CNBC Transcript: U.S. Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) Speaks with CNBC’s Becky Quick Live During CNBC’s @Work Summit Today
WHEN: Today, Tuesday, March 30th
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WHERE: CNBC’s @Work Summit: Building a Resilient Future
Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with U.S. Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) at CNBC’s @Work Summit, which took place today, Tuesday, March 30th. Video from the interview will be available at https://www.cnbc.com/work/.
All references must be sourced to CNBC’s @Work Summit.
Realtime Transcription by www.RealtimeTranscription.com
Katie Porter On The Disparity In The Labor Market
TYLER MATHISEN: Well, while no one has been immune from the effects of the pandemic, the disproportionate impact on working women is notable. Over the last year, more than 2.4 million women have exited the labor force, lowering women's labor participation to a rate not seen since back in 1988. So, what can be done to address this disparity in the labor market? Let's hear now from Congresswoman Katie Porter of California. She will be interviewed by my friend and CNBC "Squawk Box" anchor, Becky Quick. Hi, Becky.
BECKY QUICK: Hi, Ty. Great to see you. Thank you for being with us. Katie Porter has been fighting the good fight for women over this last year, as they have been unduly impacted by the pandemic. She's been not only fighting the fight, talking the talk, she's been walking the walk. She's not only a Congresswoman, she's also a single mom with three kids, so she knows what she speaks of on these matters. Representative Porter, thank you for being with us. It's good to see you.
REP. KATIE PORTER: Becky, I actually can't hear you, so I'm going to answer the question that I hope you asked, and I hope that's okay, while we get the technical difficulties worked out. There you go. I think I can hear you now. Becky, can you say something?
BECKY QUICK: Let me jump in with that real quickly, Katie, so you know what we set this up with. I was saying that you've been really fighting on the forefront for this, and you know of what you speak because you are not only a Congresswoman, you are also a working mom with three kids. So you know what you're talking about on these issues. I know it's something you've been following very closely. Thanks for being with us today. Good to see you.
REP. KATIE PORTER: Absolutely. I think one of the things about the pandemic is people are saying, well, it's really hard for moms. One of my responses is always: It's not just really hard for working parents since the pandemic started; it has always been really hard for working parents. Childcare costs have skyrocketed in the last couple decades; that increasing productivity or longer hours that we hear about is difficult for parents and those who are caring for seniors, as well. So I think to the extent that people say to me, "Yeah, I want things to go back to normal," I think for a lot of working parents, normal just isn't good enough. We need to actually go back to something better than what we had before.
BECKY QUICK: So what have you been doing in terms of your role in Congress to try and help parents who are working from home, maybe working out in the workplace, trying to take care of their kids at the same time? What have you done on that front?
REP. KATIE PORTER: So two things. First is to shine a light on this issue, and we were very early to kind of highlight the fact that schools being closed for public health was having an adverse effect on parents, was going to potentially drive up their childcare if they were still going to in-person work or make that juggle in the working family really hard. So my office released a report showing the effect of the pandemic on women in the workforce, and we did it months and months ago. Now, it wasn't picked up broadly into the policy stream until just recently. But what we found was 22 percent of women have exited the workforce already, and more are thinking about it. And this is not -- you sometimes hear people say this is industry-specific, women work in the industries that were hardest hit, things like retail or hospitality. But across industries, even considering the industry effects, women are being pushed out. We're highlighting that, we're talking about it at every opportunity. The second thing we're doing is, what can we do about it? So there, the solution goes from legislative fixes. For example, I have a bill called The Family Savings for Kids and Seniors Act, which would more than double the amount that families could put into pre-tax savings to pay for the cost of childcare. The amount has not been changed since Ronald Reagan enacted the law in 1986, even as the cost of childcare has gone up 200, 300, 400 percent in that period. So it's a combination of legislative fixes, and then also making sure that we're asking ourselves at any point when we're thinking about stimulus, we're thinking about infrastructure, we're thinking about recovery, are we going to address the fact that unless we make important changes, women will be hurt by this pandemic for two or three years longer than men. It will take two or three years longer, best case scenario, for women to recover.
BECKY QUICK: Katie, let's dig through maybe one layer at a time on this. First, you said in terms of women leaving the workforce or being pushed out, 22 percent had left their jobs already. Is that because they got forced out by work, is it because the schools weren't open and they had to stay home to take care of their family? Is it because they chose to just do this because they can't make everything meet, all ends meet at this point? What did you find in terms of the reason? Because maybe that's one of the ways to try and address getting those women back into the workforce.
