Tuesday, September 18, 2012

That's Me, Minnie the Moocher!

By now we've all seen the video of Mitt Romney surreptitiously recorded at a $50,000 per plate fundraiser in Florida where he suggested that 47% of Americans were freeloaders, dependent on government largesse, not contributing to the tax base and not taking care of themselves.

Allow me to more fully introduce myself. I am a housewife, AKA stay-at-home mom, AKA household drudge, AKA grifter who pays no federal income tax. You probably recognized me by my dress made entirely out of government cheese.

Plenty of smart people are dissecting all the ways Romney's comments were factually inaccurate. Frankly, I thought he was going to lose last week, and I still think that now. So, how fast that ship sinks to the bottom is not really interesting to me here.

What bothers me is the way that generalizations about "tax payers" disregard the contributions women (in the main) make to the common good because they can't be measured by traditional economic indicators. I don't love those studies that circulate every Mother's Day valuing a stay-at-home mother's duties at hundreds of thousands of dollars because (a) they are unscientific, and (b) they disregard the fact that working mothers do many of the same things. But I do resent the implication that unpaid labor doesn't contribute to the economy at all.

I mean, hello, think of all the money we've spent to take the kids to tennis/piano/karate lessons because I was available to drive them! And we would never have to buy a new car again if I wasn't racking up all those soccer/football/baseball miles every day.

Okay, in all seriousness, the main problem with undervaluing the economic contributions of women who care for children or the elderly is that it leads to public policies which don't promote these activities. And these policies are bad for women and bad for families.

On the economic side, the US is the only developed country that does not guarantee paid parental leave; Welfare reforms passed in 1996 shifted the focus from supporting families in poverty to encouraging employment, shunting many kids into lousy childcare so their parents could get low-wage jobs;  And the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit works out to about $1000 per child maximum, which is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but not exactly a huge subsidy that supports working families.

On the social side, dividing us into a society of "makers" and "moochers" contributes to the Mommy Wars. I know that working moms love their kids, they know I don't spend the day watching soap operas, and pretending that we have some beef is such a waste of time!

I would so much rather be talking about ways to improve childcare for young children then debating the way political speech denigrates caregivers. Today's $5 goes to the Maryland Family Network, to promote quality childcare and better outcomes for families.

Bonus video: Mitt Romney admits that his wife can be kind of annoying. What a gentleman!

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