The most common negative comment that I received about my post two weeks ago looking at President Obama’s Halloween speech in Rhode Island is that I was unfair to what the President actually said. The claim is that President Obama was not saying that staying at home with your children was a choice we didn’t want women to make, but rather that we didn’t want women to have to decide between staying at home with their children and having their wages suffer as a result.
If you’d like to read a full transcript of the speech, you can click here. However, I disagree that I was unfair to the President. On the contrary, I think the President was being unfair to moms. The majority of his speech is directed at working moms, and what kind of policies we should be implementing to tell businesses how to treat them. Examples that he offered included paid maternity leave (including an example of up to five months!), more flexible work-from-home hours, regulating wages, and of course, full-time government preschool.
While I disagree strongly with the President’s economic policies and the rhetoric of his speech, what I want to focus on is this: President Obama never once mentioned how he will help out moms who choose to stay home with their children. In fact, nowhere in his speech did he even talk about non-working moms. I thought this was interesting, given that at least 50% of moms in the United States work only part time or not at all. So the President is addressing his speech at less than the majority of American women. So is he, as he claims, really looking to help out American women in times of economic hardship?
With the exception of the wealthiest class of society, women who choose to stay home with their children know that they will be making an economic sacrifice. Typically, the women who have made this choice realize that they will be sacrificing newer cars and bigger houses, exotic vacations and eating out. They make these sacrifices willingly, knowing that staying home with their children is worth the sacrifice. I don’t see the President addressing these women. The women that he is looking to help have already made a decision about how they will raise their children, and it is a decision that President Obama supports, as evidenced by his attempts to provide them with government preschool at an even earlier age than currently available through the public schools. Where is a similar offer to women who don’t want to put their children in school that young? To women who are not willing to send their kids out of the house that early? There is no parallel offer. If you want financial help from the government in raising your children, you have to go back to work to get it.* As the saying goes, “Follow the money.” The President is offering his money to the working mother with full-time childcare needs. That says a lot about what we value as a nation.
If President Obama really wants to be fair to the mothers of the nation, as a whole, give us a tax credit that is available to us whether or not we are working. Instead of giving speeches about ‘choices we don’t want Americans to make,’ give us choices: allow us to choose to work or choose to stay home. Don’t allow the difference in a subsidy to cause any mother to make a choice she doesn’t want to.
*There is already a tax credit for paid childcare for working parents, which is only available if your child is in some sort of institutionalized care.