This is the sixth and final blog in a series detailing the panels and discussions that took place at the recent 2024 Care Conference hosted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and American University’s Program on Gender Analysis in Economics (PGAE). 

Build evidence to shape policies: that’s what IWPR strives to do through our policy research in order to win economic equity for women. At IWPR’s 2024 Care Conference closing plenary, panelists shared their perspectives on what, in addition to research, is essential to shaping bold policies for a just future. 

Darrick Hamilton, professor of economics and urban policy at the New School and member of the IWPR Board of Directors, challenged listeners to remember that poverty, economic inequality, and the injustice they foster are the result of policy choices. While it can be difficult as individuals to feel like we have much say in many of those policy choices, he urged that building organizations and movements can empower individuals to make a difference.  

A seasoned expert in building organizations and movements, Charity Wilson, legislative representative in the Advocacy Hub of the AFL-CIO, reflected on the role unions have played across generations in her own family. Wilson’s grandfather was a coal miner who started a union, and her father was a Teamster. She recalled with gratitude how her father’s union job enabled their family to afford Charity’s college education and provided health insurance and access to life-saving medication for her type 1 diabetes. According to Wilson, labor unions are uniquely positioned at the intersection of child care and economic inequality because union members are caregivers and consumers of care labor, and therefore, their unions must find a way to represent both interests. Wilson likened care to highway infrastructure in terms of how essential it is to getting people to work and how greatly workers depend on it.  

The AFL-CIO is also leveraging the power of organizing and movements to support the PRO Act, which will restore workers’ right to freely and fairly form a union and bargain collectively for workplace changes by strengthening the National Labor Relations Act. The more power unions and other similar organizations have to represent the interests of their members, the more collective power individuals hold in the policy decisions that drive economic equity.  

Zooming out a little from individuals and the organizations they can build together, Latifa Lyles, senior advisor at the Department of Commerce, spoke to the power and discretion that states hold when it comes to making investments in care. The Biden Administration made significant investments in the economy through the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, but state lawmakers wield the power to decide how that money is spent on the ground. States can and should use that funding for sustainable care infrastructure, which is essential to creating good jobs for Americans, growing a globally competitive economy, and supporting families at home. When amplified by the mayors and governors who hold the local purse strings, stories that highlight the local impact of federal dollars can really resonate with voters. 

Amy Matsui, senior counsel and director of income security at the National Women’s Law Center, spoke to how changes to US tax policy can bring about the change we want to see in the care economy while promoting economic equity. In 2025, the tax provisions implemented by the Trump administration in 2017 are set to expire. Matsui argued that preventing the extension of those harmful tax cuts, enacting President Biden’s proposal for the wealthy to contribute their fair share, fully funding the IRS, and creating a permanent refundable child tax credit are at the top of the to-do list for financing the care economy. Matsui shared some early poll findings that show when fair taxes are connected to child care access, Americans overwhelmingly support tax policies that would make caring for their loved ones more feasible.  

Convening researchers, policy experts, advocates, and community members in spaces like IWPR’s Care Conference is just one way to connect the dots between research, policy change, and economic equity. Building movements, engaging state and local lawmakers, and distilling complex policies into tangible impacts on voters’ lives turn understanding into action and bold ideas into a just future.  

Shannon Emmett is a senior policy analyst at IWPR.    

Watch the full workshop here and download the presentations here.