May 2013

The Pew Research Center had a new study out yesterday indicating that mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40% of all households with children under the age of 18. This is a historic high in the numbers of moms providing the majority of support for their families.

Also outlined in the report is the finding that 74% of respondents said the higher number of mothers working outside the home for pay makes it harder to raise children, and 50% say it makes it harder for marriages to succeed. I would argue that it isn’t specifically moms working outside the home that necessarily makes raising kids and being married harder – it is more likely the low wages and poor treatment many mothers receive when they work outside the home that causes stress that affects other parts of a mom’s life.

The breadwinner moms are made up of two distinct groups. The first group (37%) is older, more educated, mostly white women who make more money than their husbands. The second group (63%) is made up of younger, less-educated single moms who are more likely to be African-American or Hispanic. The income gap between the two is vast – the first group makes an average of $80,000 in family income and the second makes $23,000.

I work at a federally funded university. As a result, we have been hit hard by the budget crisis and are now being hit even harder by the sequester. Staff has not had a raise in four, going on five, years. In addition to no raises, there have been cuts to annual leave carry over limits, healthcare benefits and on-campus childcare and many people are struggling, including a single mother I know who has to work two jobs to support her family.

To add insult to injury someone just figured out by looking at public tax records, that many of the top administrators on campus have been getting increases during the years the rest of us weren’t.

At the risk of coming across as a bleeding heart liberal (I know, too late) what the HELL is going on here?

Why is it ok for 63% of working mothers to bring in an average of $23,000 a year – an amount anyone would agree is not even close to enough to raise a family on? Why is it ok for someone working as a professional at an institute of higher learning to make so little that she can’t support her family and has to get a second job? Why is it ok that the people making more than six times what that single mother makes, at the same university, get raises year after year?

As President Obama showed us earlier this year, it is possible to return a portion of your salary – 5% in his case – in solidarity with others who are not given such an increase. I don’t exactly know what the answer is for our university, or for society at large, but I do know that we need to deal with these issues of inequity and find an answer. Maybe that answer needs to involve a little bit of hardship for those at the top.

People who make the least are affected the most by economic insecurity, and somehow they are the first ones on the list for any personnel actions. I am pretty sure that a furlough day for someone who makes $23,000 a year has a much larger and difficult impact that the same furlough day for someone making $300,000 a year.

When 63% of homes with breadwinner moms make an average of $23,000 a year, we have a very serious emergency on our hands. Children and families are being adversely affected by a consistently low minimum wage, ongoing sequester cuts and budget crises, not to mention a continuing wage gap between men and women, and it has to stop.

On the best day, being a mom is still a crazy hard job. We owe it to our children to fight for the rights of ALL moms to make a decent wage and to not be the first ones on the chopping block when budget crises hit.

Mommy can I pick out your necklace today?

Mama, can you wear that shirt – the colorful one with flowers?

Mommy, don’t wear those shoes – wear these high ones. They’re fancy.

My sense of fashion is, shall we say, unrefined. I am more hippie than haute couture, more shabby than chic. I am infinitely more comfortable in Birkenstocks, jeans and a t-shirt (or PJ’s) than pretty much anything else.

As you may imagine, this makes being a person who works in an office setting a bit of a challenge. I actually have to be presentable every. single. day. And jeans are not a part of the accepted uniform at an institution of higher learning – at least not for staff. If I were a tweed-jacket-wearing-pipe-smoking-PhD-professor I might be able to pair those items with jeans and get away with it. Alas, I am not. So, I have to get dressed.

My six-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is a fashionista. She can create the most amazing outfits out of different pieces that in my mind shouldn’t even be in the same closet. She has always been this way, and it used to terrify me. I am learning to embrace it.

The first time she tried to dress me for work I giggled a little, rolled my eyes and let her do it. Imagine my shock when later that day I received not one, not two, but THREE compliments on my appearance. I quickly let everyone know my daughter was responsible, just in case they were just patronizing me. Turns out they weren’t.

Now when my daughter asks me to wear something specific I fight my inner hippie and I do it, knowing that the way she sees my closet is obviously very different from the way I see it, and I kind of prefer her point of view. Today I was stumped about what shoes to wear and asked for her help.

These shoes don’t work with this do they Emma?

Nope. Wear those high ones. They’ll work.

And I did. And they do.