As the mother of an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old, I look forward to Mother’s Day each year. The creative gifts—from hand-made cards and breakfast in bed to flowers and “World’s Best Mom!” ceramics—are treasures I’ll keep forever.
After the gifts are opened and the breakfasts are eaten, it’s important for everyone take a moment to consider what American moms could use not just on Mother’s Day, but every day — and that really isn’t a “gift” at all. It’s long overdue, common sense policy reforms that boost our families and our economy, as well as vocal political support for these policies, especially from the growing slate of 2016 Presidential candidates.
Moms are a powerful force. The vast majority of women—including 82% of women in the United States—become moms. Moms are now the primary or sole breadwinners in 40% of our nation’s families. Women now comprise 50% of the paid workforce for the first time in American history; and nearly three-quarters of all mothers now work outside the home.
But despite these changes, our public policies are stuck in a bygone Mad Men era. The United States lags behind most other industrialized nations when it comes to access to paid family leave, sick days, affordable childcare, and other family-economic security policies—which costs America’s families, businesses, and economy dearly.
Simply put, moms aren’t getting a fair deal. This hurts families and our economy alike.
We shouldn’t have to face unjust treatment in the workplace simply because we’ve got kids.
But we do, and being a mom in the United States is now a greater predictor of wage and hiring discrimination than being a woman.
We shouldn’t have to risk losing our jobs or not being able to make ends meet just because we, our loved ones, or our kids, get sick.
But we do, because 80% of low-wage workers and 40% of private sector workers don’t have access to a single paid sick day, which is a basic workplace protection in more than 160 other countries.
We shouldn’t have to struggle to pay for childcare or early childhood education.
But we do, because we need our children to have safe, enriching places to learn and grow while we work, yet childcare now costs more than college.
We shouldn’t be forced to go back to work immediately after having a baby.
But too many of us do, because the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without a paid family leave policy for new moms in place.
When this many people are having the same exact problem at the exact same time, we don’t have an epidemic of personal failings. These conditions are the product of a political system that undervalues and under-appreciates the contributions and needs of mothers and families. We can do better.
The good news is we have a huge opportunity to work together to solve these problems—especially with the 2016 Presidential campaign cycle churning into full gear. America can do better, and moms are looking for Presidential candidates to step forward and advance smart solutions that make America’s families and economy stronger and more competitive.
That means instituting policies that guarantee paid medical and family (maternity/paternity) leave for all workers, help working families get affordable childcare, allow people to earn sick days, and make sure that women—particularly moms and women of color who face the most extreme wage disparity—are paid fairly for their work.
To be clear, advancing family-economic security policies doesn’t just help individual moms—they’re good for families, for all taxpayers, and for our economy. For instance, moms who have access to paid family leave after a new baby arrives are more likely to be in the labor force a year after giving birth, which also saves business owners money on recruitment and training, and are also significantly less likely to have to rely on longer-term government programs.
This should all hit home for the current candidates. All told, those who have announced they’re running for president in 2016 have a total of 22 kids and 10 grandkids. But if that’s not enough to move them, maybe potential the windfalls they’ll get on Election Day from championing these policies will.
Poll after poll shows that family economic security policies are popular with the public. One recent poll found extraordinarily strong support for family economic security policies across party and demographic lines: 96% of Democrats, 74% of independents, 73% of Republicans, 87% of women, 75% of men, 95% of voters under 30, 97% of African Americans and 95% of Latinos said it is important for lawmakers to consider new family friendly workplace laws.
Another recent poll found that nearly two-thirds of voters said that an elected official’s support for equal pay for women, paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave would make them more likely to vote for that elected official.
And while politicians too often use family economic security issues as partisan political footballs, the American public knows that these are national economic security matters that impact everyone, with Democrats and Republicans alike outside of the Beltway bubble in support of change. In fact, more than 70% of all voters support paid sick days and 82% of all voters support paid maternity leave.
This Mother’s Day, moms want more than chocolates and more than platitudes from our politicians. We want policies that will strengthen our families today, treat everyone fairly, and make America’s future more secure.
Although chocolates probably wouldn’t hurt.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is the executive director of MomsRising.