REP. KATIE PORTER: It's definitely a structural effect. I think it's really important that we talk about it that way. People do make choices, but their choices are shaped by the opportunities and the challenges that they face. So men and women are both parents in this country, and if it was really about staying home to take care of kids and we were doing that in a gender-balanced way, we would see parents of young children exiting the workforce. What we see is women, particularly women of young children, exiting the workforce. That tells us there is a gender-related effect going on. And the result of this, by the way, is that female workforce participation is at 57 percent. 57 percent is the lowest level since when? Want to take a guess? 19 --
BECKY QUICK: 1988?
REP. KATIE PORTER: Close. 19- -- yes, you're right. 1988. Did we tip you off, Becky? Since 1988. So we've gone backwards.
BECKY QUICK: I may have read that somewhere.
REP. KATIE PORTER: We've gone backwards, almost a generation and a half, almost two generations in terms of female workforce participation. Now, we all want, women and men, people, workers, to be making the right choices for them about work and family and moving in and out of the workforce as it makes sense. But what we're seeing here is women being left behind. And the result of that 57 percent female workforce participation, it's not about what happens to women, it's only in part about that. It's about what happens to our entire economy. So if you care about having a globally competitive economy, then we need to figure out how to allow a lot of those women to reenter the workforce and reenter and hit the ground running and recover in terms of pay, promotion, opportunity, talent, all of those things.
BECKY QUICK: First of all, let me just say I'm excited that your white board made an appearance. I would have been disappointed if we didn't see it at some point during this discussion. As a former teacher, too, you know how to make a point and how to use a prop on these things. What are you hearing from Congress? Because there are two ways to come at this. One is what employees can do, and we will talk about that in just a moment. But what can Congress do, what should they do and what have they already done to try and reach some of these goals that you just mentioned?
REP. KATIE PORTER: Yeah. So Congress did provide additional support to stabilize childcare providers right from the beginning of the pandemic. And this is important. We already had a shortage of childcare in this country, particularly of affordable childcare and infant childcare. So we provided funding to stabilize childcare providers, and we re-upped that as needed. Because we don't want to see childcare providers closing, that will drive prices and availability -- prices even higher and availability down, and that's opposite of what we need to allow women and working parents to come back into the workforce. So we've been doing that. But in this most recent bill, the American Rescue Plan, Congress provided for an expanded child tax credit. That expanded child tax credit is estimated to cut child poverty in half. But it's going to help the bulk of families. When you think about, you know, 80, 70 percent of families with kids will get this, what this is going to mean is more money to pay for camp, to pay for childcare, to pay for food to make it possible for parents to go back to work while taking care of their kids. Even if you haven't lost a dollar of salary during this pandemic, I guarantee you that the school closures have strained your working situation and/or have required you to spend a lot more on childcare than you were before. So that's one big thing that Congress has done, expanded child tax credit and that support for childcare providers.
BECKY QUICK: In terms of that, though, look, a huge part of this problem was that the schools were shut, are shut in many states, have been shut for a year at this point. If they are open, a lot of them are only open for part days. And many of those childcare centers were shut down for months and months. That may not have been Congressional action that did that, it was state-by-state with different governors making those decisions. But that was pretty devastating. I don't know if there was any way around it, but it was devastating. And that probably is the biggest single reason that you had so many women who left the workforce.
REP. KATIE PORTER: Absolutely, a huge problem. And you know, it was funny for me to watch, and so tragically funny to watch people start to say in late July or early August, "Gee, you know, schools aren't opening. We ought to do something about that." The day I started worrying about schools getting reopened was the day my kids' school closed in mid-March. It was an immediate crisis for me to figure out how I was going to continue to do my job. I was going to need additional childcare, I was going to need my kids to be more flexible, I was going to be more creative. So the fact that we waited months and months and months until we began talking about schools, which really has accelerated now, almost a year into the pandemic, we see schools becoming a big issue. Congress did act in the American Rescue Plan to provide $120 billion to help to do two things: One, to help schools reopen. It can be used for everything from personal protective equipment to HVAC, air conditioning systems, to expanding facilities to spread kids out a little more. And also, the second big thing that money must be used for is to help kids catch up, particularly for certain ages of kids, and kids with certain kinds of disabilities, learning differences. They are going to need help catching up, and we need our Department of Education to be leading the way in creating a plan for how to do that, how to remediate, for instance, kids who have fallen behind grade level benchmarks in learning to read, for example.
