The State of the Union came and went. President Obama challenged Congress to recapture a sense of common purpose that, as he put it, has always propelled America forward. "In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan. And in the months ahead, I'll crisscross the country making a case for those ideas," said the president.
Some of those ideas will be good news to mothers around the country. That is, if we can get our representatives on board.
Here are the mom-friendly initiatives President Obama put forth:
- Affordable, High-Quality Childcare. President Obama acknowledged that having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, and therefore we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. "It's not a nice-to-have. It's a MUST-HAVE," said the president. "It's time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or as a women's issue," President Obama said, "and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us." The proposal includes a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year, to help pay for childcare costs.
- Paid Family Leave. Today we are the only advanced country in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. Parents in Sweden are entitled to a shared 480 days of paid parental leave, 60 of them reserved for the dad. In Canada, moms and dads can get up to 50 weeks at reduced pay. In Australia, each parent can take up to 12 months leave, with 18 weeks of that paid. President Obama has made a move on this and is directing federal agencies to give their employees up to six weeks of paid family leave after the birth or adoption of a child. He hopes this will pave the way for private companies to provide paid leave for their workers and has endorsed a $2 billion incentive fund to help states pay for family leave. (FYI: The International Labour Organization recommends a minimum of 14 weeks paid maternity leave.)
- Paid Sick Leave. Working mothers cannot afford to stay home when they are sick or when their child is sick, especially if they are the sole support of their family (one out of four mothers). According to The Shriver Report, two-thirds of single mothers are working in low-wage retail, service or administrative jobs that offer little flexibility, benefits or economic support to provide for or allow needed family time with their children. President Obama encouraged Congress to pass a bill allowing workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. "I'll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own," he said.
- Higher Wages. President Obama encouraged Congress to raise the minimum wage, make sure employees get the overtime they deserve, and pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. "Really. It's 2015," said President Obama, "It's time."
- Two Free Years of Community College. "Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market." President Obama has put forth a bold plan to lower the cost of community college to zero for the first two years, so that we can help students get an education without getting crushed by debt. "I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today," said the president.
While these proposals are encouraging, and show some sign of progress, they are not nearly enough. Today, households headed by a female and women over 60 are the two poorest demographic groups in the United States. Women and children are 70 percent of the poor and 90 percent of those on welfare, and one in four mothers in the paid labor force is the sole support of her family. Of all single mothers, nearly two-thirds are working in low-wage retail, service or administrative jobs that offer little flexibility, benefits or economic support to provide for or allow needed family time with their children.
The United States is the only major economy that does not provide at least some paid sick leave, and it is one of two countries out of 185 countries around the world that does not mandate some form of paid maternity leave (Papa New Guinea is the other.)
We can do better.
Send an email to your elected representative regarding any of the above policies that you care about. You can research and track legislation here. Here are some tips for writing an effective email. In order to have our laws and public policy accurately reflect the truth of women's lives, we need your voice.
Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed., is a women's leadership mentor and coach, specializing in helping women find their voice. She is the author of the bestselling book, Find Your Voice: A Woman's Call to Action. Learn more at tabbybiddle.com.