Posts Tagged ‘ Sharon Lerner ’

Looking Forward to Post-Sandy Humanity in a Second Obama Administration (OPINION)

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

The editors of Parents.com have been reporting on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we chose three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them offered a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Sharon Lerner

The moment has finally arrived and, as with all much-anticipated events, Election Day isn’t what I once imagined it would be. Way back when this race was first getting going, it seemed like we election watchers would stay singularly obsessed with the race to the end. It almost seemed like time would stop on November 6.

But, as with all points on the timeline, the Big Day brought with it a new future, as well as present that wasn’t quite what I expected. I still desperately want Obama to win, of course. I’m already glued to the battleground election results. And I can’t stop checking Nate Silver’s blog, which, as of this writing, puts Obama’s chance of winning at 90.9 percent.

But it’s perhaps because of my faith in Silver that I’m already looking ahead. And there in the post-election tomorrow I see not just a country where we don’t have to discuss legitimate rape, Paul Ryan’s abs, or the idea that 47 percent of the country really doesn’t matter. I see a country where people care for and about the needy in a new way.

No doubt, a large part of this is Hurricane Sandy. While this may be just another election day in parts of the country less affected by the storm, here in the New York area, things are still decidedly not back to normal. Thousands of people are still without power, homes. Food and fuel are scarce. And another storm is on its way.

The beautiful thing, the compelling thing that can’t help but push the election to the back burner once you witness it, is the kind, humane and authentic response real people have to the disaster. All around me, neighbors and friends have jumped in to help, collecting coats, blankets, warm food. During the worst of the storm, a home health aide made her way against all odds from the Bronx to Brooklyn to care for my dying father-in-law. After making her way back through our ailing transit system to her own family, she called to check on him.

Sandy is, of course, a wake-up call about the importance of climate change and the size of government, FEMA in particular. But it’s also a reminder of the ties that bind us to one another and how, despite the ugliness of this election season, they have turned a nation of little folks overshadowed by politicians into one where the actual people clearly matter more.

The impulse to look out for one another is so much more compelling than anything either candidate has said, it’s made the past few months of bickering and lies seem even more heartbreaking than it actually was. Looking at the people lined up at my polling place, waiting for hours to cast their ballots, I’m heartened that, despite everything — the storm, the meanspiritedness, the endless political ads — people remember what really matters.

So on this Election Day, I’m getting on that long line and looking forward to a second Obama administration that, I truly hope, will honor and support the real needs of real people.

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The Wake-Up After the Quiet After the Storm (OPINION)

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Sharon Lerner

I’m feeling grateful for having power, Internet access, a dry place to sleep. But even in what may be one of the least superstorm-affected houses in Brooklyn, things are not yet back to normal — especially from the kids’ perspective. The Halloween parade was cancelled. School has yet to re-open. Whenever someone calls from out of town, my boys hasten to share the terrible news that lodged itself in their uncomprehending brains: that two young people right near us were killed by a falling tree.

People talk about the calm before the storm. But, strange and upsetting as Sandy was, there’s also been a calm after this storm. Shaken free from our routine, we’ve been operating in a quiet bubble in our house, finding comfort in unlikely playdates, checker games, baking experiments.

We’ve also been enjoying a reprieve, if a short-lived one, from the election. I know I’m not alone when I say that the race between “Bronco Bamma” and Mitt Romney was getting a little, er, wearying. (I admit I had moment of irrational fear that I had somehow magically caused the storm by screaming “Make them stop!” over and over during the last debate.)

But as I watched the sun shine over my leaf-strewn street this morning, it hit me that it’s time to wake up from the quiet after the storm. Given that the mere mention of political ads and “five-point plans” had become literally nauseating in the weeks before Sandy, it was a pleasant surprise to realize that I am not only ready to glance at the poll numbers today but also alive with a new urgency to fight to make sure Obama wins this race.

This coming Tuesday — THIS COMING TUESDAY! — is election day. And if Sandy left me with nothing else of value, it’s that this contest matters in a life-and-death way. The natural disaster brought two issues into sharp focus: the size of government and climate change. Both are issues that deeply affect children — and, at least when it comes to climate change, our children’s children, and their children’s children. And both are issues on which the political candidates have starkly different, potentially world-altering positions.

Mitt Romney, of course, believes in shrinking government. He’s made this clear with health care, which he promises to restore to its former state of dysfunction. He also believes in small government when it comes the safety net — or rather the elimination of benefits on which poor families depend.

