By Jennifer Granholm and Daniel Mulhern, POLITICO
Perhaps the oldest trick in street robbery is to “accidentally” stumble hard into someone. The robber creates heavy contact while lightly lifting a wallet from an unsuspecting pocket.
That’s precisely how the great media mosh over the Ann Romney – Hilary Rosen controversy looks to us. Paying attention to the noise and jostle distracts us all from where the money’s at.
The media ruckus over the Romney-Rosen collision obscured two unassailable truths shared by the vast majority of Americans. First, being a full-time parent is an enormous and worthy undertaking. It’s a job, and then some.
Second, even among women with children under 18 years old, 65 percent have chosen to, or economically must, work outside the home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Indeed, 40 percent of wives make more than their husbands. Young women increasingly want more responsibility at work the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workplace data by the Families and Work Institute found.
So if what underlies the Romney-Rosen bump are settled truths, where’s the diversion? What got stolen?
The wallet and the watch.
The wallet is the reality of modern-day economics. As others have noted, Ann Romney, no less than Mitt Romney, could hardly be less representative of the face of America. Both she and her husband came into their marriage with considerable wealth.
By contrast, for example, Gallup polling suggests that less than 30 percent of Americans expect to receive any inheritance at all, and more than half believe they won’t have enough to retire. Paid work is their only option.
Our national and state policies meanwhile have done little to allow average Americans to make the Ann Romney choice — and the choice of our own two moms. Single and married moms often work just to secure health care. Stagnant wages make second and third jobs obligatory. Company-funded pensions have nearly evaporated. Day care, meanwhile, is spotty and expensive at best.
The Romneys had four household employees, but many American families are more likely to have four employers. The central question of the campaigns is not: Should women work or should women stay home? That was answered about 30 years ago.
The crucial question is: What do we expect from the private and public sectors to allow parents to raise healthy children?
Chris Hayes on MSNBC this weekend unearthed video of Mitt Romney from earlier this year, boasting about sending even mothers of 2-year-old children into the workforce as part of his welfare-to-work initiative when he was Massachusetts governor. Romney said he wanted to provide those parents the “dignity of work.” It’s an odd juxtaposition against this current “war on moms” argument: It seems staying home to raise a family is indeed dignified work — as long as you’re not poor.
Or as long as you still have your wallet.
The Rosen-Romney conflict ignores not only our stolen wallets, but our stolen watches. It seems our cultural clocks have stopped. In fact, they stopped in about 1950.
Start here: Our conversations about work and family would make a ton more sense if we recognize that home and children are not the sole province of women. In our own world, Dan has been the primary parent. Among many men displaced from Michigan factories, a Joe or Dwayne frequently became the lead worker at home. Men are increasingly sharing the burdens — yet remain absent from nearly all our public debate about work and family.
If we want healthy children, paternity leave as well as maternity leave should be hot campaign topics. We should be looking at why boys and girls are growing up fatherless. We should be talking about how to raise boys as well as girls to manage as parents when jobs demand so much.
Of course our clocks have stopped at work too. In too many businesses, the sociologist Kathleen Gerson writes, employers still feel entitled to the “ideal worker.” This worker is always ready to travel, work extra hours, take mandatory overtime, conference call with the Japanese affiliate at 4:00 a.m. or 9 p.m., and, as we’re all sick of hearing, “do more with less.”
This model presupposes—despite massive facts to the contrary — that someone is at home full time, taking care of the kids. The recession is over, yet employers still forego hiring, trying instead to squeeze productivity out of already-squeezed workers.
To be really pro-family and pro-children, the two “family guys” in this presidential campaign should focus on sensible national policy to spread the work and save the family.