With all the yelling and screaming going on, it’s easy to get distracted from the many important incentives women with children have to vote. In spite of what you see on the web or on TV, it’s not all about who becomes the next President. That gets more attention than it deserves, really. US Presidents still have to contend with existing law, the Congress, and a big and clunky governmental machine. They don’t get elected and then – presto – bring their campaign promises into existence, no matter who they are!
In fact, there are people much more interested in what you want than the President. They are the men and women seeking to be your voice in the US Senate and House of Representatives, and your state legislature. They are more dependent on your vote to be elected and more directly accountable to you, the constituent. State and local law touches your life every single day. (Just think of the residents in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, who already have paid family leave, and the New Yorkers who will in 2018.) The experience of the people making policy decisions on your behalf matters, and it matters a lot.
In spite of promises of fairness, justice, and equality of opportunity so intrinsic in the “American dream,” our laws and attitudes remain tilted against women with children. We’re so used to treating “women’s issues” as private, personal problems that it takes real effort to place and hold them in the center of political discussion, where we know they belong. We’re making some headway – the pay gap, child care, and paid family leave have surfaced in the current campaign cycle. Voting is a way to keep them there in the months to come, and press our elected representatives to seriously tackle these issues once they take their seats.
Why is it worth your time to politically active? I have some ideas. Vote because:
- Women have more education than men and are half the workforce, but still earn less.
- Women may end up paying more for that education because their lower wages slow down their student loan repayment rate by a year or more.
- Women with children are more likely than men to cut back or leave work because child care is not available, not affordable, or both.
- Even though most mothers are employed outside the home, in our lifetime we will do 40,000 more hours of housework and child care in our homes than our partners.
- Our greater time commitment to that unpaid domestic labor makes us poorer, decreases the number of leadership positions we hold, and keeps the national economy from growing.
- Because we earn less and are more likely to interrupt our careers to care for children or ill or elderly family members, we are more likely to outlive our savings in retirement than men.
That’s more than enough to get me to the polls. Not only that, I’ll be in touch with all my legislators, state and federal, after November 8 to tell them how important the proposed family and medical leave bill, pay equity, women’s leadership and Social Security are to me and my family. It’s way past time to treat child care like the serious education policy matter it is. Not only does it influence who goes to work now, it will absolutely determine the level of US economic competitiveness in the years ahead. We cannot keep our work/family imbalance and expect to hold our place in a rapidly changing world.
In spite of women’s breathtaking progress, gender equality is actually getting worse in the US. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, released just last week, the US has dropped 17 places in just one year against other countries around the world. Our score in gender parity in education is quite high. On the other hand, the proportion of women in elected leadership is relatively low (only 20% in Congress) and the pay gap is not closing (still over 20%). The number of women in the labor force is declining, which is no surprise in the only developed nation with no guaranteed paid time off for new parents. That’s driven our ranking way down, to no. 45 on a list of 144 total countries. The US has always trailed Sweden, Norway, and the UK. Now we find ourselves behind Belgium, Argentina, Poland, Costa Rica and Lithuania too. This must change – and fast.
I don’t claim that better policies can fix everything. Even so, they can certainly catch up with the 21st century American family. More effective policies can help men and women harmonize their roles as caregivers and workers, make the most of children’s earliest and most important years, grow the economy and promote gender equality. That’s why policymakers – the people we elect – are so important.
And that’s also why I’m voting. You?
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington