Abortion access and economic issues are one and the same


Two things grabbed my attention last week. The first was an op-ed by Bernie Sanders titled “Democrats shouldn’t focus only on abortion in the midterms. That’s a mistake.” The senator from Vermont wrote that, “while the abortion issue must remain on the front burner, it would be political malpractice for Democrats to ignore the state of the economy.”

We’ll come back to this quote in a little bit.

The second thing that caught my eye was a number from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which said there are now 100,000 fewer child-care workers than there were at the start of the pandemic. The New York Times article about the shortage outlined some of the reasons. One reason was that child-care workers, who often make less than fast-food cashiers to perform arduous jobs that we claim to value as sacrosanct, are leaving for positions that are better-paying with higher benefits and less stress.

This figure about child-care workers fleeing the industry is a statistical articulation of something that every parent I know already understood in their bones: Child care in America is a horror show. It’s an every-family-for-themselves thunderdome where the cost is your entire life savings, which you have to figure out how to pay, because it’s your kid.

The week I learned I was pregnant, I signed up for the wait lists of six different day-care facilities. My daughter is 16 months old now, and she is still on the wait lists for five of them, so far as I know. My husband and I stopped checking in once she was admitted to the one she now attends, where we paid tuition for nearly a year, before we needed the school, just to hold the slot. The cost is higher than my mortgage, and more than double the undergraduate tuition of the flagship state university a mile from my house. It would literally be cheaper to send my daughter to law school than to day care, but her aptitude for torts is shaky at best.

I cannot afford to pay a dime more, and child-care teachers cannot afford to make a penny less. This is where we will remain as long as the United States government allows child care to be the nation’s most broken infrastructure. And what I’m describing in my own life is a resolute success story: a two-income household making it work via a 14-year-old car with an iffy battery.

Thank God I don’t have a second child.

Which brings me back to Sanders and his worry that Democrats might be focusing too much on abortion access in the midterm elections, at the expense of other economic issues.

I have no doubt that Sanders supports reproductive choice. After all, he wants to keep it on the front burner, not stash it in the freezer. But his op-ed made the mistake that male politicians and politicos have the luxury of making. It treated reproductive choice as a women’s issue that is separate from the other issues he goes on to cite as urgent: income and wealth inequality, dysfunctional health care, the affordability of higher education, rising costs of food and gas.

Abortion is an economic issue. Determining the size of a family is one of the most profound economic decisions that a person will make in their lifetime.

Abortion is an economic issue for the women who are able to increase their wages by 11 percent after delaying motherhood for one year, or the women whose access to abortion increased their probability of graduating college by 72 percent, numbers provided by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee report titled “Abortion access is key to economic freedom.”

It is an economic issue for the women whose debt increased when they were unable to obtain an abortion, according to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, and who were still in comparatively worse financial shape five years later.

It is an economic issue for the children of women who live in states with abortion access, who are less likely to experience poverty or need federal assistance than are the children of women living in states without abortion access, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

And it is an economic issue for the millions of families like mine: the ones who are lucky enough to be able to afford child care in this exhausting slog where child-care workers are leaving by the droves to go stock shelves at Target, but for whom an additional child would be financially perilous.

Women’s issues are economic issues. Women are part of the economy.

The state of the economy depends on the state of the people living in it. And the state of people living in it depends on how many mouths need feeding in every household, and how thinly stretched are the time, patience and finances of the heads of those households.

Abortion access influences a family’s ability to afford higher education and rising food, gas and health-care prices. It is intertwined with income and wealth inequality. It impacts day-care waiting lists and depleted bank accounts and family health, both physical and mental.

The thing is, I am sure Sanders knows this, or would know it, at least, if he thought it through. Reproductive rights activists are not “ignoring the state of the economy” nor are they claiming that abortion is the only issue that matters on the ballot. What they are saying is that abortion access is part of a healthy economy.

It is not that we need abortion access on a front burner and the rest of the economy sitting in the warming drawer. We need all the issues in the same pots, and all the burners on high.

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