As we fall deeper into 2011, or as I’m now going to call it, the Year of the Spending Cut, we’re seeing increasingly histrionic arguments on both sides of the aisle. Republicans are being accused of declaring war on women. Democrats are being being accused of being out of touch with citizens who LIKE having social programs cut. The Governor of Wisconsin is asking state employees to give up union benefits and take a pay cut (though I’ve not seen if HE is going to take a hit to his $132,000 salary that he doesn’t need to use to pay rent or bills since he lives in the Governor’s mansion. Just sayin’…) and state employees nationwide are rising up with a collective HELL NO while anti-union folks smirk and hope those nasty union thugs get what they deserve.
Then there’s my home state. Maryland. Usually among the bluest of the blue states. A state I love because when I call my Congressman and somewhat hysterically beg his staff to tell him to vote in favor of issues that I support, his staff calmly says yes, yes he will continue to vote like the liberal Democrat that he’s always been and may they offer me a paper bag to breathe into until I calm down? Which is why the new story about a Maryland county’s attempt to withdraw all county contributions to Head Start funding was so bizarre. The county council was willing to pull funds and slash the program by more than half, even though it meant little kids would lose early childhood education programs, because – and I can’t make this shit up – because women should be married and staying at home and what we really need is not programs to take care of little kids while their parents earn a living but programs that strengthen marriage.
Yes. That’s the problem. Shitty marriages. Or single parents. Who probably got that way by being slutty or something. Not that families are struggling to earn enough money to keep a roof over their heads during an historic recession. They’re just not moral enough.
Are we really still having this conversation? Are we really still debating the merits of women working for a paycheck? Really? We are? OK.
These conversations resurface every few years and they’re always patently ridiculous. A few years back it was shock and outrage over a paper Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell wrote in grad school about how early education programs fed into the destruction of the nuclear family unit, or some such nonsense. At the time, feminists in my immediate circle were vibrating with outrage at how this man dared suggest that women not work. I read it differently. I don’t think it was a case of being anti-feminist or misogynistic. I think its a case of being a middle-class, post-graduate-educated white guy who’s always been able to pay for the necessities on one paycheck not understanding that in many families two paychecks are imperative to survival.
People who suggest that families would be better off if one parent was home with the kids are making the privileged assumption that a single-earner can pay for food, clothing, shelter, heat, light, transportation and medical care. And if one person can do that, can make that much money, then rock on. If that isn’t true, then I’m here to say that the family is resoundingly NOT better off with a single earner. Because they will be suffering from hunger, homelessness, inadequate clothing, exposure to the elements, transportation insecurity, or ill health, And those are not American family values in anyone’s book.
These council members talk about sacrifices they made to live on one income but I wonder what those sacrifices were. Did they play “bill roulette” each month and only pay the utilities in gravest danger of being shut off? Or did one salary mean no vacation that summer? Did only one working adult mean they had to live in a tiny apartment in a lousy neighborhood where the kids weren’t safe to play outside? Or did it mean they couldn’t have a new car every few years? Did they give up meals at restaurants? Or did they give up meals? These are important distinctions. Not all sacrifices are equal.
It’s not my business how families align themselves and it shouldn’t be politicians’ business either. Each family is different and their financial needs are different and they should have the freedom to reach those needs any way they choose – one earner, two earners, scrapping the daily and rind and going to live in a commune far off the grid. And in a just country, we have some help for families struggling to make ends meet. Head Start is such a great program because it benefits the kids by giving them safe, quality early learning and it benefits families by providing free, quality child care so they can free up money in their budgets to pay for other necessities. Cutting off access to programs like this won’t suddenly cause families to realign and look more like the ideal nuclear, one-earner family these council members envision. It will just make already struggling families have to struggle harder.