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Gore trying to buy mothers off

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© St. Petersburg Times, published June 25, 2000

A mother's love may be priceless, but Al Gore thinks he can buy it.

The vice president, presidential candidate and alpha male wanna-be, needs female voters to flock to him in droves if he has any chance at defeating his smirkfest rival George W. Bush. The problem for Gore is his scaredy-cat campaign and scripted persona have left voters, and women especially, about as enthusiastic about him as prom-date cousin. (Since when has lameness worked as a campaign tactic?)

In weighing his remaining options to attract the nation's mothers, Gore has apparently decided to borrow a page from the governing Mexican PRI party by giving away new washing machines in exchange for votes.

Not literally, of course, but close.

Between the goodies and give-aways stay-at-home mothers have gotten from the Clinton-Gore administration and those Gore is offering in his campaign speeches, it appears the mommy vote is not so much being courted as bought.

First, Clinton-Gore decided to allow states to use their unemployment insurance trust funds to pay moms (okay, "parents," but we know which gender this is aimed at) to stay home with a new baby. At the same time this welfare-to-work administration is ushering poor women by the elbow into the work force, it invites middle class women to stay home with their babies -- a luxury to be underwritten by the nation's employers.

So what happens when you pay women to come out of the work force? They do . . . and then their retirement suffers.

Never fear, Al "the fixer" Gore will take care of it.

He has proposed an adjustment to Social Security to give retirement credit to mothers who voluntarily leave the labor force. Under Gore's plan, stay-at-home moms would get Social Security credit for the years (up to five) they spend at home as if they had remained in the work force. Specifically, homemakers raising children would be credited with earning $16,500 per year for Social Security purposes. A nice deal since the median income for female workers in 1998 was only $17,500, which means some women would be doing better by their retirement by just staying home.

Then, Gore made sure stay-at-home moms weren't left out of his proposed $500-billion tax cut package. Gore wants to give parents who stay home with an infant a child care tax credit of $500. Never mind that the child care tax credit was promoted as a way to help working parents defray the cost of having their children looked after. Now it should just be a benefit to anyone with a baby -- more mommy money.

But as Gore entices women out of the workplace with financial incentives, he is actively working against another ostensible Gore-goal: closing the gender pay gap. Some economist should explain to the vice president that as much as he wants his campaign to be the have-it-all express, a niggling thing known as "market forces" gets in the way.

At the Oxygen Women's Forum this month, Gore complained that "a woman on average gets about 77 cents for each dollar a man earns." What he failed to say is the reason is due to women's under-employment choices -- choices his policies will encourage.

It doesn't take Econ 101 to know that women who disrupt their careers to stay home with children will lose ground within their profession both in terms of promotions and pay. Economist Anita Hattiangadi, an employment policy expert, recently told a Senate committee: "Contrary to the claims of some, the gap cannot be taken as a measure of workplace discrimination. Instead it represents, to a large degree, differences between men and women in their average levels of experience and tenure, years and type of education, hours of work, and industry and occupation." Control those things, she said, and by some estimates the gap closes to zero.

In other words, women make less because, on average, they choose to work shorter hours, at jobs that are less stressful, risky and demanding; and women often temporarily leave the work force to stay home with children. All are personal choices.

Gore, however, conveniently ignores all of this. He told the Forum gathering the pay gap was due to "discrimination." We've got to "just crash through the glass ceiling," he said.

Gore has decided he can only win the big seat if he financially and rhetorically buys mothers off. His campaign strategy is to pay women to stay home and raise kids and then when they return to the workplace and don't make as much as the guy who stuck it out for all those years, blame the employer for maintaining a discriminatory pay structure.

Please. Someone should tell the V.P. that being patronized is worse than being ignored.

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