Voters Care About Care: Do Candidates?

Co-Authored by: Valerie Young, JD, Outreach director for CPS's Caring Economy Campaign. Valerie's work appears extensively in social media, @WomanInDC on Twitter, Your (Wo)Man in Washington on Facebook, and blogging for Mom-mentum.org. She also has written for The Shriver Report, Brain/Child Magazine, and is frequently featured on BlogHer.com as well as the CPS and CEC blogs.

The 2016 Presidential election is unprecedented. One reason is a female candidate. A (very) non-traditional contender is a second. But there is another "first" with perhaps even further-reaching implications: the emergence of care into mainstream political discussions. That could be a real game changer for generations to come, positioning the US to maintain its economic advantage and bolstering national security in the turbulent times ahead.

Care, finally, is a political issue in play. Hillary Clinton has proposed paid family leave, capping child care expenses, universal pre-K, expanding the Child Tax Credit, and expanding Social Security so women's retirement income can catch up with men's. Donald Trump has floated a tax deduction for the national average cost of childcare. Jill Stein of the Green Party supports free, universal childcare, paid family leave and paid sick leave.

No doubt these candidates have noticed that better family policies have gained popularity with voters. A recent AP-NORC poll reports 72% of respondents support paid family leave, 83% support a tax break for caregivers, and 73% support Social Security credits for caregivers who take time away from paid work. Voters of all political affiliations support increasing access to early education and childcare. Specifically, 98% of registered Democrats, 86% of Independents, and 82% of Republicans are in favor, according to Hart poll conducted last spring. That's a remarkable level of consensus in these polarized and polarizing times.

Why is care commanding more attention now? Even if a family can afford a full-time caregiver (mother or father) at home, volatility in the labor market can keep both parents on the job as a second line of defense. More often now the wife and mother's earnings are essential to the household income. Two-thirds of women are either primary or co-breadwinners. Their families simply couldn't manage without that paycheck.

Changes in aging also play a role. We are living longer thanks to advances in medicine and science. But our ability to live independently and take care of ourselves is not part of the bargain. The number of Americans 65 and over will double by 2050. That same year, the baby boom generation will be over 85.

As the need for care spikes, the number of potential family caregivers sharply declines. Women have flowed into the workforce, powering our economic expansion. Adult children live further away in this mobile society, and often can't be on hand to look after their parents or in-laws.

American families struggle to get by using tag team parenting. They stretch to pay the bills with what's left over after childcare is paid for. Women, who are still the primary caregivers, reduce work hours or come out of the labor force altogether to care for an aging parent, ailing family member, or young child.

Like a perfect storm, demographic and economic influences are pushing the demand for care higher and the supply of caregivers lower. The result is a care deficit.

Care is no longer a family or personal issue that all too often leads to great hardships. It is a national issue --with economic implications that stretch to the global marketplace. Neuroscience shows that whether or not children develop their capacities largely hinges on the quality of early care and education they receive. So policies supporting good care and education are essential for the US to have the high quality capital economists tell us is essential in our new knowledge/service age. The competitiveness of our future labor force hangs in the balance.

Yet despite all this, the US Congress has done nothing to support care. Because of this inaction, 4 states (California, Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey) have enacted their own paid family leave programs, and 19 state legislatures have bills pending. The result is an inconsistent patchwork that means your family security depends entirely on where you happen to live - even though the polls show that the desire for better childcare transcends geography.

The urgency of action on the national level is highlighted by the Center for Partnership Studies' Social Wealth Economic Indicators which show that the United States invests less than half what other wealthy nations do in family friendly policies, the least in early childhood education, and is the only developed nation without a national paid parental leave program. This keeps women's labor force participation down, blunts economic growth, imperils family economic security, and prevents access to the full range of our talent and creativity as a player in the global marketplace.

Here is a guide to help you bring care issues to the forefront this campaign season.

You can use the Caring Economy Campaign's Questions for Candidates to inform yourself and talk more meaningfully with candidates and others. Take it with you to a rally or Town Hall event, any place you are likely to meet a contender in this election. Use it to call campaign headquarters, or write letters to the editor or your local paper. You can post the questions on social media. Now that we know who the moderators of the Presidential debates will be, you can encourage them to put our questions to the candidates by tweeting them in the run up to the broadcasts! (@LesterHoltNBC@MarthaRaddatz, @andersoncooper, and Chris Wallace at @FoxNewsSunday.)

As we've seen time and again in our democracy, grassroots action drives change. When the voters lead, the leaders will follow.

Valerie Young, JD, is Outreach Director for CPS's Caring Economy Campaign and blogs at Your (Wo)Man in Washington.