Comment: GOP’s plan to help working moms? Marry a rich husband

Policies that would help those moms — childcare, paid leave and sick days — are opposed by Republicans.

By Kathryn Anne Edwards / For Bloomberg Opinion

The Republican Party is making yet another appeal to mothers, hoping to get them in Donald Trump’s camp ahead of this year’s presidential election. As Alabama Sen. Katie Britt put it in her State of the Union rebuttal, “we are the party of hardworking parents and families. We want to give you and your children the opportunities to thrive; and we want families to grow.”

Don’t buy it. Judging from Republicans’ actual policies, their real message couldn’t be more different: If you care about your kids and their future, they advise, marry rich.

Let’s review the many things mothers in the U.S. don’t have. Paid time off for childbirth. Mandatory coverage of maternal care in private health insurance plans. Capped out-of-pocket costs for labor and delivery. Paid or even unpaid leave to care for their newborns. Broad support for early childhood education. Accessible and affordable child care. Paid sick days to take care of an ill kid. Labor laws that support the right to part-time or flexible work.

Republican politicians offer at best scant support for such family-friendly policies and are usually fiercely opposed. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., got a lot of flak for tanking the family provisions of Build Back Better — including a tax credit proven to keep millions of children out of poverty — but not a single Republican member of Congress supported them either.

The failure to change America’s policies amounts to an endorsement of the status quo, in which being a mother is dangerous, difficult and expensive. The probability of dying during pregnancy or soon after childbirth has increased every year for the past 20 years, soaring in the first two years of the pandemic. One in 6 mothers raise their children in poverty. One in 12 must witness their children suffer from food insecurity. Most with kids under six work, spending on average a fourth of their household income on child care; or settling for unpaid, low-quality care from friends and family that leads to a steep disadvantage in school. For all their struggles, women who have children in the U.S. are perceived by the labor market as less competent and experience a 20 percent to 30 percent average reduction in lifetime earnings. Lifetime. They’ll never recover.

Republicans have a simple solution for the challenge of being both a mom and a worker: Stay at home. Focus on the traditional female role of raising the kids. Yet for most mothers who do so, it’s not a choice. They typically need and want a job, but report that they can’t find or maintain one, in part because child care is so scarce and costly. They’re more likely than their employed counterparts to lack a higher education and to be in poverty. Staying home is evidence of the economic insecurity associated with motherhood, not a solution to it.

Granted, some mothers are unscathed by the status quo. They’re fine without basic supports, insulated from policy failures. They have excellent health insurance, don’t need any paid time off, can afford child care and are unbothered by lifetime earnings penalties. Who are they? Stay-at-home moms who have a rich husband. Republicans even help them maintain that wealth, by keeping their taxes low.

The one alternative to having a husband provide enough cash to stay at home would be for the government to do it — to pay moms for the work of raising kids. But Republicans outright loathe the idea. This is the party that invented work requirements for food stamps.

Marry rich. If you think about it, that’s effectively the Republican platform. Take off the table everything they oppose — paid leave, paid sick days, strict health insurance regulations, free child care and labor rights for moms — and that’s what remains, the only sure-fire solution to the woes of motherhood that plague the rest of us.

If that’s not your plan, don’t fall for Republicans’ assurances that they care about hardworking parents. You’ll have nothing to show for it.

Kathryn Anne Edwards is a labor economist and independent policy consultant. ©2024 Bloomberg L.P., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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