The social contract between Americans and their government - the bargain that says if you're willing to work hard for your country then your country will make it easier for you to get ahead and raise a family - was made for a time when most women stayed home with the kids and most workers stayed with one company for their entire lives.
But even though this time is long past - even though the vast majority of women with children today are working, including single mothers - we still have social policies designed around the old model of the male breadwinner.
And so women still earn 76% of what men do. They receive less in health benefits, less in pensions, less in Social Security. They receive little help for the rising cost of child care. They make up 71% of all Medicaid beneficiaries, and a full two-thirds of all the Americans who lost their health care this year. When women go on maternity leave, America is the only country in the industrialized world to let them go unpaid. When their children become sick and are sent home from school, many mothers are forced to choose between caring for their child and keeping their job.
In short, when it comes to making your way in a twenty-first century economy, our daughters still do not have the same opportunities as our sons.
The Administration's answer to this would only exacerbate the problem for women. The idea here is to give everyone one big refund on their government - divvy it up into some tax breaks, hand them out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own unemployment insurance, education, and so forth.
But for the single mom who's already making less than her male counterpart - the mom who had to go without a paycheck for three months when her daughter was born, who's now facing skyrocketing child care costs and an employer who doesn't provide health care coverage for part-time work - for this mom, getting a few hundred bucks off the next tax bill won't solve the problem, will it?
In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it - Social Darwinism, every man and woman for him or herself. It allows us to say to those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford - tough luck. It allows us to say to the women who lose their jobs when they have to care for a sick child - life isn't fair. It let's us say to the child born into poverty - pull yourself up by your bootstraps
But there is a problem. It won't work. It ignores our history. Our economic dominance has depended on individual initiative and belief in the free market; but it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity
And so if we're serious about this opportunity, if we truly value families and don't think it's right to penalize parenting, then we need to start acting like it. We need to update the social contract in this country to include the realities faced by working women.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
In this overlooked address to the National Women's Law Center, we are reminded about some unspoken issues that go hand in hand with education. Here's a couple of brief quotes. Click the title for the original text.