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Building a Better Nation for Families: Top Priorities for a New Administration

MomsRising is fighting for family economic security policies. Here’s what we recently submitted the Obama Transition Team as our immediate top priorities for families.

Download and print our Building a Better Nation for Families priorities document here.

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Why We Need to Build a Better Nation for Families

Top Priorities for a New Administration

WHY WE NEED TO BUILD A BETTER NATION FOR FAMILIES:


There are almost 83 million mothers in America, with a full 81 percent of U.S. women having children by the time they are forty-four years old. Three-quarters are in the labor force. Yet the formal and informal policies and programs that would help mothers and families achieve economic security, as well as allow people to carry out their responsibilities in the labor force and with their families at the same time, are practically non-existent; this is in dramatic contrast to the policies relating to mothers in most other industrialized nations.  


For example, a Harvard/McGill University study of over 170 countries found that only four don’t have any national form of paid leave for new mothers: the U.S., Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Liberia. Further, while over 140 other countries have a guaranteed minimum number of paid sick days, the U.S. does not.  An estimated 48 percent of private sector workers, and nearly 80 percent of low wage workers, don’t have a single paid sick day for themselves or to take care of their children. 


Families are struggling.  Healthcare coverage is increasingly out of reach in the United States, with a baby being born without coverage every 41 seconds; and both childcare and after-school programs are expensive, of varying quality, and are often inadequate in meeting working parents’ needs.  As a result of our lack of family policies--including paid family leave and affordable early learning options--many mothers find they have to leave needed, formal employment when their children are young, and many face a host of new problems when they later try to re-engage in the work world.  Other families make do with sub-par childcare—an untenable “solution.”


This begins to explain why nearly a quarter of American families with children under age six are living in poverty right now; and why having a baby is a leading cause of a “poverty spell”--a time when income dips below what’s needed for basic living expenses like food and rent.


Families, and mothers in particular, are stretched.  To compound matters, recent research shows that mothers are 79% less likely to be hired than non-mothers with equal resumes and job experience.  While at the same time, another study found that women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, mothers make 73 cents to a man’s dollar, and single mothers make the least--about 60 cents to a man’s dollar.


We, as a nation, have the tools to solve these societal issues.  Family-friendly public policies with proven success in other nations—like paid family leave, childcare, sick days, and healthcare--have been on the cusp of being implemented in the U.S. for decades; studies show that countries with family-friendly policies and programs already in place don’t have the same degree of maternal wage gaps as we do here. 


Working together we can increase economic security for families now, and into the future. In fact, failing to make early investments in new families and in a child’s life can result in the need for larger remedial social spending later on in the form of grade repetitions, avoidable healthcare problems, and interactions with the criminal justices system as well as dependency on  government entitlement programs. As the economy worsens and the pressures on families and existing support systems increase, mothers and families are reaching a breaking point.


It’s time to act toward solutions to increase the economic security of our nation’s families.


TOP PRIORITIES FOR A NEW ADMINISTRATION:


1.    Passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in the first 100 days of Congress, which is a narrow fix to reestablish the law that was in place until the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Supreme Court ruling.  With an economic downturn, it's more important than ever to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.


The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act reverses the recent U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Ledbetter vs. Goodyear that discrimination claims must be made within 180 days after the pay is set, which was a major setback in women's rights. In fact, the ruling also undermines an employee's ability to stop pay discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin, as well as gender. How many of us know what our co-workers make? Many employers forbid employees from discussing their pay, making it all the more difficult to discover pay discrimination within the short time frame now required by the Supreme Court.


While it's true that both men and women are suffering in this economic downturn, women still bear the greater share of the burden. Women in the U.S. are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men -- mothers only 73 cents, and single mothers about 60 cents. For women of color, the numbers are even worse -- African-American women earn 63 cents and Latina women earn 52 cents for every dollar paid to white men. With numbers like these, it's easy to see why protection from wage and other job discrimination is a critical component of economic security for women and families.


The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is the ONLY bill that will fix the problems created by the Ledbetter decision and needs to be passed in the first 100 days. 


