GUEST COMMENTARY: The war on mommies

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

The so-called "mommy wars" are heating up again. Once more, we're seeing stay-at-home moms supposedly pitted against moms with paid jobs during an election year.

The latest episode started when Democratic analyst Hilary Rosen questioned Ann Romney's credentials for serving as her husband's adviser on women's economic priorities, saying Romney had "never worked a day in her life." Rosen soon apologized, insisting she meant no offense to stay-at-home moms like Romney.

But with a family nest egg of at least $200 million, Ann's economic view is rather distant from the vantage point of the millions of adult American women working for minimum wage — nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers. In case you haven't done the math, at the current $7.25 per hour, that's $15,080 per year with no vacation.

But the dichotomy between "working mothers" and those who stay at home with kids is false. Even though we trot out the flowers and overdone pancakes every Mother's Day, the truth is we don't value our mothers very much in this country — at least not as a matter of social policy.

Take the wage gap. Women working full-time and year-round earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men. But that's not the whole story. According to, mothers earn 27 percent less than their male counterparts, and single mothers earn a whopping 34 percent to 44 percent less than men.

And those stay-at-home moms who care for their kids and elderly parents? They get a big fat zero in their Social Security accounts for every year they stay out of the workforce. Other industrialized countries grant "caregiver credits" for such family service. U.S. women's groups have been campaigning for this for years, but what they get in return are proposals to privatize Social Security or do away with it altogether.

More mothers might join the workforce if they could rely on decent, affordable child care. That's another area where our national policies fall woefully short. Many European countries have some form of universal child care. They treat it as a benefit comparable to a public school education. Not here.

In the United States, child care is viewed as a strictly personal problem except for the poorest families. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, child care is the second-largest family expenditure, running from $3,850 to $18,200 per child per year. By contrast, tuition at a state university averages $7,600 per year. And even if a few working mothers do have the big bucks to pay for child care and have something left in their piggy banks, it doesn't solve the problem. Reliable child care centers are hard to find, since many are corporate-owned and squeeze the employees (overwhelmingly female) with notoriously low wages and few benefits.

During the Rosen-Romney flap, MomsRising CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner noted that we don't really have a "mommy war" here. What we have is a war on mommies — working outside the home or not.

Our national policies would seem to support that view. Mitt Romney, as usual, is on both sides. For him, it depends on whether you're talking about rich mommies or poor ones.

While he certainly supported Ann's decision to stay home to raise their five sons, the de facto Republican presidential nominee said in January that he'd tell mothers receiving public assistance, "Even if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work ... And people said, 'Well that's heartless.' And I said, 'No, no, I'm willing to spend more giving day care to allow those parents to go back to work. It'll cost the state more providing that day care, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.'"

If Romney gets elected, we'll see about that child care promise.

Women have comprised the majority of voters for more than a generation. That means women, most of whom are also mothers, can control any election if we vote our own priorities. It's about time we did. CNN's latest polling shows that women support President Barack Obama by 16 percentage points over Romney, whose party is most assuredly declaring war on women, moms or not. And that gender chasm may get even bigger.

Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women's Organizations. Distributed by Other Words.

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Mark Foecking April 24, 2012 | 7:57 a.m.

"millions of adult American women working for minimum wage — nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers."

This is incorrect.

"According to, mothers earn 27 percent less than their male counterparts, and single mothers earn a whopping 34 percent to 44 percent less than men."

How much of this is due to mothers taking more time off from their jobs, or maybe leaving more jobs to care for children? And the reason single mothers might earn less on the average is many of them were teen mothers, and never got further than high school (if that). More men tend to be things like engineers and surgeons, and CEO's and other executives are more often men. Many times, these fields demand long hours and exclusive dedication to the work, and that's less compatible with childrearing.

Plus, it's a testosterone thing. Men tend to be more aggressive in business and politics, and our society rewards that.

What are the numbers if you control for educational level, field, and time on job? I suspect those numbers don't come out as poorly if you do that.


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 24, 2012 | 8:39 a.m.

Mark: It's entirely possible to have a war even when there is no opponent. All you have to do is repeat "There's a war" enough times and...before you know it...some folks believe there is one.

This article has similarities to Rose Nolen's current article.

You made some great points about the $$$ disparity in male/female compensation. There are variables that need controlled before valid conclusions can be drawn.

PS: One thing that struck me was the author's comments on SS. It is quite true that a stay-at-home woman is not participating in SS...since she isn't paying into it. The author then mentions privatization, as if this is a bad thing for a woman at home.

What folks apparently don't understand is that privatization ensures that your family gets to keep (ie., inherit) what you or your spouse put into it. Right now, if a woman's spouse dies, she gets to choose whether to keep her own SS or her spouse's, but not both. She has to formally choose. Mose women will choose her spouse's since that's the highest monthly payout, but if she DOES have any SS input over her working career, it will be lost forever. So sorry.

With privatization, a woman/man will get to keep ALL money put into it, including their spouse's, and pass it on to descendants when he/she dies.

