“Empower Women to Foster Freedom,” proclaimed Ivanka Trump as she rolled out the Trump administration’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP) in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on February 6. The first daughter claimed that women could bring about peace and prosperity, enhancing both economic growth and national stability, if only we could eliminate barriers to their labor force participation and income generation, moving them from the informal to the formal economy. “One of the most undervalued resources in the developing world,” she argued, is “the talent, ambition and genius of women.” The US would come to their rescue through a package of initiatives to be coordinated by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in conjunction with corporate and NGO partners. Workforce development, vocational education, and skills training, as well as access to capital, markets, networks, and mentorship would “unleash” prosperity for “families, communities, and nations.” Such is the Trumpian version of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Depression-era maxim, “It is up to the women.”
As our country braced for another threatened government shutdown last week, federal workers are more aware than ever that they must be prepared for swaths of time without a paycheck. As was clear last month, a staggering number of workers cannot weather a period of missed pay, let alone plan for a time when they can no longer work because of unemployment or illness. And this says nothing of the dream of a well-deserved retirement. But it’s not just government employees who live on this edge. Cringe-inducing stories of working Americans losing their homes, choosing between food and medicine, working just to cover their debt payments, going to work sick because they can’t afford the risk of being fired, and spending hours transferring from bus line to bus line to get to a minimum wage job have been part of the American experience since (and well before) the 2008 financial crisis.
Child sex trafficking is among the very few issues that can win bipartisan support in today’s political climate. But the laws resulting from this political alliance offer deeply conservative, law-and-order solutions that only minimally address the social conditions that make U.S. youth vulnerable to the sex trade.
Across parties, politicians are showing increased interest in developing policies around paid family and medical leave, especially for new parents. The latest creative example is Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s Economic Security for New Parents Act, backed by the Independent Women’s Forum, a politically conservative US non-profit advocacy organization. The bill would allow households with a new child (biological or adopted) to access Social Security benefits to cover their parental leave, in exchange for delaying receipt at retirement. The proposal has received little support from Democrats or the public, yet it is noteworthy that Republicans are offering new ideas for addressing the changing nature of and needs of modern families – for instance, the mother is the sole or primary earner in 40% of families with children under age 18 (2013 Pew report) – for paid leave after the arrival of a child. The United States is an outlier, late to the recognition that economic instability during family formation is a public problem worthy of a public response. Research shows the benefits of such paid leave for mothers, fathers, children, and employers. The dominant policy around the globe and in seven US states is publicly run social insurance, under which workers and/or employers contribute to a fund accessed by workers during their leave.
Being a mother is difficult—from childbirth to child care, women often bear the principal burden to provide basic necessities for their children. This becomes all the more challenging for poor women, who piece together their income with support from government social safety nets. Yet, one of the most basic necessities for mothers and their babies –diapers– are not covered by federal assistance programs. As these programs face spending cuts and the imposition of onerous work requirements—from the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut federal spending for Medicaid to House Republicans planning to cut SNAP benefits in the farm bill (Supplemental Assistance for Needy Families, also known as food stamps)—poor mothers must spend more money on food and housing, leaving even less available to pay for diapers.
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