Vicki Shabo & Angela Garbes at the 2022 MAKERS Conference.
ANGELA GARBES: So I just want to say that this is a really long and difficult fight, right? It asks us to use our imaginations, to imagine new possibilities, to build collective power. That's hard. So, luckily, I'm so excited to invite Vicki Shabo on stage. Vicki is someone who has been working on paid leave policy and gender equity for years now.
She does it as a senior fellow at New America, and she's going to come out here and we're going to have a conversation where she tells us what to do. And she's going to walk us through some steps that we can all start taking right now. So please welcome Vicki Shabo.
So, I want to know how you came to this work doing paid leave policy. Thank you for your work, and how did--
VICKI SHABO: You're welcome.
ANGELA GARBES: Yeah. What brought you to that?
VICKI SHABO: So happy to be here again in this room. So I came to this work personally, as so many people do. And that is something I have come to appreciate in talking to journalists and legislative staffers and legislators like Katie Porter, who was here earlier.
ANGELA GARBES: Shout-out Katie Porter.
VICKI SHABO: Always a shout-out to Katie Porter. So I came to this very personally. I was working as a lawyer in a law firm when I was pregnant and had my child. And as a lawyer, I had a very generous 100% paid leave policy at a great law firm. I actually had extended leave while I was on leave. They made it longer. For women and men equally, which is something that's very important.
But I looked around and realized that my secretary would have had 60% of her pay for 12 weeks. The support staff in the building, the mail room folks, the janitors, the very people you were talking about-- the child care workers.
ANGELA GARBES: The people actually keep things running, yes?
VICKI SHABO: The people who make things work would have had little to no leave. Some of them might have been contractors. And the inequities that build upon inequities, we economic security, health, well-being of children, your ability to stay at work and succeed in the workplace and go up a career ladder all depend on your ability to take the time that you need and come back. And so it made me really passionate about this work, and I've been doing it for about 13 years.
ANGELA GARBES: Amazing.
VICKI SHABO: We've made a lot of progress, but there's still a lot-- a lot-- to build. And that is why I love talking about this.
ANGELA GARBES: And I think it's true. We've made a lot of progress. We were talking about paid leave. I voted in an administration that ran on paid leave. But there's been some frustrations along the way, too.
VICKI SHABO: Absolutely, and yeah, none more than this year.
ANGELA GARBES: Yeah. Let's zoom out a little bit and talk about how-- this is a really great statistic. So eight out of 10 voters in America support paid family leave. And this transcends-- this number, this transcends party lines. And many of the same number of people support home-based and community-based care. So please, please help us understand why is there such a disconnect between these priorities and what our politicians and representatives.
VICKI SHABO: Yeah, it's amazing. And just to underscore, there are 53 million caregivers to children or older adults in this country. Eight in 10 people do not have paid family leave through their jobs, and 94% of the lowest wage workers don't have paid family leave at their jobs. Half of them--
ANGELA GARBES: 94%.
VICKI SHABO: 94%. 6% of workers have dedicated paid family leave at their jobs if they earn below $15 an hour.
ANGELA GARBES: Wow.
VICKI SHABO: So almost nobody. Unless they live in a state that's passed a program, and I'll chat about that in a bit. Half of American families live in child care deserts where there are more than three children waiting for every child care slot. And we have a huge backlog of home- and community-based care and an aging population. And so, people's lived experiences and what policymakers are doing is very disparate right now.
We came closer than ever. As you said, President Biden ran on a care economy agenda for the first time ever. It's in the budget. It was part of the Build Back Better Act that passed the House of Representatives. And yet, when tough decisions had to be made because we have this false narrative about austerity, all of the care agenda was dropped. Which was, as somebody who has worked on this for years and years, very discouraging, and makes me want to go run a bead store on the beach somewhere instead of continuing to do this work. But it's so important because there are all these people that are counting on it.
And so, we need more elected officials like Katie Porter and others who come from diverse backgrounds, families of color, families who have care workers in them, people who are child care workers. And we need, as you said so beautifully, to see others in ourselves, and to recognize that our struggles are all connected. It isn't just me dealing with my own maternity leave, or my neighbor dealing with her cancer diagnosis, or my other neighbor trying to deal with their aging parent. We are all in this together, we all have the same struggles, and we need to expect that there is a role in government to help address these things.
ANGELA GARBES: Yeah. Well, I want to thank you because, as someone who's been working on this for 13 years, it can't help it be really disheartening, right? And I love the origin story of how you go into this work because it is that solidarity that I was talking about. I believe people really have that in them and want to go with that and lean into that.
So I want to ask you because I've been on book tour for a lot of this year, and people really want to know, what can I do? People ask me that all the time. And I say, because I do believe that this is true, that you can pay your nanny more. Or you can check in on your community. Those little things that we do every day, they matter. They really do.
But again, you cannot get around the fact that this is a systemic issue. This is systemic failing, right? It's not a personal problem. So, how do we build that collective power?
VICKI SHABO: Yeah, well, we need to change the systems. You write in your book, and so many others have sort of talked about, the system that we have right now was designed by people who were not caregivers, who were not women, who were not people of color, who were not immigrants.
ANGELA GARBES: So, in that sense, the system is working exactly as designed.
VICKI SHABO: Yes. And that system is reinforced by this idea of individualism, and free enterprise, and neoliberalism, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Your bootstraps don't work if you have kids and parents relying on you. Your bootstraps don't work if there's a pay gap between women and men, and particularly women of color and white men, that requires, for financial reasons, in most cases, a woman to be a caregiver when in a heterosexual, two-parent family where one person needs to stay home.
