I’m astonished when liberals say that Clinton’s campaign offers nothing to people left behind in the economy. It’s worrying how often the key issues she raises — child care, abortion access, elder care, retirement benefits for unpaid carers and widows, disability rights, and equal pay — are invisibilized by so many loud voices in the Democratic Party’s left.
These issues are at the forefront for most women, particularly women in poverty or with family obligations. They are not “nothing.”
Universal childcare hasn’t been on the national agenda since the Nixon administration. Childcare is often performed by a mother — without pay — cutting her lifetime earnings and retirement benefits along the way. Paid care can cost as much per year as college tuition, while the the sector’s almost exclusively female workforce are paid shamefully low wages. If you’re a childcare worker who needs to pay for childcare, it’s easy to find yourself in a bad situation.
If childcare were no object, the decision to have a child would be much closer to being a genuinely free and fair choice, though there will always be situations where a woman wants or needs to end a pregnancy. She may have other children to care for, she or the fetus may be unwell, it may not be the right time for her to be a mother, or she simply may not want to give birth or raise children. The Hyde amendment and other restrictions on federal funding of abortion care have to go before giving birth could ever be considered a true choice on the part of the woman — who will pay like no one else and in numerous ways, not only financial (even if gladly) — for any child she has.
Speaking of abortion, it’s worth considering the recent Supreme Court decision striking down medically unnecessary abortion restrictions. I’m reminded again that the Democratic Party itself has protected women’s access to reproductive healthcare in the U.S. for decades now almost solely through judicial appointments, while the party’s legislative achievements have mainly either held the line or sacrificed abortion rights in exchange for other policy objectives. And if you are a woman impacted by domestic abuse, unaccountable policing, or immigration, the SCOTUS has had more of an impact on the concerns of American women in the last month than Congress has in the last year. Voting for the person who appoints candidates to the federal judiciary is a decision impacting every woman in the country who has to pick up after the consequences, whether at home or in her larger community.
Elder care is also a bigger problem for women, as we tend to live longer, and need more years of it. Because we’re likely to have spent time during our working years caring for children or adult family members without pay, this decreases both our lifetime salary and our federal retirement benefits. Added to that, we’re often the ones in our own families who make tremendous personal and economic sacrifices to keep our elder family members living comfortably. Most of that elder care is unpaid, but even when the work is paid, it is still mostly done by women, who are paid very little.
Disability is another issue that impacts women more, whether it is related to our own health issues, or to someone else’s. Because we live longer, we make up a greater portion of those disabled by advanced age. And again, if a family member is disabled, they are likely being cared for by a woman. If a person with a disability has a paid carer, that person is probably also a woman, who probably also doesn’t make very much.
Are we seeing a pattern? None of this is truly free or cheap. Women pay behind the scenes with sacrifices of our time, our care, our ability, and our socioeconomic status. Much is asked of us and little is returned, if we are remembered at all.
Each of these issues by itself represents many tens of thousands of dollars in value to women and families for every year that they’re needed. They represent thousands of hours of work over a typical woman’s lifetime.
To speak to the need for society to share the costs we usually bear represents a valuing of the work that women have traditionally done, and the people we have traditionally cared for, at an ever greater price the farther you are down the economic ladder.
Women count. Women’s work counts. These issues count, and so do the women who need government to care about us. Stop saying it’s “nothing.”
Natasha Chart is an online organizer and feminist living in the United States.