2.    Include components specifically for the economic security of families in any economic stimulus plan, and in particular, during the first 100 days.  In particular, create a 1.5 billion dollar fund for states which are passing Paid Family Leave Insurance to offset costs.  In addition, Congress should pass, and the President should sign, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act to provide paid leave for federal workers after the birth or adoption of a child in the first 100 days.


Working mothers, and parents, have enormous care giving responsibilities. Particularly in this economic climate, mothers need to have their jobs protected if they need to take leave to care for their family members or when a new child arrives.  But the restrictions in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mean that only 50% of private sector workers have the guarantee of job protected unpaid leave for care giving or to when a new child arrives.  The FMLA needs to be expanded to include employers with 15 or more employees, to cover more family members, and to provide paid leave in the 111th Congress.


Paid Family Leave Insurance is a key way to stop the downward economic spiral that happens to many women when children are born. Here are some facts about why this is critically important to pass now:


•    Without Family Leave Insurance, and with the high childcare costs parents’ face of between $4,000 and $10,000 per year per child, people often end up having to temporarily quit needed jobs when they become parents. This drives many new families into poverty.

•    In fact, having a baby is currently a leading cause of “poverty spells” in this country—a time when income dips below what’s needed for basic necessities like food and rent. And, a full quarter of families with children under six live in poverty. Family Leave Insurance would make a significant difference.

•    Studies also show infant mortality drops by as much as 25% with paid leave—but there isn’t any significant impact in the mortality rates from unpaid leave. Despite spending the most on healthcare per capita of any nation in the world, the U.S. ranks a low 37th in childhood mortality. We should be pursuing all avenues to lower infant mortality.  Family Leave Insurance is one such clear avenue toward improvement.

•    Sadly, for many when they leave their jobs, they also lose their healthcare.  Right now a full 1 of every 8 children doesn’t have healthcare coverage.  Family Leave Insurance can help families keep their health insurance by helping them keep their jobs, and thus also their economic security.

•    In addition, countries with family-friendly policies in place, like Family Leave Insurance, have smaller wage gaps between men and women than we do here. Studies show that in the U.S. women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, mothers make 73 cents, and single moms make the least about 60 cents to a man’s dollar. 


There’s no doubt that funding for Family Leave Insurance would make a significant difference for the economic security of women and families in our nation.  Therefore, in the 112th Congress, Congress should develop, and the President should sign, a fully funded national family and medical leave insurance program funded through a centralized federal structure or through required state programs.



3.    Passage of the Healthy Families Act during the 111th Congress to give millions of workers access to 7 paid sick days a year.  Right now, about half of all private sector workers, and nearly 80% of low wage workers, don't have a single paid sick day.  When people are sick, it is good public health policy to enable them to stay home. Too many Americans are forced to go to work sick, to choose between taking care of a sick child or losing a day's pay, or even risk job loss when illness strikes. No one should have to make these impossible choices. During the 112th Congress, this Act should be expanded to include all workers (regardless of employee size or part-time status).


4.    Rapidly reauthorize an expanded State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) within the first 100 days, while also moving forward quickly to full healthcare reform. Right now, one in every eight children doesn't have any healthcare coverage at all, and millions more are under-insured. Children are paying a high price for this lack of coverage. One study found that uninsured children admitted to the hospital due to injuries were twice as likely to die while in the hospital as their insured counterparts. Children who are uninsured are less likely to get critical healthcare they need to develop and grow.


SCHIP must quickly be expanded and reauthorized. It is a successful program that enjoys strong public support of over 80%. One glaring inequity that must be addressed as part of SCHIP reauthorization is that most legal immigrant children and pregnant women have a minimum waiting period of five years to access critical health coverage programs such as Medicaid and SCHIP.  We must eradicate this inequity immediately during the passage of SCHIP.

 

Our nation's children and families need a guarantee of easily accessible, affordable, comprehensive health coverage. This is a particularly important issue given the incredible economic insecurity that families are experiencing. As more families lose their job-linked health coverage when they lose their jobs, and have increasing difficulty affording increasing health care costs, the Obama Administration should make expanded health coverage a top priority.