The XX Factor

State and Local Elections Offer Some Hope for Women and Working Parents

Working parents in Washington and Arizona will be less likely to lose some of their income, or their jobs, because their child got sick.

Thinkstock/ Artfoliophoto

While Donald Trump’s victory can only be considered a giant step backwards for women and the causes many of us hold dear, a few cities and states took some small steps forward in yesterday’s election that might give us some hope. They’re not significant enough to cure the pain, grief, and anger many of us are experiencing—just a gentle salve to lessen the intensity.

Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington State all passed initiatives to raise the minimum wage. The first three states approved measures that will raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020; in Washington it will gradually increase to $13.50 over the same time period. Washington and Maine also expanded access to paid sick leave. In Washington, workers will be eligible for up to 6.5 sick days over the course of the year, depending on how much they work. In Arizona, employees will be able to accrue up to five days a year. Currently, only five other states and thirty-three other cities have paid sick leave policies, which cover around 12.5 million Americans.

Both higher minimum wages and access to paid sick days would be a boon to all Americans, but especially working women. Nearly two-thirds of all minimum wage workers are women, meaning they have the most to gain from these raises. And while men and women currently have equal access to paid sick days, working without them has a greater impact on women, who are more likely to be responsible for their family’s well-being and often need time off to care for their children. Sadly, many families feel as though they can’t make that sacrifice; parents without paid sick days are more than twice as likely as parents with paid sick days to send a sick child to school or day care. Also, low-income mothers are the demographic most likely to go to work sick because they feel like they can’t afford it.

Another sliver of light: In Ohio yesterday, two cities passed measures to expand state-funded early education programs. In Cincinnati, voters agreed to raise property taxes to generate income for education, $15 million of which will go to fully subsidized preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The measure will also offer some financial support for low-income children whose parents make enough to put them just above that threshold. Proponents estimate that 6,000 children, in a city of nearly 300,000, will be impacted by the program. In Dayton, voters agreed to raise income taxes by one-quarter of a percentage point and use the funds to expand preschool access, as well as improve other city services. The money will let the city provide income-based preschool tuition assistance to the city’s 1,900 4-year-olds for what officials are calling “universal preschool.”

While the debate surrounding the educational value of universal pre-K carries on—with many experts and studies coming out on the side of it being effective—these programs also perform an important, and relatively under-discussed, secondary role of providing families with affordable childcare. The fact that defending a child’s right to education is far more tenable to Americans than defending a parent’s right to affordable childcare is depressing and rooted in the idea working mothers don’t deserve to be accommodated. Nevertheless, if cities and states continue to institute early education programs, working parents can remain optimistic that our needs might get met incidentally.