Sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.
So what’s the issue here? What he wants us to hear is that when women take a significant chunk of time out of their careers to stay home and raise their children, their wages suffer for it. His solution is more funding for universal preschool (which, as a side note, is not something that has been shown to actually help children).
There are many problems with what the President said, but I’d like to highlight two here. (Click here for a great discussion of the economic problems with his statement.)
The first is that, realistically, any woman who has taken time off of her career to get a child from the newborn stage to the age where they’re eligible for preschool will already have taken enough time off to affect her earning ability. Universal preschool would not help that. Universal preschool only means that the children are in school at age three instead of age five. This really doesn’t help the working mom who wants to keep up with her career. She has already suffered the damage of taking a significant chunk of time off.
The second problem is that his gaffe (as many internet pundits are claiming) is very revealing of the priorities of this administration, and our nation. I believe the President is only using the earning disparity to turn the focus away from what many in our nation really think, which is this: children are not important, at least, not important enough to raise them yourself. He’s using the money as a distraction technique.
There are many reasons that somebody in the middle of a career would take time off that we would applaud. Nobody would bat an eye at a banker taking a year off to travel the world while he’s young and can enjoy it. If you add to this altruistic career choices that involve lower pay, we would not dream of criticizing the choice of a doctor or nurse to donate their time in a third world country. Or a lawyer taking a pro-bono case or a job as a public prosecutor.
So the issue is not the money. It’s the way the women fill their time. Traveling the world? Fine. Choosing the low-paying but altruistic career? Fine. Choosing to stay home and raise your children? Not fine.
How have we gotten to the point, as a nation, where a woman choosing to stay home with her child at the expense of her career is “not a choice we want Americans to make?” How have we so devalued children that we cannot see their worth above that of our earning potential?
The emphasis in the President’s statement is on the clause, “…earning a lower wage for the rest of her life.” But that is not where the emphasis should be. It should be on, “…leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids.” This is the most important job we can do. If you have children, raising them to be loving, caring, emotionally fulfilled adults who knew that their mom loved them enough to sacrifice her career is the best decision you will ever make. Do not lose sight of the fact that your children are your most precious resource.