For Mothers’ Day: more progress, please
As Mothers’ Day approaches this month, I recall inadvertently insulting my Mom decades ago, trying to defend a girlfriend’s career goals by complaining about the lack of opportunities for women who stayed home.
“I chose to be a housewife and raise you boys,” she said.
She did (and she did a good job), but it helped that Dad’s made decent wages as a lineman. Some women don’t have such choices.
As much progress that has occurred – women for decades were limited by traditional cultural, educational and even legal barriers and were limited to teaching, nursing, maybe factory work and service jobs if they chose to work outside the home – U.S. wages fell, so families needed more than one income.
Some families don’t financially need both parents to work, so they choose not to. That’s maybe what Democratic activist Hilary Rosen tried to say when she blurted out that Ann Romney never worked “a day in her life.” She stayed home and presumably worked to raise kids and maintain a home – without compensation for her labor.
Despite rhetoric about “family values,” Republican and Democratic politicians alike dismiss parenting as a job, of course. In fact, Ann’s husband Mitt in January publicly proposed to a New Hampshire rally that moms who receive government aid should be compelled to get a job outside the home or lose their benefits.
“I want those individuals to have the dignity of work,” he said.
Ann Romney said, “We need to respect choices that women make.”
Raising kids is one of the most important jobs anyone can do, but choices remain slim.
Still, Rosen apologized; First Lady Michelle Obama voiced support for Ann Romney; and the President said “There’s no tougher job than being a mom.”
But it’s better to have choices: full-time, part-time or stay-at-home work. Most mothers wish they had the choice of staying at home or going to work outside the home, but few do.
The Families and Work Institute says that in 1974, 47 percent of women with children under 18 participated in the labor force; now it’s more than 70 percent.
Participation in the workforce has resulted in greater potential conflicts between work and family roles, according to a study by the University of Minnesota and the SUNY Downstate Medical Center examining associations between work-family conflict and women’s health after childbirth. Women who reported high levels of job spillover to home had mental health scores worse than women who reported low levels of spillover. Women with medium and high levels of home spillover to job also reported worse mental health compared to those with low spillover.
The study’s findings also show that women experienced job spillover into the home more frequently than home spillover into work; no association was found between job spillover into the home and physical health; and a positive association was found between women’s mental health scores and both social support from co-workers and positive feedback from family members about the way a woman “balanced both work and family.”
Moms in poverty have it worse, according to Urban Institute researchers Austin Nichols and Pamela Loprest, who found that one in four low-income single mothers nationwide – about 1.5 million of them – are jobless and without cash aid. That’s twice the rate as the system before President Clinton pushed through “welfare reforms.”
Similarly, Luke Shaefer of the University of Michigan and Kathryn Edin of Harvard looked at the share of households with children living on less than $2 per person per day and say that’s almost doubled since 1996, to nearly 4 percent. One out of 50 children live that way.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says the percentage of the population working or looking for work for all mothers with children under 18 was 70.8 percent in 2010. From 2008 to 2018, the women’s civilian labor force is projected to grow by 9.0 percent, or 6.4 million.
Already, BLS says, on average, among women aged 25 and over, those with a bachelor’s degree or more education spent more time working than they did doing household activities. (Women with less than a high school education spent more time doing household activities than they did working.)
Something’s got to give. Plenty of stay-at-home moms are going to want to get jobs outside the home, but the cost of the child care is too high. Further, some working women would like to stay home, but they can’t without sacrificing income their households need.
We need an economy where mothers can choose what’s best for their family.
The BLS on April 17 reported that women who work full time had median weekly earnings 82.2 percent of the median men that make. That means that the working woman lost $10,784 last year to that gap, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).
“When women are struggling to regain jobs in the recovery and families are relying increasingly on women’s wages, it’s especially critical to end the pay gap for women,” NWLC co-president Marcia Greenberger told Press Associates, Inc. “Since lost wages cut deeply into a family’s budget, equal pay is not an abstract principle for women and their families. It’s key to their survival.”
U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis agrees, adding, “Women now make up nearly half of the nation’s workforce, and 60 percent of all women work full time. In almost two-thirds of families led by single mothers or two parents, mothers are either the primary or co-breadwinner.
“Pay equity is not simply a question of fairness,” she added. “It is an economic imperative with serious implications not just for women, but for their families, their communities and our nation.”
Paying for working at home seems remote at a time when raising the minimum wage isn’t even being debated. But government could ensure equal pay, provide maternity leave and child-care options, and reform labor law to let mothers and all workers unionize if they choose.