Digging into the details of the jobs report released last week revealed a striking difference between the number of men and the number of women who have returned to the workforce the past few months. 

The number of women participating in the U.S. workforce fell in September, according to the Bureau of Labor of Statistics. The reduction was steeper for women who were more likely to have children returning to school.

Data from the jobs report suggests uncertainty about the ongoing pandemic and the difficulty of finding or affording good child care could be a barrier that prevents parents — mostly mothers — from returning to work. It's an example of why America should invest in human infrastructure. 

Statistics show 57% of U.S. families with children of pre-school and kindergarten age have "no good choices for child care where they live." Only 44% of the 4-year-olds in the United States "are served by public pre-school programs."

Even where choices for quality child care are available, the cost of that care can be prohibitive at an average of $300 or more a week. That may be enough for some parents to rethink the costs of returning to a workforce where the risks might outweigh the rewards. 

A UNICEF study that ranked the world's wealthiest nations based on family friendly policies placed the United States at the bottom of its list. The United States was identified as the only country of 41 included in the study "without nationwide, statutory, paid maternity leave, paternity leave or parental leave." 

Only 77% of the private-sector workers in the United States have access to paid sick days, but those are reserved for those who earn higher incomes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports two-thirds of low-wage workers in the United States don't get paid when they get sick and stay home. 

Lower wage workers are more likely to be exposed to more risks when they return to the workforce. And they will be the ones who will see larger shares of their paychecks go toward child care if they return to work. 

Staying home might make financial sense at home when the government opposes sensible policies that make workplaces safer and child care more affordable. It also contributes to the economic calamity caused by bottlenecks in supply chains.

Henry Ford, the American industrialist, realized he never would experience success if his employees could not afford to buy the cars that rolled off his assembly line. He made sure they could afford them by paying them twice what the average factory worker was paid at the time — organized labor kept the momentum going — and middle-class America took off. 

Somewhere between then and now, policy makers lost sight of the importance of middle-class workers. Working-class Americans were drowned by their trickle-down tax policies — it's time for reconciliation. 

D.E. Smoot covers city/county government for the Phoenix. 

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