Would mothers like more options in how they structure their lives? I’m talking real choices, like a paid maternity leave and paid sick days as a minimum labor standard. Or benefits for part-time workers just like full-time workers, only in the same proportion as the hours they work. This could be access to a group health insurance program, or a smaller employer contribution to a retirement savings plan. Maybe Social Security benefits for both women and men could take into account time spent caring for children, or elderly parents or in-laws. If you could get as much or as little child care as you needed, and if it was not too expensive and fantastic for your child, would that be a boost to you and your family? What if caring for others was viewed as a socially essential and important activity, culturally and economically enriching, even when the carer received no monetary compensation? Do you think such a change in attitudes might narrow the gap between men’s and women’s poverty? All these things are doable if enough people want them. That’s what is meant by “political will”.
However, our public policies don’t include these, although most other countries have seen fit to put them on the books. A quick look at some figures might explain why. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the financial industry paid 2,565 lobbyists to work on Capitol Hill. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s really not that big a place, meaning you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a lobbyist sent up there by a bank or mega money corporation. One financial trade association paid its lobbyists $7.5 million in 2010 alone. The Chamber of Commerce (not known as a supporter of paid sick days, or any of the ideas above) paid its lobbyists $132 million that year. The American Bankers Association laid out a cool $7.8 million. And it gets worse. Goldman Sachs, whom taxpayers propped up to the tune of $10 billion under TARP, spent $7.4 million in lobbying expenses in the mid-term election cycle of 2009 – 2010. JPMorgan Chase, the happy recipient of $25 billion of TARP funds, ponied up $14 million. Citigroup, saved from the abyss by $45 billion of our money, has paid lobbyists over $14 million in the past two years. I could go on…
That’s an awful lot of money. If mothers, or family caregivers, or parents, tossed together a couple of million to send some lobbyists charging up the Hill to push for our cause, we might get somewhere. If people believed that both earning an income WHILE raising children is a worthwhile objective, and contributed to political campaigns like banks and credit card companies do, we might get somewhere. But mothers and fathers, and the adult children caring for elderly parents, and other carers don’t do that. So political will is the only means we have left. It won’t be easy to counter the influence of all that money, but it’s not impossible. We just have to be really, really LOUD.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
*Deep Throat to Bob Woodward, “All The President’s Men”