BECKY QUICK: Congresswoman Porter, we've got a question from the audience. Sarah asks: Women exiting the workforce to care for children instead of men, is that because men make more money than women?
REP. KATIE PORTER: So we don't know for sure. It's probably a couple different factors. It's definitely true that on average, women make less money than men. And we recently celebrated equal pay day, which is the point in the year at which a woman begins to catch up to a man in salary. That means a couple months, three months out of the year, basically women are coming up short. They are working, but they're not being paid the same as men. So that's one factor. But the other factor we have to acknowledge is cultural and social. So we know, for instance, that when women have time off on a resumé, they have a gap, there are assumptions made. Women get asked about their childcare arrangements, they get asked about if they have children, questions that are illegal in employment practices. It's definitely a factor. There's not just one solution to this. Part of it is a cultural change and social change. But we have to make the structural changes and then allow people, families, couples, parents, to make their own decisions about how best to divide. There's no doubt in my mind that it's a little bit of both. We've seen this in research before, by the way. When things are going great, it is men who get to make the decisions. When a family gets a windfall of extra money, the men decide how to spend that. When times are tough, when people do not have enough to make ends meet, which is what we're seeing right now, it is women who are told: You have to find a way to make it work. If you have to stay home, you have to do that. If we have to cut back, you have to figure out how. I think that's part of the reaction of this pandemic; it's not unlike we see with other kinds of crises, which is women are being asked to shoulder that psychological, emotional, mental burden of figuring out what to do in the middle of a crisis. In too many instances, that's meant having to leave the workforce. Now our job is to get them back.
BECKY QUICK: Let's talk about what you think employers can and should be doing as well. This audience is full of senior executives who are grappling with these very decisions right now. What would your advice be?
REP. KATIE PORTER: One of the most important things to do is be in touch with your female employees, if they have left the workforce. If you're going to be rehiring, bring those people back. Don't make the assumption that because they left the workforce in the middle of a pandemic that they weren't terrific employees or that they don't want to come back. Let's try to minimize the labor market disruption that we face here. I encourage people to reach out to employees if they're going to be rehiring, and ask them would you like to come back? When are you ready to come back? We want you back. That's really important, because any amount of reshuffling is going to disadvantage women, particularly women of color. They are going to have the hardest time competing to get those jobs. They were already behind in terms of what they were paid and the opportunities open to them. That's one thing we could be doing. The second thing is I think the idea discussed in the program before this about how do you help people design workplaces that work for them? While it's very, very hard to work from home, it is also really difficult to be stuck in traffic for an hour and a half and know that each minute that tics by, your kid is at risk of being thrown out of day care because you're late. It's really difficult to be asked to travel for meetings that you could have easily done via teleconference. So I think redesigning workplaces to focus on productivity and stability of your workforce, it makes economic sense, but it's also going to help address some of these inequalities that we've been talking about.
BECKY QUICK: In Congress right now, as these discussions come up, I know you've introduced legislation, you've had other Congressional leaders who have signed on and helped you with some of these things. Do you feel like, though, that this is a moment that we are kind of getting past it, things are getting to where the schools are opening, people are going to move on to the next problem and see what happens here, or do you think there's real staying power with this, there's real focus and attention on this issue that, as you mentioned before, will probably take years to correct?
REP. KATIE PORTER: There's going to be real focus on this if we make it happen, and that includes women and men speaking up about this issue, senior leadership raising these issues and being creative, pushing for change. If we -- like I said, going back to the usual for working parents wasn't very good. It meant unaffordable daycare, it meant long hours, it meant strained relationships. And so we can do better here when we build back. And I think we've seen President Biden adopt that language of "Build back better," not just with regard to physical infrastructure, roads or bridges, but also with regard to our care economy. But, we've seen Biden announce, President Biden, he's going to roll out the build roads and bridges, a traditional infrastructure, tomorrow. He said that the infrastructure relating to the care economy is going to be postponed until later, April or May. We need to make sure that when we get to the care economy, it's not, "Golly gee, there's no money left to help make it possible for women to recover economically." There is no money here to deal with the "she session," with women being pushed out, because we spent it all on roads and bridges. Which, by the way, despite advances of women in the building trades, those construction jobs are disproportionately male. So, I think we're at a real inflection point where we need to be pushing our President to deliver on the promise he made, which is that the care economy, an investment in the care economy is an investment in our nation's infrastructure because it's an investment in our nation's workforce. Childcare is just as essential to people being able to do their job as a road or a bridge to get them there.
