Here’s How Working Moms Could Call the Shots in the Next Elections

Frustration at Republican opposition to equal pay, child care, and family-leave bills may affect November midterm elections.

(Photo: Tara Moore/Getty Images)

Solvej Schou writes regularly for TakePart, and has also contributed to the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, BBC.com, and Entertainment Weekly.

Women’s rights advocates are warning Republicans that they will lose the votes of working moms in the upcoming November midterm elections.

Mounting outrage followed this week’s Republican Senate filibuster of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a Democrat-backed bill aimed at making sure private employers don’t pay women less than their male counterparts for the same work. The bill—blocked from debate for the third time—failed by a 53 to 44 vote Wednesday.

Women are estimated to earn between 77 cents and 84 cents to every dollar men make, so the Democrats’ economy-minded bills supporting equal pay, child care, paid family leave, and pregnancy accommodations are quickly becoming tentpole talking points ahead of November’s midterm elections. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be up for election, as will 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate.

“I think Republicans are going to lose working-mom votes and lose stay-at-home-mom votes too,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. “A lot of moms stay at home because their salaries are not high enough for them to afford child care. I don’t see Republicans leading the march for affordable childcare, such as after-school programs or paid sick days and equal pay for equal work.”

Nearly 20 years ago, the soccer mom was a coveted voting demographic that the parties vied for, but in 2014, the working-mom vote matters. Why? For starters, there are 25.2 million mothers in the United States who work outside the home, compared with 10.4 million stay-at-home moms, according to a new Pew Research Center study. A growing number of stay-at-home moms—6 percent in 2012, compared with 1 percent in 2000—say they stay home with their children because they can’t find jobs, according to Pew. 

Most single stay-at-home moms, 71 percent in 2012, live below the poverty level, compared with 27 percent of single working moms—yes, more than a quarter of single moms work full time and still live below the poverty level. The nonpartisan Washington, D.C.–based National Women’s Law Center has calculated that nearly one in five families with children is headed by a single working mom.

The Democrats have a slew of bills that appeal to working moms and families that are under review by committees and subcommittees. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act would cement paid family and medical leave. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act would expand access to early-learning programs for kids from birth to age five in that crucial window when day care can be too financially difficult for families to overcome and keep working. The Healthy Families Act would allow a week of paid sick leave, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act protects pregnant women from workplace discrimination.

In a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll for Democracy Corps of 950 people who voted in 2012 and 840 people who plan to vote in 2014, 83 percent of likely 2014 voters surveyed favored an economic agenda helping working mothers by protecting jobs, paid leave, and child care.

Among unmarried women polled, 90 percent favored the same agenda.

“When you look at equal pay or paid leave, child care, raising the minimum wage, these bread-and-butter issues poll through the roof,” said Liz Watson of the National Women’s Law Center. “These are incredibly popular policies with voters. We support the set of policies that help working women and working families succeed.”

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, introduced last December by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., would allow employees to earn 66 percent of their monthly wages while on leave, up to a capped amount, for up to 60 workdays or 12 weeks of caregiving days, and it has been referred to the Committee on Finance. The Healthy Families Act, reintroduced last March by DeLauro and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would allow workers to earn up to 56 hours or seven days of paid sick leave and is under review by education and labor subcommittees.

As for a push for more universal child care, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, introduced last November by Harkin, would stretch access to quality early-learning programs for children from birth to age five. It has been discussed in hearings since February. Sponsored by Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions last May, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act seeks to end workplace discrimination by making it unlawful for employers not to grant reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. State and citywide versions of this act have passed in places such as West Virginia, New Jersey, New York City, and Philadelphia.

Groups such as the National Organization for Women—with more than 240 active local chapters and more than 30 state affiliate organizations—and Feminist Majority Foundation see grassroots support for these bills coming from women, for women, including working moms.

But a great bill for women isn’t worth much if it doesn’t get signed into law. And it’s going to take a big push from voters to make it happen.

“We’re going to push for those bills” in the run-up to midterm elections, said O’Neill. “We are pushing out to our members by telling people to call their representatives.”

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