Our system doesn't work when our social narrative and cultural narratives like reinforce the idea that we're in this by ourselves, rather than reflecting, as you said, the 80% of people who don't just believe in paid leave, who don't just believe in home care, but believe that there is a role for government and for public investment in fixing these systems. And so that is where we need to start to make change. And we do that, I think, in four ways.
ANGELA GARBES: Yeah, we've created this slide for you.
VICKI SHABO: The slide.
ANGELA GARBES: Because we really think-- I think it's important to leave here with not-- I don't want you to feel hopeless. We don't want you to feel that way. We want you to feel like these are small steps, but they matter.
Again, we have-- life is hard for all of us, but we have some power. We have privilege. And we can use it. It's time to really put it to work.
VICKI SHABO: Yeah. You have to share your stories. Sharing your story is really powerful. Sharing your story with your neighbors, with your friends, with your coworkers, talking about these struggles that everybody is facing in different ways but that are common helps to build community. Helps to build a recognition that it's not you that's doing something wrong. It is that the system isn't working for people today.
You need to support public policies. I bet everybody in this room is part of the 80% of people who support public investment in these policies. So support these policies. Ask your elected officials about them. We're two weeks out from an election. Close to two weeks out from an election.
Ask at town halls. Write letters. Call. Make it known that these need to be priorities. That yes, climate and health care, the two things that got done as part of the federal reconciliation bill, are super, super important, but so is care. We can't keep jettisoning care and continue to have a thriving economy. We can't--
ANGELA GARBES: It's impossible.
VICKI SHABO: We can't have a labor force that is responsive to the kind of economy that we want to have without having care systems in place. Third, you all have tremendous influence in your workplaces. You are leaders. You are here because you are makers.
Look around and ask what kind of policies exist, not just for you as a professional worker, but also for the part-time workers and the hourly workers in your workplace. And what kind of protections might be in place for contractors in your workplace. And ask what kind of policies are in place for men, and make sure that the policies are gender equal.
And lastly, and this is something that couldn't be clearer after this most recent legislative fight, make sure that your company-- if you're a member of a large trade association, like the US Chamber of Commerce, or the Business Roundtable, or the manufacturers, make sure that those entities start to change the way that they're thinking because they opposed all of the tax increases in the bill. And that is what jettisoned a lot of these priorities. So you can't talk about gender and racial equity out of one side of your mouth and kill the investments that would help to make those changes on the other.
And then, last, we are a room, mostly, of fantastic, passionate women. We need to call men in as allies and as partners in workplaces, and also in homes. We know that the care inequality in home translates into care inequality in society. So those are a few of the steps that we can take to start to make change, and it works.
When I started working on this, there were two states that had paid family and medical leave programs in place, and now there are 11, plus DC.
ANGELA GARBES: Yeah.
VICKI SHABO: I know.
ANGELA GARBES: That's not nothing. That's huge.
VICKI SHABO: It's not nothing.
ANGELA GARBES: I mean, I think about this. When you have policies that support families, that's like a child's life. Let's not gloss over that statistic. That is a whole universe. That makes such a huge difference in a community and in an individual's life. those things are so important.
VICKI SHABO: Yeah.
ANGELA GARBES: So, this is our last question because I know we're running low on time since they were sort of mashed up together. I'm so glad, though, to be able to marry the creative writing and thinking with on-the-ground fight. These are the things that we need to-- again, solidarity. We are in this together. How do we find ways to work and collaborate?
So much of my work sometimes exists in this nebulous storytelling. Speak truth to power. That's real, but it is also like, how do you build-- how do we translate personal politics into systemic change.
VICKI SHABO: Yeah. So I've been thinking a lot about that in the wake of the legislative fight so one thing that I've been focused a lot is in getting Hollywood to tell different stories. We heard a lot here about representation. Constance Wu yesterday was so powerful.
ANGELA GARBES: Not just-- positive representation affects all of us.
VICKI SHABO: So many of the speakers talk about representation of identity on screen. I think we also need to see the way that gender, work, family, and care interact in people's lives on screen just as they do in real life. And to be able to tell a narrative about how these are public problems, how our lives-- there could be nothing clearer in the wake of a pandemic that killed people, that caused a health crisis, that caused a caregiving crisis, that caused a labor force shortage, which is really a shortage of policies to support workers and good jobs. And then Dobbs.
There is nothing, nothing that could make this time clearer then that our private lives are public issues. These are issues of public concern. And then the last thing is a big topic, but I have to say it, which is--
ANGELA GARBES: Yes, please, please.
VICKI SHABO: --democracy is broken. And until we fix that, until we fix redistricting, and voting rights, and campaign finance reform, and ethics reform-- these are the things that have also created a political system where 80% of the people want something, and we have zero policies at the federal level. So we've got to fix those things. We have to join common cause.
ANGELA GARBES: I think about this a lot. We talked about America, it's an experiment, right? It's a democratic experiment. It's not working.
VICKI SHABO: We cannot--
ANGELA GARBES: We know this. And I don't-- again, I don't like to be a gloom and doom, but I think we need-- we just threw a lot of stuff at you, but we need everyone in this fight at all levels. So whatever resonates with you here, I think, you can go and do those things in your community at home. And if you have that bandwidth an energy to go out and work on systemic change, please do that.
VICKI SHABO: Yeah. We cannot take democracy for granted, and we can't make these issues private any longer. And so, go forth.
ANGELA GARBES: Go forth. Listen to Vicki and go forth.
VICKI SHABO: It's on us
ANGELA GARBES: Yeah.
VICKI SHABO: Yeah.
ANGELA GARBES: Thank you.
VICKI SHABO: Thank you.
ANGELA GARBES: All right. Thanks, everyone.
VICKI SHABO: Bye.