What about working moms?

Now that the midterms, and more importantly arguing over the red-blue impact of the midterms, are firmly behind us, can we finally talk about the issues? For the record, another election day has passed with candidates ignoring me … again. This is not because I'm a registered black female Democrat in New York City which often means that beyond the primaries my vote is typically taken for granted. But every election season, candidates also ignore my vote as a working mother.

Cora Daniels
Source: Bruno J. Navarro
Cora Daniels

Here's a thought: If Americans really took parenting seriously, then we would have a working mother's platform.

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Every few years, when politicians get wind that poverty is in the air, some candidate somewhere tries to live on food stamps for a day. I've seen the photos in the newspaper. I'm still waiting for the day when instead a candidate tries juggling school pick-ups, conference calls, trip permission slips, soccer practice, office deadlines, sick kids, sick babysitters, and sick husbands. Do that day for your photo op — and maybe I'll consider voting for you.

Make no mistake, I could say a mothers' platform, since all mothers – whether it's paid work outside of the home or unpaid labor as primary caregivers – work. Or a working parents' platform, to include fathers. But if we are going to be honest, in general, voters tend to focus on the me, me, me and not the collective we, we, we.

So, I'd like to see candidates actively, aggressively, and shamelessly, court the working mother vote. Of course, they'd have to robo-call us after 8 pm when the kids go to bed — let's make that 9ish if we really want them to be a sleep, and before about 10ish when working mothers settle in for a little DVR time while we finish the endless things on our To-Do lists that we, as mothers and as working women, have to do for the next day. I know it is a short window for the candidates but most voters don't answer robo-calls anyway if we can help it — I just want to know that you're courting.

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We live in a nation where the majority of mothers are employed outside the home. The majority of these mothers work full time. Nearly 41 percent of mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners in the family, according to the Center for American Progress. One in three families have a co-breadwinning mother who makes less than her husband or partner but still contributes significantly to the family's bottom line. These aren't lifestyle choices — this is how everyday families make ends meet.

The foundation of my working mother's agenda would be universal child care. I know universal is a dirty word these days but, hey, as long as I'm dreaming, I might as well dream big! What are politicians going to do – ignore me? They've already got that covered. And by universal, I mean universal, as in affordable child-care options available for working mothers no matter what time of day they work. (For mothers whose 9 to 5 may not fall between 9 and 5, like those who work in restaurants or retail where shifts can be unpredictable or at night, securing reliable childcare options can be impossible.) Of course, childcare is not the only concern of working mothers — our concerns, like us, can range to include flexible workplace options, paid family leave, paid sick days, and so much more.

But child care is often a key reason why families are economically crippled with most working mothers piecing together a patchwork of options with very big cracks.

In every region of the United States, the average child-care fee for an infant in a child-care center is higher than the average amount that families spend on food, according to ChildCare Aware of America's most recent Cost of Child Care Report. Child-care fees for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) in a child-care center exceeded annual median rent payments in every state and in 19 states those costs are higher than homeowner's mortgage bills. In 31 states, the average annual average cost for an infant in center-based care was higher than a year's tuition and fees at a four-year public college. (I should also mention that we can add the District of Columbia to each of these categories too in case Congress was thinking this high cost of child care thing is happening in other people's backyards.)

Despite the high cost of child care, our nation's caregivers are still among the lowest paid. The medium wage of child-care workers has not significantly increased in 20 years, coming in at $19,098 in 2011 vs. $19,680 in 1990 (in constant dollars), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The poor pay of these jobs is another sign of how the country doesn't take the care of our children seriously.

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When we don't support families, the economy drags. So now this is everyone's problem. A public policy brief on child-care costs put out by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the high cost of child care puts such a strain on household budgets that it dents consumption and hinders economic growth. Employee absenteeism as the result of child-care breakdowns costs U.S. businesses $3 billion year. The burden of dealing with and paying for child care is seen as a leading culprit for pulling some women out of the workforce and even serving as a deterrent for others to have children at all, according to the Wharton brief.

The Pew Research Center analysis of census data found that after a three-decade decline in the number of stay-at-home mothers, the numbers are now on the rise, with their share growing to 29 percent in 2012 from a modern-era low of 23 percent in 1999. The hurdles of child care are attributed as one of the factors in the reversal of the long-term decline. (Although much of the child-care debate has been highjacked with talk of the small minority of affluent professionals who opt-out that does not represent the majority of mothers who are staying home as primary caregivers. In fact one-third of stay-at-home mothers are living in poverty.)

When mothers don't work, it has a negative effect on disposable income that can be pumped back into the economy. A case can also be made that when a sector of the workforce, in this case mothers, scale back and are not reaching their workforce potential, the country's GDP is hurt. It is why in many developed nations, child care and early education is heavily subsidized.

We actually almost came close to passing universal child care. In 1971, Congress passed the Comprehensive Child Development Act on a bipartisan vote. Imagine that? The bill, sponsored by Sen. Walter Mondale, (D-Minnesota), and Rep. John Brademas, (D- Indiana), created a system of federally funded child care centers throughout the country. The centers, which were to provide early education for young children as well as after-school care for older kids, would also have provided medical and dental services. Fees were to be based on a family's income level, and most middle-class families would qualify for at least subsidized tuition. President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill calling it "a long leap in the dark for the United States government and the American people." And that is pretty much where the child-care debate remains today, giving Nixon the last say. Aren't you proud that we, as a nation, hitched our child-care policies to that winning political brand?

It's time we stop treating America's families as a special- interest group. Family issues are not women's issues, not even working mother issues, these are national economic issues. Supporting our parents — all of them — is how you value families and our nation's future.

And if a political party can come up with a solution to the exhausted-mother-syndrome — perhaps quarantine us in spas across America while providing quality child care — then that party would have this working mom's vote for life.

Commentary by Cora Daniels, co-author of the book, "Impolite Conversations on Race, Politics, Sex, Money, and Religion" with John L. Jackson, Jr. Follow her on Twitter @IamCoraDaniels.