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Voters With Families Seize Child-Care Issue

September 10, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

"Normally," Thomas says, "I never have much of an interest in politics."

He didn't even bother to vote in the 1984 presidential election. "Why should I? I was newly married, living in a one-room apartment with a $1,000-a-month job, and my wife was matching that in her career as well. We were on top of the world."

But this year, it is a different story. Not only is Thomas planning to vote, but he is paying careful attention to the race, weighing everything he hears from George Bush and Michael Dukakis.

"Who am I going to vote for? I haven't a clue," he says in his 6-page letter. "All I know is that I will vote for the party that better communicates what I want to hear.

"Maybe the Republicans are on the right track. . . . Maybe the Republicans are to blame and we need a Democrat for a while. Maybe I'll vote Democrat one year then Republican the next to even everything out and get moderate laws. I really don't know.

"All I know is that I need to get involved, make an informed decision, make sure that my voice gets heard, and hope."

What is behind this 27-year-old Santa Ana salesman's political awakening? Just one factor, he insists. Since the last election, "I committed the cardinal sin: I had a family," he says.

Pundits have been saying for months that 1988 may be remembered as the year that politicians rediscovered the family. This year, the candidates aren't just kissing babies--they are coming up with concrete proposals for helping families take care of them, from day care to health care to college educations.

Along with traditional poses at factory gates and state fairs, we have seen the vice president trying to mingle with constituents less than half his height on the playground of a day-care center, while his opponent joined in with a similar crowd for a stirring, albeit faltering, rendition of "Itsy Bitsy Spider."

Interesting coincidence. Thomas can easily identify with that spider, struggling to climb higher, only to get knocked back down, over and over again.

At the time, he says, having a family seemed like a good idea. "All I would do is work three times as hard, go to college at night and totally give up any free time for myself. Well, now I have 50 units of college behind me with a 3.13 grade-point average, have more than tripled our yearly income and have been the best father and husband I know how to be.

"And you want to know the funny part? I am having a tough time getting ahead! As if $50,000 to $60,000 was a nice income. . . . It isn't. Also, to top it off, I am competing (in business) with people who are single, without a family."

Thomas and his wife have a 3-year-old and a baby due in October. They both work full time, own a condo and pay $280 a month for day care, "which will explode to $680 a month when the new baby arrives. . . . With day care, taxes, a mortgage, car payments, food and other miscellaneous expenses, I can barely put $100 into the bank monthly, catch up on my refinanced charge cards and afford any entertainment, let alone a vacation. "We really want a house but can't even dream of when we will be able to afford a $250,000 to buy a 1,500-square-foot cracker box on an eighth-of-an-acre lot. . . . Yes, we are strongly considering a move out of state but feel that we don't want to move away from all of the jobs in this area. . . . So here we sit."

Thomas says his family and others in similar situations "need help. I may not be as bad off as the homeless or the AIDS victims, but I am a hard-working taxpayer who has the greatest of intentions, the greatest of values, and who wants to live the American dream."

The most important way politicians can help families, Thomas says, is by getting the federal deficit and government spending under control. He believes that should be accomplished not by raising taxes but by reassessing priorities and cleaning up corruption.

"I am sure that they can get their campaign contributions from companies with ethics, just as they have been getting it from companies without (them)," he says.

Children must be one of those priorities, with better government support for both child care and schools. "Families specifically need some help with day-care expenses or incentives to let the mother stay home. . . . It would not be too far out to ask for a straight (up to) 75% write-off for day care because we really can use this extra money."

And another suggestion that he hopes "isn't too radical":

"I believe that all home improvement should be a (tax) write-off. Let's make it fashionable to take care of our homes. If people cared more for their homes and showed their children a sense of pride of ownership, maybe these same kids wouldn't destroy other people's property."

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