And — try telling this to the child being rescued in this picture — he even believes in whittling down the government when it comes to disaster management. At least that’s how it seemed during the Republican primary, when he said he favors shutting down the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Wednesday, he came out with another position on the matter, which as Rachel Maddow points out, raises its own questions.

And then there’s climate change. Neither candidate has given enough attention to the issue. But Romney does far worse than ignore it, going so far as to mock  President Obama’s environmental efforts at the Republican National Convention.

Not surprisingly, his actual positions on the very serious matter of our climate are hard to pin down, as the Washington Post’s Brad Plumer notes. In front of some crowds, he says that he believes climate change is real and that humans have a role in it. While in front of others, like this one at a town hall meeting, he says essentially the opposite:

Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that but I think that it is,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.”

“What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to.”

I’m searching for a word that means the opposite of leadership now. Flip-flopping doesn’t quite do it. Pathetic politicking? Slithering?

Whatever you call it, ignoring climate change, as Romney would likely do if he were elected, would no doubt lead to only more of the catastrophic weather events like the one we just experienced. It would mean devastation for the planet our children and grandchildren will inherit. And, at least while he’d be at the helm, it would mean also getting less federal help during those disasters.

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Investigating the Single Mom-Gun Violence Connection (OPINION)

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Sharon Lerner

Oh, it was good to hear the candidates mention gun violence last night! I feared the subject might get lost amidst the binders full of women.

But, finally, after all those folks — including a six-year-old — were shot in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater; after so many students — including those at Chardon High School in Ohio, at Walpole Elementary School in New Hampshire, at Millard South High School in Omaha, not to mention the kids at Virginia Tech — died, the moment arrived when we can have a serious discussion about how to rein in guns.

Or at least we could have.

Gun control did come up at the town hall style debate last night, thanks to Nina Gonzalez (one of the regular people who guided the debate with questions as good and pointed as those of any professional moderator). Gonzalez asked the president what he would do to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals — a fair question, given that Obama had said he wanted to do just that during his last presidential campaign.

Happily, the President went on to give families reason to hope that he might actually put some muscle behind an assault weapons ban in his next term. He said he supported the ban passed under Clinton in 1994, which expired after eight years and made it illegal to sell the military-style weapons now widely available in guns stores and gun shows. Though he didn’t work to reinstate it in his first term, he could in his next.

Banning the guns like the AR-15, the type of rifle that was used to shoot off as many as 50 shots a minute in the Aurora massacre, would be a good first step. (Why exactly does the general public need access to a gun that can carry 100 rounds of ammunition and can shoot bullets that can go through two people?)

But Romney was clear he has no intention of banning assault weapons. Despite the fact that he supported similar legislation as governor of Massachusetts, he now stands — or perhaps, lies — with the National Rifle Association.

The flip-flopping should come as no surprise. But what came out of his mouth next on the topic of gun violence was a shock. In search of a culprit for the numerous shootings that have plagued our country, Romney came up with — not weapons makers, social alienation, or even shoot-em-up video games — but single moms.

Romney said he’s not in favor of “new pieces of legislation on guns and taking guns away and making guns illegal,” agreed with the President about the importance of good schools; and then went on to say this:

“Let me mention another thing — parents. We need moms and dads to raise kids. Wherever possible, the benefit of having two parents in the home. That’s not always possible. Lot of great single moms and single dads. But gosh, to tell our kids, before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone. That’s a great idea.”

Americans should be alarmed about gun violence — parents especially. At least 5,740 children and teens were killed by guns in 2008 and 2009, according to a Children’s Defense Fund report that was put out this year and dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin. That number includes 173 preschoolers, double the number of police officers killed in the line of duty.

But single parenthood is not the cause of our problem. And, whether getting married to someone is a “great idea,” it probably won’t affect the number of children gunned down in our country.

In an effort to be charitable, I can imagine that Romney was trying to say that gun violence is linked to urban poverty — and it is. Gun violence hits minority kids hardest, and most of the kids who die from gunshots live in cities.

But his leap to seeing single mothers as the cause of that poverty — and thus, if I understand his bizarre segue correctly — as the cause of gun violence is illogical and downright offensive.

Sure, single mothers’ kids are more likely to live in poverty. But there is plenty of evidence that being poor is what leads to the single parenthood — rather than the other way around. Kathryn Edin, a professor of public policy at Harvard, provides perhaps the best exploration of this relationship in “Promises I Can Keep,” her book on why poor women put motherhood before marriage.

