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Children are collateral damage in war on women

Julianne Malveaux | 2/12/2014, 7:09 p.m. | Updated on 2/12/2014, 7:09 p.m.
In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, he appealed to our nation’s employers to raise wages from the ...

(NNPA) – In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, he appealed to our nation’s employers to raise wages from the current minimum of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. He has already signed an executive order that requires federal contractors to be paid $10.10 an hour, an only appropriate move since so many workers on federal contracts are living in poverty.

The plight of federal contract workers at the bottom is especially galling, given that CEOs at the top have no limits in what they can be paid. Many earn more than Obama’s $400,000 salary. They are awarded contracts by coming up with a minimum bid, which too often means paying people the lowest possible wage.

There are many consequences to workers earning so little money that they often work at a level below the poverty line. The federal government through food stamps, subsidized health care and a number of other well-deserved benefits subsidizes those with families surviving on low wages. They are also stigmatized by receiving government help. Why not pay these folks enough to make it on their own, instead of railing about those who “depend” on the government?

When women with children earn a minimum wage, they are challenged to take care of their children. If there is not affordable childcare, or a family support system, many of these women are desperate to figure out a way to work and find someone to take care of their children. In Henrico County, Va., which is part of the Richmond metropolitan area, 23-year-old Brittney R. Downing admitted her role in the deaths of her two children, aged 3 months and 20 months.

Brittney Downing left her children in a parking lot, inside her vehicle, while she went to work at a Henrico hotel. Both of her children were affected by heat strokes. Her 20-month old son died first, her daughter four days later. She is charged with involuntary manslaughter and can spend as many as 25 years in jail.

Brittney’s children are collateral damage in the war against women and minimum wage workers. As Obama noted in the State of the Union address, women are the majority of minimum wage workers. All of them aren’t teens; many are rearing children. Too many of them don’t earn enough to sustain themselves. Downing’s children, Jelani and Jade, died partly because their mother didn’t earn enough to put them in an affordable child care program.

Some will say that Downing should have had better sense than to leave her children in a locked car. I would say that those who value life so much that they rail against a woman’s right to choose ought to consider the consequences of choices, especially when they aren’t supported. Why don’t we have a work/family policy that makes child care assessable and affordable? Given these provisions, or a living wage, Downing may not have found the need to bring her children to work with her, and to keep them in the car.

Some employers provide on-site childcare, allowing employees with the same challenges that Downing faced to drop their children off and come back for them at the end of their shifts. While many provide this childcare at a small fee, others are willing to subsidize low-wage workers. These employers are more the exception than the rule. Do they understand their productivity losses when they do not institute policies that are friendly to the work of women who have children?