Democratic presidential debate focuses on how to help American families

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Wednesday's debate included significant focus on bread-and-butter issues like paid leave and affordable housing.

Democratic candidates at Wednesday's fifth presidential primary debate honed in on a series of economic issues facing families, making passionate arguments in favor of action on paid leave and the lack of affordable housing.

Businessman Andrew Yang was asked about family leave and child care — more expensive for infants in Georgia than in-state tuition at a public college — and responded by noting that the United States is one of the only countries with absolutely no guaranteed paid family leave.

"There are only two countries in the world that don't have paid family leave for new moms: the United States of America and Papua New Guinea," he said. "That is the entire list and we need to get off that list as as soon as possible." 

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Yang talked about his own experience as the parent of a child with Austism and a child with special needs. He proposed federal financial support to allow parents to be able to afford to stay home or to obtain child care, an apparent reference to his Freedom Dividend plan, a form of universal basic income.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) were also asked about their respective plans to provide paid parental leave. While they disagreed on the duration, both talked about the urgency of providing some form of assistance.

"I looked at this economically and I want to make sure that we help people," Klobuchar said.

Noting Yang's comments, she agreed that "we are way behind the curve when it comes to family leave and child care. We must do this."

Klobuchar said three months leave guaranteed was something the nation could afford.

Harris, who favors a six-month paid leave, observed that Americans are no longer just having children while in their twenties.

"People are having children in their thirties, often in their forties, which means these families and parents are often raising young children and taking care of their parents, which requires a lot of work from traveling back and forth to a hospital, to day care, to all the activities that are required, much less the health care needs," she said.

She noted that this burden primarily falls on women, forcing them to choose between career and family.

Harris also pressed the topic of equal pay, specifically flagging that women of color statistically fare worse on that front than their white counterparts.

Billionaire and liberal philanthropist Tom Steyer was asked about the housing crisis, specifically in his home state of California.

"When you look at inequality in the United States of America, you have to start with housing," he said. He noted that "where you put your head at night" determines "where your kids go to school," "the air your breathe," "where you go to shop," and "how long it takes you to get to work."

Steyer called for using federal dollars to build millions of new sustainable housing units that would be affordable for lower income families.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also observed Wednesday night that the federal government had stopped building housing and that private developers had become more focused on building "McMansions" than the sort of small home she grew up in. She touted her housing plan to build new units and address redlining, the system through which communities have kept racial minority groups out.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) agreed with these points, but noted that gentrification was also a contributing problem.

Booker endorsed creating a refundable tax credit for renters who spend more than a third of their income on rental costs. He said such a credit "empowers people in the same way we empower homeowners," and would raise 10 million people out of poverty.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.