Where have all the family issues gone? That's the question troubling some family advocates as the Starr report continues to draw public attention away from other political concerns. With November elections in the United States just six weeks away, activists hope to turn voters back to a broader agenda that includes such work and family issues as child care, elder care, and family leave.
"Our goal is to get child care back on the radar," says Faith Wohl, president of the Child Care Action Campaign in New York. "It has literally vanished from the screen, thanks to collapsing economics, stock market plunges, and, of course, Monica."
Ms. Wohl notes that she and other child-care advocates felt "hope and exhilaration" on Jan. 7 when President Clinton announced a five-year, $21.7 billion child-care initiative to help families pay for child care, to improve quality, and expand after-school programs. But today, she explains, "it's clearly dead in the water, at least for this session of Congress."
Yet voters, Wohl adds, are prepared to support candidates who address these issues. In a new poll jointly released by her group and the Children's Defense Fund, more than half of respondents said they would be likely to vote for a candidate who helped low-income working families afford quality child care. And nearly 70 percent stated that they would be likely to vote for a candidate who supported after-school programs that help keep children from being home alone.
The poll also shows what Wohl calls a "persistent gender gap." Women's responses, she says, "were 15 percentage points higher on virtually every question we asked. That's an important reminder for people running for office."
Donna Lenhoff, general counsel for the National Partnership for Women & Families in Washington, observes similar support. Calling work and family issues a "quiet revolution," she says, "They are present in everyone's life. That's true from the most successful CEO to part-time nursing home workers. Even if they don't have children, they may have parents they are caring for."
As one way of stimulating public debate, the National Partnership (www. nationalpartnership.org) has drawn up a list of 10 questions for voters to ask local, state, and national candidates. Questions in the free booklet "Family Matters: Ask Your Candidates About Work/Family Issues" include:
* What role should the government play in helping Americans meet their work and family responsibilities? What role should employers play?
* Would you support making family leave available to more working people? How would you do it?
* What would you do to help working Americans meet their elder-care responsibilities?
* How do you suggest improving the quality of child care?
* What do you think the government can do to help low-income families - including minimum-wage earners and families moving from welfare to work - take care of family responsibilities and climb out of poverty?
"What were dubbed the 'soccer-mom issues' in 1996 were very real to people," says Lenhoff. "It's not as though something has changed between 1996 and today. If anything, the problems have only intensified. So whatever the particular story dominating the news at a given time, I do expect this issue to be the kind of very real one that transcends the day-to-day ups and downs of the stock market and the home-run race and the latest political fight in Washington."