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When Ivanka Trump took the stage at the Republican National Convention, we all knew her remarks would highlight her father’s strengths, but I doubt any of us expected her to end up steering his campaign strategy. Ivanka’s speech was so powerful because she possesses something her father lacks: sincerity. She doesn’t reek of privilege in the way some of her male family members do. She doesn’t shoot from the hip, as her father is famous for. In her speech, she delivered a message her father simply hasn’t been able to: that women’s issues would be a priority to President Trump.
Although Trump claims he’s the “women’s candidate,” it’s difficult to view him as such when he has spent the majority of his time in the spotlight belittling and disparaging women. He’s been reluctant to commit to measures like the Paycheck Fairness Act that would legally enforce the equality Ivanka insists he institutes in his own businesses. And he famously told an opposing lawyer, “You’re disgusting,” when she asked for a break to pump breastmilk, which wouldn’t lead anyone to believe he sympathizes with the plight of working mothers.
But then Ivanka took the stage, poised but with a touch of her father’s down-to-earthiness. She said:
Women represent 46 percent of the total U.S. labor force, and 40 percent of American households have female primary breadwinners. In 2014, women made 83 cents for every dollar made by a man. Single women without children earn 94 cents for each dollar earned by a man, whereas married mothers made only 77 cents. As researchers have noted, gender is no longer the factor creating the greatest wage discrepancy in this country, motherhood is.
As President, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality childcare affordable and accessible for all.
…At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.
He can’t bear the injustice of…mothers who can’t afford of the childcare required to return to work to better the lives of their families.
Could it be? Could Trump actually make women a priority in the workforce, as Ivanka promised?
Source: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/RTSKBQJ
Last week, Trump (finally) came out with his economic plan, which, interestingly, did include a point about allowing families to deduct childcare costs from their federal income taxes, a nod to the policies Ivanka introduced. But this strategy has left a lot of us asking “Where’s the beef?”
First, these deductions would offer the greatest relief to middle-class families while offering very little to low-income households, because as one of Trump’s economic advisors put it, “If you don’t pay taxes, you can’t get a tax cut.” For individuals making less than $40,000 a year, the group hardest hit by childcare costs, these tax breaks would offer very little assistance. “Average child-care costs in the United States devour at least 30 percent of a minimum-wage worker’s earnings in every state….” (Washington Post).
Second, this plan does nothing to address the quality of childcare, one of Ivanka’s points. Last year, Trump explained how easy it is to setup a childcare establishment:
You know, it’s not expensive for a company to do it. You need one person or two people, and you need some blocks, and you need some swings and some toys. It’s not an expensive thing, and I do it all over. And I get great people because of it. Because it’s a problem with a lot of other companies.
However, despite the supposed simplicity of the arrangement, reports are now surfacing that Trump hasn’t ever made childcare available at his own facilities: “When asked about on-site child care, employees at Trump’s hotels and clubs across the country expressed confusion and explained the [two programs Trump referenced, “Trump Kids” and “Trumpeteers,”] are for guests and members only” (Yahoo).
Perhaps you think my next point will be that Clinton has all the answers since she spent a large portion of her political career as a “working mother.” Clinton does offer some rather radical proposals, like capping childcare costs at 10% of a family’s income by offering tax credits and subsidies. This plan may also begin to address the question of quality if these subsidies are only available to facilities that meet a state’s quality standards (Washington Post).
However, maybe what we really need to improve the ability of mothers to remain in the workforce is a shift in paradigm—a reassessment of childrearing as an insular, familial responsibility to a more community-based model. Remember “It takes a village”? Yeah, that.
Take a country like Norway that offers universal childcare and early childhood education. Norway ranks first in the world for productivity (measured as GDP per total hours worked), partly because they recognize and prioritize the contributions of women, mothers, by making childcare accessible and high-quality. Michael Krashinsky, an economist at the University of Toronto, found there’s a “general pay-off of about two dollars of benefits for every dollar spent on subsidized child care [in Norway], and those were very conservative numbers” (The Globe and Mail).
Now, before you call me a socialist, consider the cultural shift that would occur if mothers were simply offered the opportunity to drop their children off at a safe, clean, educational facility while they worked. Let’s go a step further. What if the role of parenting were emphasized in the workplace, so parents were guaranteed paid maternity and paternity leave, and offered flexible work schedules, work-from-home schedules, part-time schedules, and readily available sick leave when caring for children? Wouldn’t that be simple and completely revolutionary?
In my case, that could’ve been the difference between derailing and advancing my career. When I got pregnant, I realized my piddly teacher’s salary would be swallowed up by daycare costs in the place with the highest childcare costs in the country. Technically, I had the choice to keep working, but practically it didn’t make sense. I’d be trading off time with my child to work for peanuts at a job that didn’t afford me any flexibility (or respect). Now, nearly six years later, my teaching license has lapsed, and I’m not sure I’ll ever return to the classroom. Those days of never taking a day off because it was “too much trouble,” of working 12 hours a day, of grading papers after dinner are behind me. Teaching is just one of many professions where our roles as parents is (ironically) not prioritized in the slightest.
We have more than a childcare problem in America. If we really want to support mothers instead of “shutting them out” of the workforce, we need to consider the role of parenting in society. It’s not something that happens on the side, when it’s convenient. It’s also not something that has to happen in place of a career, as country’s like Norway have shown us. I support tax cuts for childcare