With current law, a woman or man can work 40 years, paying into SS each year, and die in a car accident at 60 y/o.....and all that SS money is lost to the family. It goes to someone else. So sorry.

How would folks like it if their savings accounts or 401Ks were structured the same way?

(Report Comment)
mike mentor April 24, 2012 | 10:07 a.m.

Nobody told me we were at war with women.
I guess I better throw up some defense.

Make me a sandwich Martha!
I am going to need my energy!

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield April 24, 2012 | 10:09 a.m.

Where are the fathers? They need to step up and support the children they chose to create. One way to ensure that is to end the practice of allowing mothers not to list a father on the birth certificate. If you don't identify him, you and your child should be barred from receiving public assistance. (Those who feel that that's harsh would be free to open their homes and wallets to those mothers and children.)

(Report Comment)
James Krewson April 24, 2012 | 12:39 p.m.

Still taking cheap shots at conservative women. You guys bash Gov. Palin for working when she had babies, now you bash Ann Romney for not working when she had babies. I think you just hate conservative women.

(Report Comment)
Cheyenne Greene April 24, 2012 | 4:55 p.m.

There is a war on Conservative mommies (and women in general). There is also a war on Conservative Americans of African heritage.
Women make a choice, they have for generations. They can choose to enter the work force or they choose to enter a partnership which allows mom to stay at home. The glass ceiling is broken, we've come a long way baby (and all that jazz)!

(Report Comment)
Jonathan Hopfenblatt April 24, 2012 | 6:07 p.m.

Ignoring the bloated language, it doesn't take long to notice that American women do get the short end of the stick, at least when we compare the US to the rest of the developed world. Maternity leave here is what...2 weeks? Maybe a month at best? In places like Germany it's a whole year.

According to that article, it's 0 weeks at the federal level, but at least California and NJ offer a whopping 6 weeks, less than half of those other superpowers such as Djibouti and the Ivory Coast.

And since I wouldn't be surprised if someone argued "well duh, that's why they're perpetually broke," take note of the numbers for any non-broke country and the US is still far behind virtually everyone else.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle April 24, 2012 | 6:26 p.m.

@Mark: To provide some partial answers to your questions, I will (once again) cite the Left Business Observer

First, a pretty picture of women's incomes compared to men, broken out by year-round, full-time, and all women with income:

Second, a two-paragraph quote from the author, Doug Henwood (reprinted with permission via the Creative Commons license):

"...the narrowing of the gender gap has a lot to do with more women working full time, and more gaining advanced degrees. The gender gaps for full-time, year-round workers actually rose 0.1 percentage point in 2009, and the narrowing of the gap since 2000 for these fully employed workers was about half as impressive as the narrowing for all workers (including part-timers, that is). The gap is narrowing within educational and occupational groupings, but less impressively so than the overall gap is.

Still, the male advantage in the labor market continues to erode - and the educational trends suggest that this is almost certain to continue. The number of women with bachelor’s degrees or higher surpassed that of men for the first time in 2008, and women’s lead widened in 2009. The number of women with master’s degrees surpassed that of men in 1998. Men still dominate doctoral and professional degrees, but their advantage is narrowing. As a result of this, younger women’s earnings are beginning to exceed men’s, especially in major metropolitan areas. That advantage erodes once women take time off to have kids, alas."

Third, from the table of data on the BLS website Mark linked to (numbers in Thousands):

All workers, 16-up: 3,829
Women, 16-up: 2,395

The math: 2,395 / 3,829 = 62.5%

I know Mark is a stickler for accuracy; this is certainly less than 2/3rds. But how much less? Does ~6% less than a full 2/3rds qualify as "nearly" that much? I bet it depends on whether or not you like the statistic.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle April 24, 2012 | 6:26 p.m.

Another graph from LBO (somewhat unrelated to Mark's question) shows the overall male, female, and total employment-to-population ratio:

I don't see anyone here denying that women do most of the work of childcare. What seems left unspoken, but always alluded to in a subtle (or not so, in Jimmy's case) 'blame the victim' posture, is that childcare provided by women is incredibly valuable.

Kids don't wake up in the middle of the night calling for "Money." They call for for Mommy. Moms that stay home to take care of their children get very little recognition, and no direct income, for what they do. It's just an assumed, and grossly undervalued, part of the economy that we can't really do without.

You can sift and sort and call for more study and drag your heels and blame poor people and do whatever you want, but when all is said and done, providing quality childcare is THE problem that needs solved.

What's your solution?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 24, 2012 | 8:43 p.m.

I want to relate my own experience with hiring women for my company. It's a different perspective than most experience or think, and it's offered only in that spirit.

Although we had excellent control of the various hazards in my business, I made the executive-level choice to pull a pregnant female from the bench the moment I became aware she was pregnant. She was transferred to the office and had no choice in the matter (No female balked, tho). In part, this was for her protection and that of her baby. There was also a selfish component...from that I wanted no memories or thoughts or worries that somehow, someway, keeping her at the bench was a cause of a poor pregnancy outcome.

