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Rise of the working parent

Hillary Wicai Aug 25, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: There’s an election in November, as you might have heard. Politicians of all persuasions are out there rounding up votes. Republicans, Democrats, college students and senior citizens, just about everybody is worth pursuing an parents might be the next hot political prize. From the Marketplace Work and Family Desk, Hillary Wicai reports.

HILLARY WICAI: In addition to diners and rotary clubs, politicians may want to add playgrounds to their stumping grounds.

That’s where Amy Guberman and her husband were on a muggy Sunday morning in Washington, DC. The two-career couple were entertaining their 4-year-old and their toddler, so Guberman talked fast.

She doesn’t expect a chicken in every pot. She would however like to share pot pie occasionally, with her kids.

AMY GUBERMAN: “I usually miss all meals with them, except during the weekends. …and just one more meal with my kids a week, that would be perfect.

Families and Work Institute president Ellen Galinsky has been studying families for more than 20 years. She says they’re near a tipping point.

ELLEN GALINSKY: “Parents feel that they don’t have enough time with their children. 67 percent, in fact.”

There are 65 million parents in the US with children under 18 living at home. That’s a third of the nation’s potential voters. And a great opportunity says Democratic pollster Anna Greenburg.

ANNA GREENBURG: “I do think it’s possible that working parents could emerge as a political force in this election and in 2008.”

Greenburg thinks labels like “soccer moms” and “Nascar dads” make for better media headlines than actual voting blocks.

But “today’s parents” — just plain old, stressed out, overworked and underpaid parents — she says that could be different.

Dual income families today have less discretionary spending than single income families did in the 1970s. Parents have to work more to pay the basics.

GREENBURG: “I think a candidate who can offer a powerful and bold economic agenda that’s about improving people’s lives, helping to bring down the cost of living and helping to put in place policies that allow people to spend more time with their families could absolutely beat a candidate who talked about security and values.”

The majority of parents say being a mom or dad has more influence on their political choices than religion, income, gender or race. And that makes big time republican pollster Frank Lunz take notice.

FRANK LUNZ: “I’m waiting for a political candidate or political party to actually run on a time agenda. That may involve flex time comp time, it may involve child care, it certainly will involve tax policy and rules and regulations.”

But will politicians do it? A couple of new organizations are hoping to persuade lawmakers it’s time for time.

JOAN BLADES: “We’re working approx 500 hours more per year than we were a generation ago and there’s a real price to that.”

Joan Blades helped launch an advocacy group Momsrising.org. She says the US is just one of four countries that doesn’t offer any paid time off for maternity leave. That puts the US in league with Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

Blades says that’s just one reason her group attracted 53,000 online members in just a few months.

BLADES: “I’m hoping that we’re going to have a massive number of women participate and then we’re going to give the leaders doing good work in this area the kind of support they need”

Another group working to rally moms and dads is the bipartisan Parents Action for Children.

Shelly Waters Boots with the group says the Internet is the key to mobilizing more than 50,000 parents. Boots says 70% of parents are online regularly.

SHELLY WATERS BOOTS: “Moms at 2 a.m. are coordinating play dates and dads are online looking for information around discipline challenges. We’re too busy managing our lives and our work and our families so this is the one place to find parents.”

Galinsky at the Families and Work Institute has seen attempts to reach parents before.

She points out that Family Support America, an organization founded 25 years ago, just closed last month due to lack of funding. Still Galinsky feels this time around a full-blown parents movement just might happen.

GALINSKY: “There’s a difference now and the difference is that parents have gotten used to using the Internet to connect.”

But is it enough? Organizing and working to change the status quo still takes time, the one thing parents don’t have.

I’m Hillary Wicai for Marketplace Money.

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