The other night, as the first and only vice presidential debate was starting; I was scrambling to get to my car from a rainy soccer field where I'd been standing on the sidelines with other parents while watching kids play. Jumping over mud puddles and dodging fast moving vehicles in the parking lot, my two soccer-playing kids and I scurried to the warm dry safety of our car.
Yes, I'm an official soccer mom.
Turns out I'm also a barometer too. First thing we did in our car was turn on the heat. Second was the debate. And my ears, I have to admit, perked right up because in her opening statement Gov. Palin said, "You know, I think a good barometer here, as we try to figure out has this been a good time or a bad time in America's economy, is go to a kid's soccer game on Saturday, and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, 'How are you feeling about the economy?' And I'll bet you, you're going to hear some fear in that parent's voice, fear regarding the few investments that some of us have in the stock market. Did we just take a major hit with those investments?"
Soccer game? Did someone say parents? Stock market? Let me tell you something: This barometer of a soccer mom isn't hearing about investments, Wall Street, or the stock market on the sidelines. Nope. I'm hearing about healthcare, or, more specifically, the lack thereof.
Just last week on that same field, but different game, in warm, sunnier weather the talk among the soccer moms on the sidelines was glum. The conversation went something like this: "Where," someone asked, "can you get a part-time job with healthcare coverage for the family?" Another said, "Starbucks, I think. Heard you can work there as a barista for 20 hours per week and qualify for healthcare coverage for the whole family." "Not sure they're still hiring," someone else said, "but I'm trying to figure out how to make my schedule work so I can do it--not for the pay, but just for the healthcare coverage."
Times are tough.
Yet even in these tough times, most of the talk during the vice presidential debate was of stock markets, investments, foreign policy, and "the economy," which was more often than not a code word for "Fanny and Freddy," than Dick and Jane.
Sure, the economy matters (of course!), but the economy is about more than just Wall Street bailouts. It's about how we're going to pay for escalating childcare, how we can pull together healthcare coverage for our kids, and what's going to happen when we make less for the same job as a man and still need to pay the same mortgage or rent.
The debate moderator missed the mark by not asking including family issues in the ninety minutes of questions last night.
With a quarter of families with young children now in poverty, and the economic headlines looking like something that should only appear on Halloween, we can't forget about the everyday issues that families who aren't part of Wall Street are facing.
Indeed, now is the time when families need more help in the form of healthcare reform, paid sick days, fair pay, paid family and medical leave, and early learning opportunities; not less. And we soccer moms know it: A recent poll found that 89% of Americans are in favor of paid sick days, and 75% favor paid family and medical leave.
There are win-win solutions. The New Deal reforms which came out of the Great Depression of the 1930s uplifted the economy and the middle class--and weren't limited to financial institution bailouts.
It's time to start thinking more broadly about the reforms that are needed in our nation right now. And, it's time to include questions in all debates about where all candidates--male, female, Democrat, Republican and other--stand on family issues.
Everyone wants the soccer mom vote. After all, over 80% of American women have children by the time they are forty-four years old, and women make up more than half the electorate. But this soccer mom, this apparent barometer of a voter, isn't buying that Wall Street's woes are the only economic problems facing families right now. It's time to broaden the field.