Conservative Americans demand their politicians spout sepia pleasantries about how America needs to experience a resurrection of "traditional family values." But when it comes down to setting policy, the US's most conservative states are actually the most hostile to the families to whom they so adamantly pay lip service. What gives?
It's no secret that the US government is doing a pretty crappy job of supporting families — it's the only advanced industrialized country in the world without guaranteed paid leave to care for a newborn — but what's interesting about a new analysis from the National Partnership for Women and Families is just how shitty full of "family values" voters are doing at, uh, valuing families. The analysis took into consideration what states did to improve over existing federal law, which prevents discrimination against pregnant women, provides parents with the option of taking unpaid medical leave from work without losing their jobs, and provides minimal accommodations to nursing women. Grades ranged from an an A- for California and Connecticut to F to states like Georgia, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia.
While there were some outliers, for the most part, heavily conservative states tended to receive poor marks. For example, Rick Santorum, a guy who practically pissed family values rhetoric, won the GOP primary contests in Alabama, Kansas, North Dakota, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. All but one of those states received failing grades from the NPWF (Tennessee got a D+).
Part of this apparent conservative anti-family policymaking pattern may be due to the fact that most "families" don't exactly adhere to the Norman Rockwell nuclear family fever dream of the modern American social conservative. More than half of births to women under 30 last year occurred outside of marriage, a big no-no for the evangelicals base that dictates social policy for Republicans. And in Texas, a growing proportion of new babies born every year are to Hispanic women, a terrifying stat for xenophobes. There's also the pesky conservative talking point that if women are paid to stay home to care for their newborns, women will just start having babies willy-nilly in order to get as many government benefits as possible, although anyone who believes that women hate working so much that they'd subject their bodies to 9 months of pregnancy followed by labor (rumored to be unpleasant) followed by several months of having a tiny baby (who, at the beginning of life, kind of resemble tiny, pooping, completely dependent purses) has a really skewed idea of what pregnancy is.
Parenthood is difficult enough without the added burden of having to take unpaid time off work in order to tend to a newborn baby. One solution, proposed by author Madeleine Kunin, is to rethink the way we position the idea of "paid family leave." In New Jersey and California, lawmakers simply wrapped parental leave into the definition of "temporary disability," so that the tax employees were already paying to support workers temporarily displaced from work increased only slightly. In New Jersey, this was referred to as a "family leave insurance," which is much more palatable to voters than "paid family leave," even though it does exactly the same thing. Giving mothers (and fathers) some economic breathing room leads to healthier families, which, if you believe that the family is the building block of society, would lead to a healthier society overall.
So, how can voters who call themselves "pro family" be so against the idea of helping families? Maybe there's some method to their madness; having a hardscrabble anecdote is essential to bolstering future political candidates' everyman credentials when they run for office on a "family values" platform.