In some cases, she was able to still run her group from the office, but in most cases she was not....or at least she was seriously hindered. In addition, her own productivity was diminished since she was not at the bench contributing her own efforts.

No salary/benefits were lost or reduced during her pregnancy. I made this choice, too.

I do not remember how much time off I gave postpartum, but I do remember most women took vacation and accumulated sick leave as at least part of it.

In my business, we set informal goals of ca. $10K in revenue/month/person. Most of the time, we met this goal when everyone was at the bench.

There was no opportunity to hire a replacement for the duration. These were sophisticated jobs taking at least 7-8 years of experience to get really good at it. There was no such thing as "temps" in my world. It was either a long time hire, or no hire.

We always went the "no hire" route. We all tried to pick up the slack as best we could.

Two points:

(1) I calculated it. Each child born to a female at my company cost $40-80K in decreased annual revenue, depending upon her position within the company. This impacted everyone...not just me...since I distributed 10% of all after-tax corporate profits to my employees as a bonus.

(2) We made this policy work. I had great employees, male and female. It's important to note, though, that this policy was unavailable to males since they don't get pregnant. By some definitions, it's discriminatory. We made it work because we were a very healthy company much in demand. I'm happy with what we did and the way we did it.

But, as a businessman, I can also understand why a company not quite so healthy would make decisions not so female-friendly.

Women get pregnant. Men don't. Businesses have to deal with this fact. Pregnancy costs can extend far beyond the one who is pregnant.

(Report Comment)
Ida Fogle April 24, 2012 | 10:43 p.m.

This includes comparisons, accounting for some of the variables that have been discussed: Women are paid less than men, even when doing the same jobs, with the same amount of education and experience. Notice, the discrepancy begins the first year after graduating from college (for college grads.)

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle April 24, 2012 | 10:45 p.m.

@Mike: I'll give you an A+ on your solution to the pregnacy/childbirth issue, which if you'll let me summarize, amounts to "suck it up and deal with it."

What about the issue of child care though? Once the baby is born, there's usually about a dozen years or so that require parental care for illness and other issues. I'm guessing your "total cost" includes the extra sick leave a mom tends to take to care for kids, and I'm also guessing your solution for that is the same for the initial childbirth. Am I correct?

At the only company I ever worked for where I actually saw enough women go through pregnancy to have some perspective, the outcome was pretty dismal. Out of 7 pregnancies, only 1 of the women "survived" the experience and kept their jobs for any length of time afterword. That one was a boss' relative, but she was also one of the sharpest, most competent people I've ever worked with. But the way women were usually treated after returning to work was very, very wrong.

I suspect the outcome was different in your business.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams April 24, 2012 | 11:25 p.m.

Derrick: On child care, if a parent (not necessarily the mother) took time off and had sick leave/vacation/comp-time, they were paid.

If not, they were unpaid.

Yes, we dealt with it.

But I fully understand, and would support, a business making different decisions based upon their own corporate health. Not all businesses, especially small ones, can do what we did....and survive.

Make no bones about decisions were discriminatory against my male employees...and female employees who were done having children. It caused them to work more and harder for 8+ months, and it personally cost them hard cash. I discriminated against them in favor of the pregnant employee. These facts should cause just as much thought and concern from folks as the PC favorite....generic discrimination against women.

Simply put, there are some occasions where discrimination is a required choice that helps some, and hurts others.

Pregnancy is a discriminator. It makes folks different and it lasts almost a year. There are very real business consequences that can impact the jobs of everyone (including whether anyone even HAS a job), not just the one that is pregnant.

That's why I sometimes turn a deaf ear to someone claiming a blanket "discrimination against women." In some cases, such folks are just blowing hot air in the midst of utter PC ignorance.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 25, 2012 | 7:40 a.m.

Derrick Fogle wrote:

"But how much less? Does ~6% less than a full 2/3rds qualify as "nearly" that much?"

My issue with the story was it said "adult" women, as though these were all family breadwinners. From the BLS statistics, more than half of those minimum wage workers are under age 25, and/or part time (students mostly), so that's why I said it was incorrect. 62% is plenty close to 2/3's for me :-).


(Report Comment)
mike mentor April 25, 2012 | 9:51 a.m.

I think we need to take a step back from the tree and take a gander at the forest.

The left is priming this "war on women" as part of their election year gameplan. (We on the right better be careful. Our border defense must be suffering with all these wars we are supposedly waging...) We are hearing this "war on women" that the left is accusing the right of all of a sudden waging. Libs will gladly trot out their stats about womens wages as opposed to men and "prove" that there is a war on women being waged from the right.

What was the work environment like for women back when the last royals, The Kennedy's, reigned?

The point is that things are getting better for women in the workplace. All of the stats prove that women have not yet reached equality in the workplace and men have not reached equality for time off to bond with their babies, but things are getting better.

What it does not show is that there is some new war being waged.

The war being waged is by the lamestream media and it is being waged against conservatives. Nice try playing the victim in this war Libs. Your side is wagin' !!!

(Report Comment)

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