In Her Own Words: Kamala Harris Shares How a Biden Presidency Will Be a Game-Changer for Parents
Our nation faces a critical choice on November 3. To help voters cast their vote for president, PARENTS gave both the Trump and Biden campaigns an opportunity to tell our readers why they are the right choice for parents of young children. Here, Democratic VP candidate Kamala Harris makes her case.
When I was 5 years old, my parents split up, after which my mother raised me and my sister, Maya, mostly on her own. Like so many mothers, she worked around the clock to balance her job outside of the home with being a parent. She would pack lunches before we woke up, and pay bills after we went to bed—and in between, she'd do everything from help us with our homework to shuttle us to church for choir practice.
I still don't know how she managed to get everything done. But these days, mothers are in an even tougher position. With an unchecked pandemic that has caused the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the stress they face is untenable.
In September alone, 865,000 women left the workforce—four times the number of men—and economists worry about how they'll ever get back into comparable jobs and regain those lost earnings. Meanwhile, with schools and child care centers closed, working mothers who are back on the job are scrambling to piece together child care. And those parents who manage to work from home have to do so while caring for their children.
In this day and age, the burden of care work at home shouldn't fall disproportionately on mothers—but it still does. This means they are the ones trying to stay on top of their work, manage the household, and monitor children's virtual learning.
The strain on working families, especially women, is simply unacceptable. Joe Biden and I have a plan to get this pandemic under control, reopen schools and child care safely, and build our economy back better so that it truly works for everyone.
To contain the virus, we will focus on what scientists say will bring down cases: social distancing, masks, free testing, robust contact tracing, and a strategy to distribute personal protective equipment to everyone who needs it—including child care workers. Once a safe vaccine is available, we would make sure it is free for everyone.
To stop the chaos families are experiencing, we will give school districts uniform guidance—developed with scientific experts—on effective safety protocols, including ventilation and physical changes to classrooms. We will give districts the resources they need to implement that guidance so that they can keep their staff and students safe. And for schools that can’t reopen safely, we will help them improve virtual learning, while working to close the learning gap that COVID has widened.
But that's just the beginning. The pandemic has laid bare just how hard it is for Americans families to find quality caregiving, or to juggle the responsibilities of working and also caring for family members. In fact, the United States is the only one among our peer countries that does not guarantee access to paid maternity, paternity or parental leave. At the same time, families across the country are struggling to find affordable child care, and we don't compensate our caregivers enough to earn a decent living. And yet, more and more Americans find themselves as part of the sandwich generation—caring for children as well as for aging parents.
When Joe Biden lost his first wife and baby daughter in a car accident, he became a single parent to his two young sons. He’s taken care of aging parents. He sat by his son Beau's bedside as he battled brain cancer. And he knows that, as a nation, we can do far more to support our families.
If we truly want to stand up for family values and reward work, we have to ease the financial burden of care that families are carrying, and we have to elevate the compensation, benefits, training and education opportunities for certification, and dignity of caregiving workers and educators.
That's why, if elected, we plan to provide people with up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and paid sick days to make it easier for people to care for loved ones without facing lost income or being forced to choose between their jobs and their family. Some research has also shown that paid leave can help close the gender wage gap and advance equity at home and the workplace.
At the same time, we'll build our caring economy to make life just a little easier for working families, while ensuring that the folks who do the essential work of caring for our loved ones make a good living.
We will also work to ensure access to high-quality, affordable child care and offering universal preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds. And we will build safe, energy-efficient, developmentally appropriate child care facilities, including in workplaces, so that parents and guardians never again have to search in vain for a suitable child care option.
Joe and I also have a plan to treat caregivers and early childhood educators—most of whom are women of color—with the respect and dignity they deserve. That means making sure they are given the pay and benefits they deserve, training and career ladders to higher-paying jobs, the choice to join a union and bargain collectively, and other fundamental workplace rights and protections. Our plan will create millions of new homecare, nursing, early childhood education jobs to drive our economic recovery.
Throughout the past nine months of unprecedented crisis, Americans of all backgrounds have come together to help their communities—and nobody has done more than mothers. It's time for us to stop expecting them to be superheroes, and instead provide them with the structure and support they need. We have the opportunity to reimagine what's possible—so let's build our economy back better, in a way that reflects what Americans value most: our families.
Parents has reached out to the Trump campaign for a similar op-ed but they have not yet responded.