There they were, Kamala Harris on one side and Nancy Pelosi on the other, delivering elbow bumps as Joe Biden acknowledged the moment when a U.S. president first uttered the words “Madam Vice President” and “Madam Speaker” during an address to Congress.
It was almost enough to make you believe we’ve made it.
Nine days later, the April jobs report was released, confirming quite the contrary. The pandemic continues to keep higher numbers of women than men unemployed and trapped at home with the kids.
Shades of Ozzie and Harriet. The era when women were simply expected to be the unpaid housekeepers and caretakers in a sexist and exploitative economy is baaaaack.
Of course, it never really went away.
Before child care all but disappeared during the pandemic, it was already out of reach for many Colorado families. The state ranks seventh nationally for most expensive child care, with average rates looking an awful lot like the cost of sending a kid to college.
Then came COVID with parents expected to facilitate remote learning with school-aged kids, supervise toddlers and do their jobs at the same time.
It was the very definition of a tipping point, and women left the workforce in droves to care for their kids. Given that women on average earn 82 cents for every dollar that men make, the reasons are pretty obvious.
Still, that 82 cents for every dollar a man makes was better than nothing, which is what they’re making now.
So, it should come as no surprise that women are doing what comes naturally to address this crisis: not have kids.
Last year, the birthrate dropped 4%, which was an acceleration of a more than a decade-long trend away from childbearing in the U.S. The same data showed the nation’s fertility rate has dropped to the lowest on record.
This is not so bad, in the cosmic sense. Booming population growth may be great for short-term corporate profits and real estate values, but in a world of finite resources, it’s a doomsday scenario.
The past year, when the birthrate continued to drop in the U.S. and 580,000 people died of COVID, we inadvertently did our Malthusian part to save the planet from runaway overpopulation.
Bully for us.
In other good news, dramatic declines in birthrates among teens in Colorado over the past decade have improved girls’ high school graduation rates and enabled more young women to go to college, often outnumbering their male counterparts in law and medical school classes.
But for those who do want families and careers, the obstacles are often insurmountable, despite the fact that we know exactly how to eliminate them.
Take it from Rosie the Riveter, we can do it.
In fact, the federal government actually did it in 1943 with a universal child care program during World War II.
Problem solved. Millions of moms went to work building ships and airplanes and the kids were just fine.
Nearly 80 years later, this idea is new again, though the proposal is not as lavish as the original version.
The American Families Plan (courtesy of Biden, a guy who knows from harsh personal experience what it’s like to be a single parent in need of child care) calls for support for universal pre-school, but unfortunately only for 3- and 4-year-olds.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met anybody who was able to keep her job after taking three years off after a child was born. So, the plan is a far cry from really addressing the nation’s longstanding, deepening and economically crippling child care crisis.
Still, it’s a start.
And you know Biden is on to something because opposition to it is wild-eyed, macho and fierce.
All those self-righteous demagogues fulminating about how important it is to eliminate unemployment benefits and get lazy Americans back to work are the same folks who vehemently oppose child care.
Sen. Josh Hawley calls it “lefty social engineering” … in contrast to the righty social engineering strategy to leave the more than 2 million women who are unemployed from the pandemic stranded and broke.
And in case you’re not paying attention, these are also the same guys who claim to represent the working class.
Here in Colorado, we’re taking baby steps, too.
Gov. Jared Polis lobbied hard for creation of the universal pre-K plan that was a big part of his gubernatorial campaign in 2018. Initially, it is supposed to provide 10 hours a week (10 hours, oh my!) of early childhood education.
To fund the program, voters passed a measure to increase taxes on nicotine products despite objections from the tobacco industry.
Even though it’s a small victory, it was, ironically, still pretty sweet.
The old cigarette ad used to say, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
You bet your sweet butt, we have. But there’s still such a long way to go.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.
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