Opinion | Even senators need child care

child care

Gracie Fleischman, Opinions Editor

Last week, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth became the first sitting U.S. senator to give birth. She delivered a healthy baby girl April 9 and since then, has openly discussed the discrimination that she and many other parents across the country face when it comes to paid leave and access to affordable child care.

Senators can’t vote on the Senate floor while on maternity leave, Duckworth said, but children are banned from the floor, which leaves parents with few options. Duckworth along with members of the Democratic Party will request a rule change that would allow children on the floor for the first year of their lives.

“Whether you are a woman or a man, whether you’re breastfeeding or not, or you’ve adopted … you should be able to bring that child on to the floor and continue to do your job,” Duckworth told CNN.

It may seem unbelievable that this issue has not been addressed, but since the U.S. was founded by men and we continue to live in a patriarchal society, it doesn’t surprise me. She’s not asking for “special treatment”, she’s advocating for future women and parents who will serve in the Senate.

The first woman elected as a U.S. senator was Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas in 1932. Since then, only 52 women have served in the Senate, which is made up of only 23 percent women today.

As for Duckworth becoming the first woman to give birth to a child while in office, she said these kinds of “firsts” are long overdue. “I never set out to be the first in anything, and with a lot of these ‘firsts,’ it really makes me wonder how it’s taken so long,” she said.

Having a child should not end a woman’s career, nor should it bar families that have to work for a living from doing so. Because of cost, child care has become more and more out of reach for many Americans. California has one of the highest costs for child care, coming in at almost $12,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That means that infant care for one child would take up more than 18 percent of a typical California family’s income.

It may seem unbelievable that this issue has not been addressed, but since the U.S. was founded by men and we continue to live in a patriarchal society, it doesn’t surprise me”

President Donald Trump’s new child care plan has the potential to make matters even worse for working parents of all incomes. About 70 percent of benefits related to child care go to families with an annual income of at least $100,000, and 25 percent go to families with an annual income of at least $200,000, according to the Tax Policy Center.

That means that very few benefits are allotted to low-income families, who struggle the most to pay for child care. Clearly, the president does not care about actually helping working women and parents. But this seems to be a year of “firsts” – maybe 2018 will be the year that paid leave for all parents becomes fair and equal. Maybe affordable child care will become available. Or maybe – which unfortunately seems more likely – the president will gloss over this important issue and continue down his path of scandals and disappointments.