One of the constant tropes we hear, especially in election years, is how important “being a mom” is (oddly, paeans to the importance of being a dad aren’t offered nearly as much….). Well, if we really believed that then we would subsidize motherhood. Guess what? We really don’t (boldface mine):
The whole story here, as told by Mead, is this: the EITC [earned income tax credit] helps poor people absolutely, by giving them more money than they would have otherwise. What it doesn’t do as effectively as it’s been credited with, however, is force them to work. Mead is emphatic: the poor just constitutionally do not desire work; they fail to organize their lives around work, and instead become absorbed with what he appears to view as ancillary in their condition — family, children, and so forth. Therefore, by Mead’s lights, the EITC could make itself useful to the rest of us by forcing more work out of poor mothers punitively: take away the EITC from people who simply don’t work enough hours, and employ staff to ‘encourage’ them to work enough hours to acquire it….
For one, the notion that poor mothers aren’t ‘working’ is ludicrous. Remember when Ann Romney’s job was much, much harder than Mitt’s? The hardest job in the world, by some lights, never ends. You put in nine months of your own flesh and blood, then twenty odd more years of the same, and it’s a twenty-four-seven occupation. I don’t think the Romneys were wrong about this; it’s clear that in-home labor is work: otherwise, you wouldn’t be paying someone else to do it when you can’t or don’t want to. But as it stands, childcare costs money, and so do laundry services, private chefs, and maids. Poor mothers, like all mothers, work.
You don’t have to take it from me. Consider the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray waxing sentimental about all the amazing things women do when they don’t have full-time jobs. Community vitality, he argues, rests principally with women who don’t work full-time, and who can devote themselves to family and friends more fully. Totally agreed; sounds great, wish we actually took it seriously.
And this isn’t a purely rhetorical point. If poor moms aren’t caring for their kids, cooking their food, and washing their clothes, someone will be doing it, and the poor mothers will be paying them — that is, if they can. But this certainly means that poor women who are trying to work up to the EITC threshold that Mead proposes are in a really, really screwed up position: having to pay some service to look after their kids while they try to make enough money to qualify for the EITC. So they’re bleeding money while not even making enough for welfare.
That’s dystopic in itself. But we should further ask: is it either good or right to discount the in-home labor mothers do? Why on earth would we value market labor over in-home labor, if we’re serious about this “hardest job in the world” rhetoric?
Because we’re not serious at all. The “hardest job in the world” rhetoric accomplishes an important goal. It gives undercompensated women an ersatz award, much as a ‘best employee’ award does in lieu of a pay raise. In doing so, as the awardees, it allows the rest of us to feel that we are relieved of our obligations to help low-income mothers.
As always, follow the money.