout for child care centers, many of which were at risk of closing during the pandemic, and also provides money that states can use to make child care centers more accessible, much of the funding for child care children goes to families in the form of a tax credit (again too complicated). Any funding for child care is better than nothing, but the tax credit is another privatized way to help families, rather than an investment in infrastructure that could eventually become a child care system. universal and free children.

Tax credits seem conservative because they are. Parents should get all the support they need and hope that a taste of wages for housework will make people want more – but in a more transformative form. That’s why, while many of us will notice our tax credit more immediately, it’s probably more politically encouraging that the coronavirus relief bill includes funding for local governments, daycare centers and, in particular, schools. In the long run, solid funding for these services and reversing decades of austerity can only be achieved by most of us – not just the rich – by paying more taxes, not less.

I enjoy my own child tax credit. In the absence of communism or even full social democracy, I hope that this will continue beyond this year. But we all deserve better.



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