In a few months, Americans will pick the 45th president of the greatest country in the world.
But from the financial, social and personal distress in many families, the U.S. doesn’t look so great. That’s getting little attention on the campaign trail.
Only Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders seems to keep addressing it, advocating for a higher minimum wage, Medicare-for-all health insurance, free college tuition, a three-month family medical leave mandate, income equality and women’s rights.
Sanders has attracted millennials because he is speaking about the difficulties they face. These issues also were brought to life at an American Public Square “All in the Family” discussion earlier this year at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, with people wishing local, state and national officeholders would address them.
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Politically and economically, politicians want people to believe that the U.S. of the 1950s is the same one in place today with traditional two-parent households, where families with kids are living the American dream. Nothing could be further from the truth. Two panels at the “All in the Family” discussion painted a very different picture. Since the 1970s, more women in households have entered the workforce so families can have a decent standard of living. Still they struggle.
“People are making decisions on do we eat or do we keep the lights on,” said Deborah Smith, director of the Family Studies Program at UMKC.
Poverty, poor food choices, a lack of quality health care and tremendous anxiety over child safety for many families of color have people “living in crisis mode,” said Ile Haggins, coordinator of field education at the UMKC School of Social Work.
Many millennials can’t see themselves fitting the traditional middle class profile. To them they’re working class or working poor, said Sarah Jane Glynn, director of the Women’s Economic Policy Center for American Progress. “That’s a really profound shift,” she said. Their inability to financially keep up affects millennials’ ability to buy a home, send their children to college or save for retirement.
“Those are luxuries now,” Glynn said. “People look at their parents and see they can’t reach the same standard — reach the American dream.”
Part of the problem lies in parents not having paid time off on their jobs to attend to a sick child and the lack of low- or no-cost quality preschool for children. On a panel of millennial parents in the discussion, Zakk Hoyt, a divorced father of children now out of preschool, explained that having them in elementary school was “like getting a raise.”
Western countries such as France, Sweden and Norway do better for young parents. “It’s a matter of will,” Smith said. In the U.S. the political will is missing. Politicians avoid universal preschool discussions and talk of marriage as a solution for families with kids. Without a living wage, that’s far from enough.
Also consider that women earn about 79 cents for every dollar that men make, and one in five kids lives in poverty.
“Poverty has become a dirty word,” Glynn said. “People don’t want to admit how bad it has become. It is not getting the attention it deserves. What we know is money lifts children out of poverty.”
Millennials are hurt the most. “Our mental health is drastically having an impact on our physical health,” Haggins said.
Parents on the millennial panel offered solutions similar to what Sanders is proposing, although people laugh at him, saying none has a chance of being enacted, and he is unelectable. The answers include universal health care to relieve families of that cost, boosting the minimum wage to a living wage and acknowledging all families — whether gay, divorced, guardian or grandparent headed household — as valid.
That would be a step in the right direction if only there were the political will.