BECKY QUICK: I think you just laid out the most likely scenario, though, the idea that these are being split into two bills. There's already enormous pressure from many corners that we've already spent too much. We've spent trillions of dollars, more than $3 trillion, how are we going to do this for infrastructure? If we get that Bill passed, what are the odds that there is going to be support for yet another measure that people will say this is not immediate, it doesn't have to happen that way, we were dealing with these problems before and we can get to it eventually? How do you change that momentum that -- I think you're going to be hitting a bit of a wall at that point. I think you laid out exactly, the threat.
REP. KATIE PORTER: Absolutely. The American people need to lift up their voices. And we need to understand -- because sometimes I get questions saying, "Well, you know, I don't have children, my children are grown and gone, you know, why should I care about this issue?" Because let me be clear. Every other country is doing a better job than we are. Virtually every other country has paid leave, paid sick leave, paid parental leave. Virtually every other country is achieving benchmarks of equality in different professional spheres that we are not achieving. You know, when I was elected in 2018, Becky, it was the second coming of the year of the woman, and I kept hearing, "There are so many women." And I kept looking around and thinking, this does not look like a room of so many women. Congress is still 25 percent women. When did halfway to parity become "so many" or almost, I think the allegation, insinuation, "too many"? So people across the age spectrum, whether you're a grandparent and you see what this is doing to your kids and grandkids, whether you're a single person just starting out in your career and want to have the kind of workplace that is sustainable and will allow you to have a life that you want to have, raise your voice and push President Biden. Make clear that the people who do the important work of giving care, whether it's for seniors in nursing homes, whether it's childcare providers, these are infrastructural workers, every bit as much as a construction worker, and we need to make that investment in the care economy. If we don't, it is to our detriment. And as to the argument, which we'll inevitably combat, "Well, it's just we've let our physical infrastructure to cave, it's been so long and we haven't invested in roads and bridges." That's true, but to be clear, we have never, ever, in the history of this country, invested in equal opportunity for working parents and men and women in our workplace. So that is an even more overdue investment, and we all need to be calling on President Biden to prioritize it.
BECKY QUICK: Representative Porter, we're almost out of time. If you don't mind, I would love to play true or false with you through a few questions.
REP. KATIE PORTER: Absolutely.
BECKY QUICK: Let's start with this one. In the beginning of the pandemic, you gave daily COVID briefings to your three children. True or false?
REP. KATIE PORTER: True. I would put up the number of people who were sick, I would put up reminders about wearing their mask. I found my kids were really good about wearing their mask and really awful about washing their mask. So we had to create some systems around that. They would say I have a mask, they would hold it up, and it would just be filthy. I still use the white board. Today it's on spring break. Camps are mostly closed in my area. Even today, I was laying out 8:00 to 8:30, have parfaits. 8:30 to 9:00, pick up. 9:00 to 10:00, park time. Really using that white board as a tool, because I think a lot of kids -- school teachers do that. Math time is 10:00 to 11:00. They're used to that structure. So particularly in the early days, I think it helped give our family structure, and it helped give me a sense of what I was supposed to be doing. And I would block off 2:00 to 4:00, mommy working, entertain yourself. I think that's really important, too, for people to do.
BECKY QUICK: Really quickly, true or false? You recently changed your minivan's license plate to "Bad Ass"?
REP. KATIE PORTER: False. It does not say that word, because my staff would like me to be a little less spicy with using that word. I did get a vanity license plate, a personalized plate. It says OVRSITE, O-V-R-S-I-T-E. I really have not realized all the benefits. Not only am I constantly reminded every time I get in my car the importance of oversight to every aspect of what Congress does; but also when someone asks you what is your plate, it's super easy to remember.
BECKY QUICK: There you go. Representative Porter, it is a pleasure speaking with you today. We really appreciate your time. Thank you.
REP. KATIE PORTER: Thank you.