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Why Hillary Clinton will probably try to impress moms in 2016

We'll soon know what issues will shape Hillary Clinton's second run for the White House. <br/> (Mel Evans/AP)
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It’s too early to tell what issues will define Hillary Rodham Clinton’s second run for the presidency, which she’s expected to announce Sunday. But based on her recent speeches and longtime commitment to gender equality, it’s safe to say we’ll be hearing a lot in coming months about family-friendly policies — perhaps paid leave or universal pre-K.

Targeting parents is also smart politics. More than a third of voters during the last presidential election said they had children under 18, a CBS News exit poll found. The majority of Americans now support a law requiring paid family leave. Half back President Obama’s proposal for free tuition at community college.

Clinton has good reason to seek to harness the Parent Vote. It isn’t getting any easier to raise children in this country, and a lot of families are facing tough financial decisions.

Former U.S. senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced that she’s running for president in 2016. Here's the Democrat’s take on women’s rights, Benghazi and more, in her own words. (Video: Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

More women than ever are working while raising children.

About 63 percent of mothers with small children go to work, compared to 31 percent in 1970, Census Bureau data shows. And a record 40 percent of American households with children are supported by mothers who are either the sole or the primary source of family income, a Pew Research Center analysis found. (That number was just 11 percent in 1960.)

These breadwinner moms are split into two groups, both on the rise, Pew points out: 5.1 million, or 37 percent, are married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands, and 8.6 million — 63 percent — are single mothers.

Of American households with children, the share of married mothers who out-earn their husbands has gone up from 4 percent in 1960 to 15 percent in 2011. The number of families led by a single mother has more than tripled over the same period from 7 percent to 25 percent.

The wage gap persists. That hurts families.

American women today earn on average 78.3 cents for every dollar a man makes. The country’s number of working single mothers who live in poverty would plummet from about 30 percent to 15 percent if these women took home as much money as comparably skilled men, researchers at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimate.

Over the past 30 years, inflation-adjusted median earnings for women’s full-time work rose nationally from $30,138 to $39,157, according to the IWPR. Men's average earnings fell from $50,096 to $50,033. Still, researchers project that we won’t see equal pay nationwide until 2058.

Women’s participation in the labor force could be better.

Pay disparities generally widen when women become mothers. Child-care costs are swelling. Paid leave is not often available to low-wage workers. Job flexibility is a rare luxury. These forces combined drive some highly skilled women to settle for part-time roles or simply stop working.

Between 2012 and 2022, the number of women in the labor force is expected to increase by 5.4 percent, compared to a 5.6 percent increase in the number of men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But overall labor force participation rates are expected to keep declining: The share of women in the workforce declined from 59.6 percent in 2002 to 57 percent in 2014. Women are projected to represent 46.8 percent of labor force in 2022.

Economists say an unequal workforce holds back the economy. Closing the male-female employment gap would raise GDP by 9 percent, the Council of Economic Advisers has estimated.

Women also remain underrepresented in the highest-paying fields. They hold fewer upper-management positions than men across industries. And only 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats are female-occupied.

The United States is the only industrialized country without paid leave.

Of the 185 nations and territories surveyed by the International Labor Organization, 182 have some form of paid leave. The Persian Gulf monarchy of Oman, Papua New Guinea and the United States, however, lack the benefit.

About 43 million American workers have no paid sick leave, according to White House figures. High wage earners tend to receive the benefits through employers, according to a recent survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But poor workers often just don’t have the option.

Access to the benefit also depends on occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 88 percent of private-sector managers and financial workers enjoy paid leave, more than double the rate among service workers (4 percent) and construction workers (38 percent). The Post's Chris Ingraham illustrates the imbalance with this chart:

In September, at a conference on women’s issues in Japan, Clinton voiced her support for paid family leave. "The United States, unfortunately, is one of a handful of developed countries without paid family leave," she said. "If we give parents the flexibility on the job and paid family leave, it actually helps productivity, which in turn helps all of us."

Repeat: Child-care costs are staggering.

The average cost of center-based day care in the United States is $11,666 per year, or $972 a month. Prices range from $3,582 to $18,773 a year, depending on where you live, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, average weekly child-care expenses for families with working mothers who paid for child care rose more than 70 percent from 1985 to 2011, from $87 to $148, according to the Census Bureau. For those families, Pew recently noted, child-care expenses represent 7.2 percent of family income, compared with 6.3 percent in 1986, which was the earliest year this data was available. And it often takes weeks to receive child-care subsidies.

Dads want better workplace policies, too.

Both parents are employed in six out of every 10 households with children, up from four out of 10 in 1968, a White House report from February shows. And work-life balance is becoming more important to dads.

Nearly 50 percent of working parents reported turning down a job offer because it wouldn't be right for their families, according to the White House report. Only 27 percent of businesses surveyed by the Families and Work Institute for the National Study of Employers allowed most employees to set flexible hours.

Many changes recommended by advocates — such as having workplaces that support flexible schedules for workers — need to come from corporate America. But voters will soon learn whether Clinton thinks there’s a role for the government here, too — and if so, what that might look like. The timing is right politically. And the stakes are high, not just for families, but for the U.S. economy.