Alas, the world’s longest election cycle is officially over. Regardless of whether you’re happy, sad, scared, angry, hopeful, or just relieved that you don’t have to hear political ads for another few years, one thing is certain: There is a shit ton of work to do.
Issues impacting families never go away; they just change over time. It isn’t enough to tout slogans about “family values” or “work-life balance,” when we, as a nation, don’t actually do anything to help American families thrive. Because as it stands now, too many American families are just trying to survive, so there’s no time for actual thriving.
The election might be over, but the work is not. Because working for equality, justice, and safety is never really “over.” So let’s get to work, shall we?
Here’s a few places we can start:
We need paid family leave, and we need it now.
Not only are American maternity leave laws wildly out of date, they are utterly worthless for many families. The United States is currently governed by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, or FMLA. Under the FMLA, new parents are allowed to take up to 12 weeks off from work without pay after the birth or adoption of a child without the risk of losing their job, but only if they have worked for their employer more than a year and for 1,250 hours.
And the limits don’t stop there. The FMLA only applies to employers with more than 50 employees, so if you work for a business with less than 50 employees, you might not get any time off. What’s worse, because the FMLA doesn’t actually require employers to pay employees who are on leave, the law is little help for those families who need that money.
In order for family leave to be helpful to families, it needs to be paid, and it needs to be used, as it is in many other countries. In fact, the US is the only country among 41 nations that does not require any paid leave for new parents – and it’s hurting all of us.
In fact, some medical professionals suggest that the FMLA’s current 12-week allotment should be doubled, at least. Dr. Benard Dreyer, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at the New York University School of Medicine and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, thinks six to nine months should be the minimum. “I know we’re so far away from that, that it’s hard to even speak about,” he told NPR, “but by six months the parent is really in a different place with their child. Leaving them part of the day and finding childcare is also easier at that point.”
Equal work deserves equal pay.
There is no doubt that women earn less than men. In fact, according to the National Organization for Women, when comparing differences in annual earnings between men and women, there is about a 23% difference per dollar. That pay discrepancy is even worse for women of color. And all the mansplaining about the veracity of those numbers – and rationalizing the reasons for the numbers – will get us nowhere. The simple truth is that women earn less, and we need to figure out a way to fix that.
According to Pew Research Center, in almost half of two-parent households, both parents now work full-time, and in 40% of all families with children, the mother is the sole or primary breadwinner. So if Mama’s underpaid, the whole family is underpaid.
The gender pay gap is a big problem that isn’t going to fix itself. It will take work on the part of everyone – individuals, families, employers, and governments. Women should be empowered to ask for raises and negotiate salaries. Men need to step up to the plate on the homefront, tackling household chores so that women aren’t pulling more than their fair share at work and home.
Employers can adopt paid family leave policies and then self-audit to make sure that salaries are fair. Laws can be passed to help close the wage gap. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which protects a woman’s right to take action against pay discrimination, was a good first step, but more can be done. For instance, raising the minimum wage and expanding the scope of the Equal Rights Amendment would be helpful.
Childcare shouldn’t cost as much as college tuition.
According to a report from The Care Index, in 33 states the cost of infant care is higher than the cost of college tuition: $9,589 a year for daycare compared to $9,410 for college. Let that sink in for a minute. It costs more to send a kid to daycare than college. Combined with the fact that leaving the workforce for a few years to raise children can cost a family hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, wage growth, and retirement assets, many families are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Subsidized childcare, tax credits, paid family leave, and public education are all ways to make the rock and hard place a little, well, less hard.
Healthcare isn’t a luxury. It’s a basic human right.
There are plenty of things we get right when it comes to healthcare in America, but there is still so much room for improvement. Millions of Americans are without health insurance, and many can’t afford their deductibles. Postpartum moms are basically given the middle finger. Insurance companies care more about profits than covering their customers, and the whole system is confusing AF. We can do better than this. We need to do better than this. Lives are literally at stake here, people.
We need to build bridges.
One thing is abundantly clear: We are a divided, hurting nation. We need some healing TLC, and we need it stat. Racism, misogyny, and bigotry are deeply embedded in our society, and the wounds aren’t going to heal themselves. I’ll be honest, just five minutes of the nightly news or a quick scroll through my newsfeed is enough to make me want to curl up in the fetal position under a blanket and not come out until the country can get its act together. But, alas, nothing is ever accomplished by doing nothing.
Even though the problems are big and huge and overwhelming, there are lots of little things we can do each and every day to make the world a better place. We might not solve all the world’s problems, but we can always do something. And something is always better than nothing when it comes to things like tolerance, kindness, and love.
The work of improving our country and moving forward is a never-ending job. It doesn’t end with an election or one particular candidate; issues affecting family and women’s rights will continue. There are no quick fixes or easy answers. This is hard work — and important work.
But I have no doubt that we are up for the job.