The West Virginia teachers’ strike builds upon a longer movement that has primarily been led by women in Appalachia, one staked on expanding working people’s access to political power and equalizing public services.
The spring 2018 teacher strikes in Republican-dominated states were an unprecedented, collective response of a mostly female workforce against a decades-long assault on public education.
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.
The perfect mother is a ubiquitous, if impossible, part of American life. We see her in spandex at the gym, working out—self-care!—a week after delivering twins. She’s at center-stage when internet experts opine about how mothers can prevent teenagers’ opioid addictions. In the shadow of this unattainable, idealized vision of a mother as a virtual guarantor of their children’s health and happiness, actual mothers berate themselves for falling short of perfection, feeling ashamed and inadequate. In the American legal system, the pervasive stereotype of the perfect mother can lead to serious consequences, dramatically distorting the judgments of police, prosecutors, judges, and jurors.
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.
Equal Pay Day – April 10, 2018 – is the approximate date in the New Year to which the average US woman must work to make what the average US man earned at the end of 2017. Of course, for African American, American Indian and Latina women this day comes around much later in the year. As we mark this day each year, it drives home the persistence of the gender pay gap and the failure of our current laws to address it. What policy changes are necessary to achieve the intuitive and popular goal of “equal pay for equal work?”
HUMPHREY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
301 19th Avenue South Minneapolis MN 55455