If Romney really wanted to stop gun violence, he could support an assault weapons ban, as he did in Massachusetts. If Romney were really concerned about poverty, there are plenty of good ideas about how to address it directly. But he doesn’t support raising the minimum wage (at least not clearly); his tax plan would help the rich and hurt the poor; he’d weaken social security; and he wants to shrink — rather than expand — the safety net.

So instead of taking on the gun industry or the roots of inequality, he blamed single moms. It was a strange tack — and one that not only did nothing to help solve our nation’s gun violence crisis, it managed to offend a huge chunk of the voting public.

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What You Didn’t Hear in the Debate: How Our Next President Could Affect American Fertility (OPINION)

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Sharon Lerner

Even if you stayed awake through the policy blizzard that was last night’s debate, you didn’t hear a word about the dramatically different future the candidates can bring about for women and families. So I’m going to take this opportunity to bypass the rehash of statistics, awkward facial expressions, and possible implications for Big Bird– and go right to the big picture for families.

It’s not just that Mitt Romney thinks the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade, while Obama is clearly pro-choice. Or that the Republican candidate would reverse the coverage of contraception under health reform – a step forward brought to us by the President himself.

These clear differences on reproductive issues have already convinced plenty of American women to cast their ballots for Obama in November. But there are other differences between the candidates that will have a huge impact on reproduction and the daily lives of American families. And, at first, at least, these are policies that seem to have little in common with the hot-button war-on-women issues.

To understand the other way our next president could affect the growth – or decline – of the number of American families, it helps to look abroad. Much of the world has been experiencing a rapid drop in their fertility rates. Nearly half the global population now lives in nations that have fertility rates below replacement level, or 2.1 children on average per woman. But the problem is worst in rich countries, more than 100 of which are now under replacement level, and thus facing concerns about the size of their militaries, work forces, and tax bases.

Several factors fuel this worldwide decline, including greater access to birth control and later marriage. But perhaps the most widely embraced explanation is that the particular burdens women face in the work force make it harder to both have children and a job. Thus, as more and more women work outside the home throughout much of the world, the number of children they have has dropped. It makes sense: If becoming a mother requires a woman to take a huge financial and professional hit, she will be far less likely do it.

Up until recently, the US has been the notable exception to the global fertility pattern. For much of the past 30 years, the average number of children American women had held remarkably steady. Although more and more women began working during this time, the high fertility levels of certain groups –particularly Latino immigrants–seemed to make up for any decline in the rest of us.

But this year, the US fertility rate hit a low not seen for 25 years. While the average number of births per woman was 2.12 in 2007, it’s just fallen to 1.87. The downturn is, no doubt, in part a response to unemployment and the flagging economy. Yet, as the Population Reference Bureau points out, it could also “signal a longer-term drop in life-time fertility.” In other words, this could be the moment we joint the rest of the developed world in the struggle to maintain our population size.

While the media have been exploring why this dip in our fertility is happening now, a better question might be: why hasn’t it happened before this point? After all, we’re one of just three countries worldwide that doesn’t provide paid maternity leave. We have few flexible work options, no national paid sick leave law, and no system of decent, affordable childcare. So compared to women in other nations, Americans are not just having lots of kids, we’re doing it while working a lot in fairly inflexible jobs, with very little help.

This double duty has taken a huge toll: Working mothers in the U.S. sleep a mere six hours a night on average. Our depression rates are high, our free time almost nonexistent. If our collective commitment to both motherhood and work has helped us soldier through this kind of adversity to this point, no one can sustain this kind of overdrive forever. It was inevitable that American mothers would run out of gas at some point – and, judging from the new fertility numbers, our moment has arrived.

How can we reverse the trend? In addition to pushing toward a sunnier economic future, we might take a lesson from some of the many countries that have experienced the fertility plunge before we did, at least 45 of which have already instituted policies that ease a woman’s ability to hold a job and raise children simultaneously. In the European Union, for instance, all countries require employers to grant parity in pay and benefits to part-time workers — allowing women more flexibility in their work lives. And in Scandinavia, extensive public child-care systems offer a slot to virtually every child under 5 whose parents work.

The hope is that the extra support will nudge women toward having bigger families – and, at least in some places, it’s already working. Experts have linked changes in Sweden’s birthrate to paid-maternity-leave policies. And according to sociologist Ronald Rindfuss, Norwegian women who live in towns with more day-care slots available have more children and become mothers earlier.

