To better understand what moms hope the president-elect tackles in his first days in office, COURIER interviewed several supporters ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration.
No one has felt the impact of life in a pandemic more than mothers. Between navigating working from home, managing virtual schooling, and oftentimes being the primary childcare provider, women are reaching their breaking point.
Between February and October 2020, nearly 2.2 million women were forced to leave the labor force, according to analysis from the National Women’s Law Center. Another devastating blow to women’s careers was delivered recently when the US Department of Labor reported the economy lost 140,000 jobs in December, all of which had been held by women.
“It’s an impossible task,” C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, DC, told NPR. “Until we can figure out care, until we can figure out how to open the schools, you can just hang it up … for many women.”
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That, perhaps, may be why women showed up en masse to vote in the 2020 general election. Early exit polls found President-elect Joe Biden won 57% of women—a higher percentage than Hillary Clinton received in 2016.
Among the many platforms he campaigned on was a robust plan to address the childcare crisis in the United States. Biden promised if elected he would ensure child care is affordable for all families, make preschool universal, and increase wages for all caregivers.
To better understand why women flocked to Biden in 2020 and what they hope he tackles in his first days in office, COURIER interviewed several supporters ahead of his and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Address the Horrifying Ways the Previous Administration Handled Immigration
Leia Jex is a mother of two who calls Columbia, South Carolina, home. She told COURIER one reason why she voted for the Biden/Harris ticket was in response to President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy that led to migrant children being separated from their parents at the country’s southern border.
“No more children in cages,” Jex said emphatically. President Trump, she continued, is “the antithesis of everything that I think is moral and humane. And I’m a Christian and I can’t do that.”
Trump ended his zero-tolerance policy—which led to thousands of families seeking asylum being separated at the nation’s southern border—in June 2018, but the ramifications of that cruel policy continue to be felt to this day. The Associated Press reported in December that there were still 628 children who had not been reunited with their parents.
“Before we moved [to South Carolina], I was a parent educator in Arizona in the social work field,” Jex explained. “And I know about the effects of trauma on lifelong learning. I know of the effects of trauma on children in terms of suicide outcomes. I know about the effects of trauma in terms of brain development. There is no possible way I could ever, ever, ever support anybody who is intentionally inflicting that trauma on families and children.”
Biden has promised to immediately address Trump’s restrictive asylum policies as soon as he takes office.
Work to Ensure Every Child Can Obtain a Quality Education
Education and the way the country has handled the coronavirus pandemic were also top of mind for Jex, whose children are five and nine. She was planning to return to teaching again last year when her youngest daughter started kindergarten. The public health crisis, however, put a hold on that.
“I’ve been really looking forward to going back to teaching elementary school,” Jex said. “I can’t do that with COVID. I have [rheumatoid arthritis] and autoimmune kidney disease, so I’m COVID’s target audience.”
Instead, Jex finds herself homeschooling, something she never planned—or wanted—to do. Her children can’t handle any more online school. Jex and her girls now spend a lot of time outside, doing social studies in the woods, for example instead of in front of a screen.
As an educator, Jex is very pleased about having Dr. Jill Biden in the White House. The future first lady, who has promised to continue teaching English at Northern Virginia Community College, will be someone who understands the differences between Title I, an IEP, and a 504—basic education issues.
Jex hopes to see federal funding used to support public schools and not religious education. She thinks the pandemic is hurting the country’s education system. After former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ time in office, it’s going to require a lot of effort to fix when things are back to “normal.” DeVos was well known for her support of school choice, school vouchers, and charter schools—not something that public school educators wanted to hear.
“It’s going to take somebody who understands kids in schools are more than test scores, to actually help fix the education system,” Jex said. Biden, with the support of his wife, is that person, she added.
“When Betsy DeVos was nominated, I just sat down and cried, because my child has an IEP. I have worked with so many children who need this extra support,” Jex said. So when Biden won—and she realized DeVos was out—Jex said she did “a flat-out happy dance.”
Deal with the Pandemic Intelligently
Meredith (who asked that her last name not be used to protect her privacy) lives in Henrico, Virginia, and had her first child in December. She’s had anything but a typical first pregnancy.
“The pandemic changed things because my husband couldn’t come to any of my appointments. We were lucky because he finally got to come to the 20-week ultrasound, but before that I had to FaceTime him so that he could ‘virtually’ be there, and he hasn’t been able to come to an appointment since.”
In November, Meredith voted with her daughter in mind: She wants Biden to address the pandemic by prioritizing the science. “I’d like to see him respond to the pandemic in an educated way. I don’t need him to solve COVID, but I’d like to see him respond to it thoughtfully vs. ignore it or call it fake news.”
In fact, the president-elect has already assembled a special transition team to coordinate a whole-of-government response to the coronavirus pandemic. He has said he plans to ask all Americans to wear face masks for his first 100 days in office, and is working to implement a plan to administer 100 million shots in the first 100 days. The Trump administration has garnered criticism for bungling vaccine distribution as the virus spirals out of control.
“The top thing is that there’s not a coordinated national plan,” Biden adviser Dr. Rick Bright told the Associated Press.
Address the Devastating Climate Crisis
Becoming a new mother has Meredith thinking a lot about the future. She said the last four years have been hard to endure, and she wants a better world for her daughter. “Knowing Trump is on his way out gives me some sense of hope for her future.”
Among the first things she hopes the Biden-Harris administration works to address is Trump’s lack of action on climate change. “I’d like to see him tackle undoing some of the damage that Trump has done in the climate space such as rejoining the Paris Climate Initiative,” she said.
According to a recent report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States was ravaged with a record 22 separate billion-dollar weather disasters in 2020.
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Biden, for his part, has made clear that addressing the climate crisis is a priority. He has vowed to rejoin the Paris accord “on day one,” and intends to use the fullest extent of his executive powers to take significant action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“Folks, we’re in a crisis,” Biden said last month. “Just like we need a unified national response to covid-19, we need a unified national response to climate change. We need to meet this moment with the urgency it demands.”
Overall, Meredith thinks that Biden and Harris offer hope for the future. Which is something every mother wants, a better future for their children.
“Knowing that our country is being led by two folks who honor the office and take leading the American people seriously gives me relief,” she said. “Joe and Kamala don’t need to do anything besides show up each day and try.”
Bring Back a Moderate, Unifying Approach to Politics
Crystal Parten, a public school educator and mother of three from Winfield, Georgia, said there were many reasons she supported the Biden/Harris ticket.
“There really just isn’t one thing,” she told COURIER. “I saw Joe Biden in particular as a moderate, level-headed, experienced, government person. And I do agree with many of the platforms, including stricter gun control and emphasis on public education. And the environment.”
Among the list of things she’d like to see from the Biden White House are issues that affect families. Parten would like to see things like paid maternity leave, free universal pre-K, and early child care for families. These policies, she said, affect everyone, not just mothers. Affordable child care and free pre-K would help bring more people out of poverty and into the middle and upper classes because they would actually be able to pay off loans or go to school, being able to save that money, she explained.
Broadly, Parten is hopeful that Biden can bring people back together on polarizing issues, including how to handle COVID-19. She thinks he’ll be able to reach across the aisle and bring people back from the fringe, and set a role model for this and the next generation on how to be civically engaged in a positive way.
“But I think that overall, he brings moderation back to Washington and I hope that a Biden-Harris [administration] is going to be what can bring the two sides together a little bit more to make Washington work better for me, of course, but for all of us.”