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Sen. Tammy Duckworth Pens Thoughtful Essay on America’s Childcare Crisis

"America's moms are running on empty."

tammy duckworth

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth is the definition of an American hero. The former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel lost both her legs serving as a combat helicopter pilot during the Iraq War. In 2017, she became the first disabled female vet to be elected to Congress, the first Thai member of Congress, and the second Asian-American woman. She was the first senator to give birth while in office, and successfully changed the Senate rules to allow young children onto the floor for breastfeeding.

But in a new essay for Time Magazine, Duckworth describes one of her biggest challenges yet: working full-time while homeschooling her children.

Duckworth wrote, “I may be a trained helicopter pilot and a United States Senator, but one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever taken on is trying to teach my five-year-old how to add three plus five and how to write the letter K.”

It’s a struggle shared by mothers and parents across the country who, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, are being forced to choose between earning a living and raising their children. And while the House has passed two bills to prop up the ailing childcare industry and to support parents, the Senate refuses to take them up. With the school year starting, parents are forced to choose between an untenable homeschooling situation and the dangers of sending their children back to schools unequipped to keep them safe.

She continued, “With all the privileges I have, if I still feel such an overwhelming fear that I’m letting down my daughters, how can we as a nation possibly expect those who don’t have those same advantages to shoulder these burdens without any help? Those are the mothers I’m worried about. The ones doubling as heroes in ICUs or grocery stores, trying to juggle looking after their kids with taking care of their patients or customers.”

Duckworth touches on the outsized demands on parents, specifically on mothers, who are picking up the parenting slack at a rate that far exceeds fathers. With so many women forced to choose between their work and their children, many estimate that the pandemic will lead to massive setbacks for women in the workplace.

Childcare in America has always been a struggle, but the pandemic has exposed just how vulnerable the system is. Quite simply, there is no economic recovery without the recovery of the childcare industry. Duckworth wrote, “Before the pandemic struck, just 17% of workers had access to paid leave, with Black, Indigenous and people of color faring far worse. In a lot of states, infant care costs over 80% of a minimum-wage worker’s annual income—even though lack of affordable childcare hurts families’ wallets, employers’ profits and our nation’s economy.”

Duckworth urged the Senate and the White House to adequately respond to the crisis, instead of punishing schools and teachers with idle threats. She wrote, “Instead of threatening to withhold critical funding school districts could use to obtain PPE and better protect our children as the Republicans’ new proposal does, our leaders need to recognize the lifesaving difference an adequate paid leave policy would make—something Democrats have been fighting for and is included in our HEROES Act, yet which Senator Mitch McConnell refused to include in his so-called relief bill.”

Duckworth also endorsed Joe Biden, whom she has been campaigning for since he clinched the nomination. Duckworth is on his shortlist as a possible veep pick, which Biden has yet to announce. She summed up the childcare issue succinctly by adding, “We don’t have the luxury of treating moms’ time as both expendable and endless—and we can’t risk our kids’ futures on the notion that mothers’ ability to shoulder the weight of the world is infinite.”

(via Time Magazine, image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.