Presidential Candidates Ignore Working Mothers
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The 2008 presidential race is historic because Hillary Clinton is in it. Yes, Clinton is a woman, but she is also a woman who worked while raising a child. Surprisingly, she is not using her experience as a working mother to her advantage in this campaign. Like all of the men, Hillary's focused on Iraq. I am interested in when we will get out of Iraq and how we will deal with global terrorism, but I am just as concerned about how the next president will deal with the lack of family leave and affordable childcare. I think that a candidate who articulated a comprehensive plan to help 21st century families to better balance work and home would win by a landslide.
There are approximately 26 million working mothers in the United States. In my own circle, every mother works, even part-time or in a home-based business. The majority of us had mothers who worked, and we tend to see our jobs as a hedge against the uncertainties of marriage and life. One of my friends became a single mother when her husband died of cancer in his early 40s, and another joined the ranks after a divorce. In a few other cases, the wife's income helped keep the family afloat and insured when the husband's corporate job was eliminated.
The stark reality is that the majority of American mothers work out of economic necessity. Even for married mothers, fewer of their husbands' salaries are enough to support their households. According to the Department of Labor, in 2004 nearly 71 percent of mothers with children under 18 were in the work force. This figure includes 62 percent of mothers who had children under 6 years old. Even an informal survey conducted on Oprah.com earlier this year revealed that 91 percent of mothers polled said that they worked out of financial need.
Politicians regularly state that they support children and families, yet the United States and Australia have the distinction of being the only industrialized countries that do not have paid family leave. An American working mother can expect to receive only 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and she only gets that if she works for a company with more than 50 employees. After the birth of a baby, not only do most American families have to cobble together a leave strategy, they also must struggle to pay their bills with one less salary. The same holds true if an older child becomes ill. This means that many single mothers risk unemployment if they cannot immediately find a care provider. Given the cost of childcare, it may be easier to locate it than to pay for it.
Nearly 12 million children under age 5 are in some type of regular childcare each week. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, the childcare cost for one infant is between $3,803 to $13,480 a year, depending on where in the nation the child resides. My husband and I paid nearly $1,000 per month to send our three-year-old to a day-care center, certified by the State of Maryland, for about 15 hours per week. The problem of paying for childcare is most acute for low-income women. While a two-wage household spends about 10 percent of its income each year on childcare, a single mother spends nearly 33 percent of her income on childcare.
Having children is serious business, so people should be both emotionally and financially ready before taking the plunge. However, current public policies seem to be stuck in the 1950s, presuming that most families are comprised of one full-time wage earner and a stay-at-home mother. In truth, working mothers, whether they are married or single, are now integral to our national work force. It is therefore not a handout to update our laws so that working mothers don't have to sacrifice their children in order to stay employed.
The real change candidate will not be determined by race or gender but by new thinking. The person who gets my vote will not relegate topics such as family leave, flexible work schedules and affordable childcare to the political back burner called "women's issues." This candidate will understand that to ignore the needs of half of our citizens weakens our nation's long-term ability to compete in a global economy and improve our standard of living here at home.