Social policies are significant in terms of providing families with economic stability and the means to subsist. In our current global economy, few families can afford to be supported by male breadwinners alone. While other developed nations have adopted a variety of social policies to ease the responsibilities of parents and help balance work and family life, the United States has implemented very few family-oriented social policies, many of which do not work effectively.
Given that the United States also “holds the noteworthy position of being the country with the greatest gap between rich and poor” (Hays 2003: 121), the concentration of wealth at the top has a negative trickle-down effect on the wider economy as well as on individual family lives. Although middle-class families face multiple challenges when raising children, the situation is far worse for lower-class families. There seems to be a misunderstanding and a policy disconnect between the ideological conceptions of what poor families need and their actual needs based on their living conditions. Hays 2003) So why does the United States do less than other developed countries to assist families? One possible explanation comes from Ann Crittenden’s 2001 book, The Price of Motherhood, in which she describes the socio-economic importance of educating children, as they are the future wealthproducing generation.
When we consider children private responsibilities instead of public goods as we currently do in the U. S. (Crittenden 2001), we disregard the wider effects of early childcare on the whole society and economy. Consequently, an underlying factor why current social policies in the U. S. do not ork is because they de-emphasize the importance of early childcare. In this paper, I will argue that the main reason why family-oriented policies in the U. S. fail is because they do not place enough importance on educating children and thus do not provide families (especially mothers) of all income brackets with the means to give their children the best education possible. According to Crittenden, “the quality of early care is one of the most important determinants of human intellectual and emotional capabilities” (Crittenden 2001) and there should be more value put on the caretaking roles that mothers undertake in the family.
Specifically, the idea of “human capital” or the capabilities of human beings is developed through the early education that mothers begin providing to their children since birth (Crittenden 2001). Dedicated early care is extremely important in the development of a child and that child’s ability to grow into a productive working citizen. Society is constantly in need of more skilled workers and the extent to which mothers can influence their children is integral in creating a promising new generation.
In terms of economic influence, this puts more pressure on middle class women to take care of their children, even if that means coming out of the workforce in order to do so. For lower-income families, mothers would face even more financial pressure to provide good care for their children while facing economic limitations. Therefore, the process of raising children is no longer only performed privately in the household but also creating a “public good” for society. Accordingly, the challenge that most mothers face is the responsibility of raising their children for the public good of society without receiving the support they need.
Moreover, mothers must maintain their own active roles in society in addition to taking care of their children. As Stone and Lovejoy found in their study of professional women in the workforce, many “women found it hard to leave their jobs because they took pride in their professional accomplishment and derived intrinsic pleasure from their work. ” (Stone and Lovejoy 2001) Within this study, Stone and Lovejoy also describe the idea of “choice rhetoric” which was used to falsely frame the idea that women left the workforce not because family life forced them to but because they chose to.
In reality, women did not necessarily want to leave their workplace but were instead swayed to do so by a plethora of factors. Women who became mothers faced a series of inflexible rules in the workplace including but not limited to scheduling inflexibilities, limited reduced-hour work options, derailment in career options, and more. (Stone and Lovejoy 2001) In addition to the extrinsic push from work, there was also an intrinsic pull from their families. Younger children needed their mothers at home to take care of them while husbands also preferred that their wives to stay at home to take care of the house.
Overall, there is a “mommy tax” for professional women who on average lose around a million dollars worth of earnings when they choose to leave their jobs. (Crittenden 2001) When the childcare work at home is considered private, the costs of raising children can get to be onerous. Thus, women and families need some type of support, in the workplace and/or at home that can help ease their duties and allow them to still be working members of society even when they have children. Many of these challenges directly affect poor and working-class mothers who do not have the same level of financial support that middle-class families have.
The government has responded with welfare policies such as TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). This federal assistance program provides cash stipends to help poor, unemployed mothers take care of their families (Hays 2003). While TANF was originally implemented to replace AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), which was under scrutiny for providing poor people with a way out of working, there are deep-rooted problems that inherently disenfranchise the social welfare structure in the United States.
Welfare programs such as these have a stigma attached around them where people assume that the poor are given the excuse to not work. In actuality, the government neither provides enough welfare support nor offers enough jobs to fully solve the problems of inequality in the nation. In her book, “Flat Broke with Children,” Sharon Hays parallels the “civic obligation” in which lower class people are expected to work with the conceived “civic obligation” where the government should also provide enough good jobs for these people.
The reason why plans such as TANF do not work is because they do not provide nearly enough support in the workforce or directly aid in helping mothers take care of children. Most social policies actually hinder rather than improve the conditions for working class mothers and their children even when they seem to be providing some type of financial support. And consequently, because of these faulty welfare policies, there is a rise in women and children living in poverty. Crittenden 2001) It is important to understand the lives of mothers who live off of welfare because “they follow social patterns, and those patterns are significant because they can provide a useful angle of vision for viewing the more extreme consequences of the social transformation we are all experiencing” (Hays 2003: 137) Although the lack of social policies has a more prominent effect on lower class families who struggle to care for their children, it also affects middle-class families in the way they choose to raise their children.
Comparing middle-class and low-income mothers, it is clear that the problems they face are different: low-income mothers depend on problematic welfare policies to get by while middle-class mothers are increasingly pushed out of the workforce to take care of their children. However, there is an underlying perspective that connects these two groups and that is the idea of privatized childcare.
Regardless of family background, the “conscientious care of children” (Crittenden) is considered to be something performed purely at home and is not the main focus in social policies. Perhaps it would serve to benefit both middle-class and low-income mothers if we opened up the private act of caretaking and consider it a public responsibility of society and the government. Overall, the United States should learn from other developed countries and come up with family-oriented social policies that put more emphasis on the caretaking of children that takes place at home.
The federal government needs to recognize the significance in educating the children as the next generation and give parents the sufficient resources in order to do so. Rather than only thinking about child rearing as a private responsibility of families, we should consider the overall public effects that these children will have on society in future years. In addition to shifting our perspective from private to public, we also should not look down upon the act of caretaking for children.
Caretaking plays a vital role not only in the lives of individual families but also on the future economy. Children are the generation of tomorrow and need adequate support regardless of what family background they come from. Mothers in lowerclass families should be given more cash support and job opportunities while mothers in middle-class families should be provided better work support if they are working.