Here, the next American president has his work cut out for him. If he wants to give true support to families, he’ll have to pass paid family leave and paid sick day laws; spend way more on providing and improving childcare; and ensure that parents have more flexible work options. It’s worth noting that Obama passed health care reform, which was a huge boon to children and families. And that his ability to pass anything has been constrained by oppositional Republicans in Congress. For his part, Romney said practically nothing about such supports. Thus far, his advice to working mothers seems to be: stay home.

If American families do get the help we need, we might see an uptick in our fertility rate, too. And, perhaps more important, we’ll have a happier, less stressed, and better rested nation of parents.

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Why Parents Need the Next President to Look at Europe’s Policies (OPINION)

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Sharon Lerner

President Obama can’t say anything nice about Europe. If he makes any reference to the continent or their family-friendly policies he’s a socialist–or, as Romney put it back in January, someone who “wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society.”

Romney’s take has been not just that Obama’s a Europe-lover who cares about the needy (read: a pansy), but that any association with the continental way of doing things necessarily involves a dissing of our own. Thus his cynical applause line: “This President takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe, we look to the cities and small towns of America.”

Now, through a recently released recording that was, unbeknownst to him, made at a Republican fundraiser, Romney explains that 47 percent of America is dependent on these European-style entitlements– things like health care– and that his “job is not to worry about those people.”

Of course it’s not true that people who rely on government are pathetic, lazy shlubs–or, for that matter, that they’re in the minority. Even Romney, who is among the lucky few who can probably afford medical care whatever calamity befalls him, needs someone to build those roads he drives his Cadillac over.

Still, the potential vulnerability for further small-minded attack along the America-hating pansy lines is probably why Obama and the Democrat strategists don’t draw more attention to Europe’s vastly superior treatment of families.

There’s no reason the rest of us should let this freedom fries-style jingoism intimidate us, though. Why should we ignore countries (with a collective population of 733 million people) that have done far more to help parents spend time with their kids than we have?

This is election season. We shouldn’t be bullied into some dumbed-down dialogue over who’s got the bigger flag pin. It’s the time to interrogate our potential leaders about how they can make our lives better. It’s the time to talk about the land just across the sea where families have it way better: Europe. (Europe! Europe! Europe! Just typing it feels good.)

Take, for instance, the laws that protect European parents from getting fired for having a sick kid or taking care of their own medical problems. There’s no such protection for American parents, of course.

Then there’s the fact that part-time workers in Europe have pro-rated benefits and pay, not to mention health insurance, while American parents who want or need to work part-time often wind up in low-paying jobs with no benefits– if they can stay employed at all.

But perhaps the most infuriating contrast is on paid leave. In Europe, most new parents get at least six months of paid time off from work and, in several European countries, they get more than three years.

Because European countries have been providing paid leave for decades, we now know that this policy doesn’t just help parents, it translates into less sickness and death among babies. Two studies, one published in the Economic Journal in 2005 and another five years earlier, examined the steady climb in the amount of paid leave in 16 European countries, starting in 1969. By charting death rates against those historical changes, while controlling for potentially confounding factors, the authors were able to attribute a 20 percent dip in infant deaths to a 10-week extension in paid leave.

The truth is it’s not just Europe that treats its families way better, but much of the rest of the world. At least 145 countries have paid sick time laws. And the U.S. is one of only three countries that don’t provide paid maternity leave. Every other nation, including the People’s Republic of Congo, the very poorest in the world–provide paid leave.

Yet, the GOP, which has still somehow held onto its image as the “family values” party in some circles, shuns discussion of such humane and literally life-saving policies. And, here in the U.S., we still muddle along with a quarter of working mothers back at work within eight weeks of giving birth and one in ten–more than half a million women each year!– back in four weeks or less.

If Romney’s blindered vision plays with his wealthy donors and, perhaps, in the heartland, it doesn’t work as well on the global stage. Indeed, if Romney hates Europe, the feeling is mutual. And there’s plenty of reason to fear how he’ll be received in the rest of the world, too.

But it’s families here who should be the most concerned. To have children is to need things– unexpected time off, health care, a decent stretch to recover from birth and bond with a baby.

Yet, so far, Romney’s family policy seems to be simply that he has one (a family, that is). Purportedly he’s nice to them. Plus, as my fellow blogger points out, Ann Romney makes good pancakes.

But that does not equal a plan to improve the lot of American parents, who want supports like paid leave not because they’re lazy, dependent shlubs, but rather because they’re caring humans who need to work and would like to spend a little time with their children.

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