Balancing Act

Working mom survey of best/worst states misses key factor: Dad

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Working moms

Working moms (Mark Swallow, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Nothing says Happy Mother's Day like a well-intentioned but completely infuriating survey.

WalletHub released a study today, timed to coincide with Mother's Day, ranking the best and worst states for working moms. The study is based on nine metrics, including cost and quality of day care, access to pediatric services and parental leave policies.

Louisiana came in dead last, thanks to a combination of crummy day care facilities (48th in the nation for quality), a glaring pay gap (Louisiana women earn an average 72 percent of what men earn) and a lack of work-life balance. (Illinois, by the way, ranks No. 22 on the list.)

That's a lousy set-up for dads too. Not so great for the kids either.

It's inaccurate and disingenuous and counterproductive to keep framing these as women's issues. Access to good pediatricians and quality child care don't just affect Mom. Neither does how much money she brings home or how much paid leave she receives.

These are working family issues, not working mom issues.

There's no question we're failing parents — and, more to the point, kids — with our pathetic family leave policies. (The United States ranks 38th in the world, beneath Turkey, South Korea, Mexico and Slovakia, in government-supported time off for new parents, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.)

There's no question quality child care is prohibitively expensive. (Child-care costs grew eight times faster than family income in 2012, according to Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit research and advocacy group.)

Gender-based pay gap? Yeah, that's real. President Obama has been signing executive orders left and right aimed at combating it.

But if this stuff is all placed on Mom's shoulders, everyone loses.

"Relationship experts agree that two of the biggest stressors on a marriage are lack of money and concern over kids," write Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober in their fantastic 2013 book, "Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All" (Viva). "When both spouses work, there are two backs to carry the financial load — and less stress on both of you. If you parent equally, you have the best salve for the agitation of child rearing — companionship."

Parents need to earn enough money to feed, house, educate, clothe and entertain their kids. Parents need high-quality, affordable day care to make it possible to earn that money. Parents need access to decent pediatricians. Parents need work-life balance.

"Men and women need each other in all spheres of life," write Meers and Strober. "Companies large and small — universities, hospitals, arts institutions, government — all perform better when more women are included in their ranks. At the same time, our children, our marriages, our family life all gain a lot when men are truly engaged at home.

"Allow men and women to contribute in both parts of life and everyone wins," they write. "How do we make that an option for more people?"

A list ranking the best and worst states for families would be a great start.

For the full report, please visit: http://wallethub.com/edu/best-states-for-working-moms/3565/

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidisteven13

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