Women hold up half the sky, and it’s past time that lawmakers got busy giving them some help and support in doing so. And that’s the message presidential hopeful Kamala Harris has for working mothers and their families. And, what's more, it’s one she learned to advocate at her mother’s knee.
At a recent town hall in Greenville, South Carolina, Sen. Harris reminisced about her own childhood. "I was raised by an incredible mother. She was a scientist, and she had two goals in her life: to raise her daughters and then (to contribute to curing) breast cancer," Harris said.
The California senator added that her mother — Shyamala Gopalan, a breast cancer researcher and activist, according to U.S. News & World Report — would take her and her sister, Maya, who incidentally now chairs her presidential campaign, with her to the lab on "on weekends, and after work, and after school."
While Gopalan was hard at work, though, times were not always easy. "I remember our mother coming home sometimes just outraged at what she had witnessed, what she had seen, the inequities, of how women are treated in terms of their health issues, in terms of the workplace,” Harris said at the town hall. "And so, as a very young child, it was just in my environment to always be in the business of continually fighting for women’s issues, for women’s dignity."
Harris shared that her mother didn’t stand for complaining, and that’s actually why she’s thrown her hat into the ring: "She’d say, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it, Kamala?’, and so I decided to run for President of the United States." Harris officially announced her candidacy in January, according to The New York Times.
This passion and her understanding of the critically important role women play in the U.S. economy has led Harris to develop a suite of policies that would provide a dramatic boost to the quality of life for working women and their families. Here’s a look at a few of the ways Harris could change the game for those of us holding up the sky.
1. Pay Women Equally
White women make $0.80 for every $1 a white men makes, and Black and Hispanic women make even less, according to data from the U.S. Census released by Congress. Harris plans to address this disparity by requiring companies to obtain an "Equal Pay Certification," and companies that don't pay women the same as their male counterparts doing the same job will be subject to fines.
"While I was Attorney General (in California), I learned how to get people's attention," Harris said at the town hall. "I’m going to shift the responsibility to the big corporations to prove that they are paying people equally for equal work."
She continued, "For every 1 percent differential between what women are paid and men are paid, anyone in violation will pay a fine based on the same amount of percentage based on their profits from the previous year."
More details on Harris' plan to close the wage gap and the research on which it is based on can be found on her campaign website.
2. Finally, Paid Family Leave
The United States is still the only country in the industrialized world lacking a paid maternity leave policy, according to ABC News. Harris not only intends to correct this, but plans to extend it to be more inclusive as well.
Harris is a co-sponsor on the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act put forward by fellow presidential hopeful Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The bill would allow up to 12 weeks' partial income for family caregiving. As such, it would also allow secondary caregivers to take some time off to help with new babies or adopted children and would also permit family members to assist with aging parents or other relatives.
Harris noted during her speech in Greenville that she plans to partially subsidize costs of the family leave policy with the fines collected from corporations who violate gender pay equity rules established by her prospective administration.
Paid leave policies have many economic benefits for both the companies that implement them and society at large. In fact, the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that paid leave decreases worker turnover, thus eliminating the need to recruit and train new employees, both of which contribute to considerable employer costs, and that retaining employees also increases productivity.
Additionally, the Washington Center for Economic Growth showed by boosting household income in infancy and young childhood, paid leave helps children's long-term development and productivity, helping ensure our economic competitiveness into the future.
3. Give Working Families A Tax Credit
At her speech in Greenville, Harris cited a report from the Federal Reserve that shows that 40 percent of Americans can't come up with $400 in the event of an emergency.
Her "economic justice" plan to prevent debt piling up at high interest rates including the worst choice of all — a payday loan, a small-dollar loan often issued at interest rates of 300 to 400 percent, according to Forbes — is to provide a $6,000 tax credit for families earning less than $100,000 per year.
How does Harris propose funding this windfall? If she is elected, Harris said "on day one, we're going to repeal that bill," referring to the tax cut legislation Trump signed into law on Dec. 22, 2017. On her campaign website, Harris refers to this plan as part of her overall economic package.
4. Quality Child Care With Sliding Scale Fees
"Quality, affordable child care is essential for both children and parents to thrive," according to Harris, who has been talking about the subject at part of her suite of economic policies relating to women since the beginning of her campaign.
In the Senate, she is a co-sponsor of the Child Care for Working Families Act, which advocates, among other things, a sliding scale for child care costs — including free care for families making less than 75 percent of a state's median income.
As Taryn Morrisey, American University professor of public administration and policy and the co-author of Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality, told Vox, both the Child Care for Working Families Act and Sen. Elizabeth Warren's plan are "essentially paths to universal child care" and "huge improvements for everybody."
5. Universal Pre-K To Ensure Child Readiness
In his 1984 address to the Democratic National Convention, Rev. Jesse Jackson once pointed out that it's impossible for a rising tide to lift all the boats because it won't reach those stuck at the bottom. Harris is a passionate advocate for investment in universal pre-K to ensure that all children will be well prepared for school.
Clearly critical of the current administration's policies, at her speech in Greenville, Harris name-checked Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in referring to "leaders who attack our public schools," stating that DeVos "lacks basic knowledge of the system."
DeVos, whose primary work experience prior to becoming Secretary of Education was as an investor in and board member of the brain performance company Neurocore, a chain of centers that specialize in assisting people with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other conditions, the BBC reported at the time of her contentious confirmation hearings. DeVos did not attend nor send her children to public schools and has been a longtime advocate of charter schools, according to the Washington Post.
When it comes to childhood education, Harris envisions correcting current deficits with actions like providing funding for states to create high-quality programs for 3- and 4-year olds, helping all Head Start programs provide full-day, full-year programming, and expanding programming for children with disabilities.