Parents—the nation’s real wealth producers—got some goodies from the President last week in his State of the Union address. Using the trope du jour—the “Mad Men” episode—Obama proposed support for America’s beleaguered working families, stuck in the mid-20th century: equal pay, prekindergarten, child care, and that ever-elusive paid leave. Nice—although don’t count on a Finnish baby box in the near future.
Obama asked Congress, and business from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. It would have been nice if he had framed the issue a little differently; we need the men to get with the agenda. The family values set on the Hill—mostly males from the Pleistocene epoch, with wives and daughters at home, or not—aren’t buying in anytime soon.
Still, I’m happy to report that there’s discernable progress among the titans of capitalism. Forbes recently ran a story by Susan Adams on a study that found that the happier dad is one who spends more time with his kids. How lucky they are, too, avoiding the torturous guilt that eternally plagues mothers (with the exception, maybe, of Ayalet Waldman, a.k.a “The Bad Mother.”) But I digress. Bloomberg Business also weighed in with a cover piece on this urgent question. A photograph of the harried postpartum mother in her hospital bed screamed “Labor Crisis.”
“When it comes to maternity leave, the United States just isn’t delivering,” said Julie Hyman, host of Bloomberg’s “Market Makers,” smirking at the corny play on words. After an ad from Goldman Sachs, she was interviewing author Claire Suddath, who had done her homework, reminding her colleague that we stand alone with Papua New Guinea in our failure. What happened to Swaziland, I wondered. Had they suddenly passed legislation? Suddath also noted that the business community had suffered no dire consequences when California had pioneered the policy. But Julie, herself a mother of three, wasn’t having any. Wouldn’t paid leave put a small business owner under, she asked? Where’s the middle ground? Canada, Claire responded, pushing the envelope in the belly of the beast of capitalism.
So short-sighted, isn’t it? And so dismissive of those who create capital of the human kind.
Thank God for Andy Borowitz. Last week, just as I was putting the finishing touches on my book, Squandering America’s Future, Ruby Takanishi, former president of the Foundation for Child Development, sent me his report at The New Yorker on the President’s SOTU. Happy New Year! she wrote. A grande dame of early childhood, and the former president of the Foundation for Child Development, Ruby’s a digital immigrant. She doesn’t do Twitter—but she’s got the form down; haiku, after all, is one of Japan’s most elegant, traditional exports.
“Six Weeks Paid Leave Opposed by People with Thirty-three Weeks’ Paid Leave,” the headline read, the piece accompanied by a picture of mostly white male members of Congress. “Members of the group heard the President’s proposal on Tuesday night,” Borowitz wrote, “one of the few nights of the year when they are required to report to their workplace.”
Nothing like a little comic relief. If you haven’t already, read it.