Many mothers have long suspected that they're getting the short end of the deal--and finally, a highly respected economics journalist proves they're not just griping. Despite all the lip service given to the importance of motherhood, American mothers are not only not paid for all the work they do, but also penalized for it. "The gift of care can be both selfless and exploited," writes Ann Crittenden in this intrepid and groundbreaking work. Motherhood is dangerously undervalued--it's now the single biggest risk factor for poverty in old age. Mothers lose out in forgone income if they stay at home, an inflexible job market makes part-time work scarce or inadequately paid, and in the case of divorce, they're refused family assets by divorce laws that don't count their unpaid work.
Crittenden is fond of pointing out the hypocrisies plaguing America, and one is the belief in a welfare state enabling single mothers. The true welfare state, she says, protects paid workers from unforeseen risks through social security, unemployment insurance, and workman's compensation. Mothers who work part-time or not at all have no such safety net and typically take a nosedive into poverty, along with their children, after divorce or the death of their spouse. Married working moms are also punished--they pay the highest taxes on earned income in America. Crittenden's impassioned argument is based on research in a variety of fields, from economics to child development to demography. She shows how mothers were demoted from an economic asset to dependents, why welfare for only a certain group of mothers bred bitterness among the rest, and why there is currently an exodus of highly trained women from the work force.
Crittenden also travels far and wide for solutions. She finds them not only in such European nations as Sweden--which has abolished child poverty by giving mothers a year's paid leave, cash subsidies, and flexible work schedules--but in the U.S. military, which runs the best subsidized child-care program in the country and knows the value of providing special benefits to those who selflessly serve their country. Ultimately, Crittenden insists, the equality women have been fighting for will only be achieved when mothers are recognized as productive citizens creating a much-needed public good--human capital, or in layman's terms, well-raised children who grow into productive, law abiding citizens (and who pay into social security). This is an admirable--and charged--defense of motherhood, reminding us that unpaid female labor is "the priceless, invisible heart of the economy," and those who engage in this labor deserve the same rights, and the same respect, as other workers. --Lesley Reed
From Publishers Weekly
Americans extol motherhood as "the most important job in the world," yet when couples divorce, mothers' and their children's standards of living usually decline precipitously, while fathers' rise. Crittenden, a former economics reporter for the New York Times, lays out the going rate for a woman's time: "$150 an hour or more as a professional, $50 an hour or more in some businesses, $15 an hour or so as a teacher, $5 to $8 an hour as a day-care worker and zero as a mother." Mothers (whose labor is not calculated in any official economic index) have no unemployment insurance to tide them over after divorce, no workers' compensation if they're injured and no Social Security benefits for the work they do, although a housekeeper or nanny paid for the same work would earn such benefits. In a breezy, journalistic style, Crittenden chronicles how the Industrial Revolution created the idea of the "unproductive housewife," how this concept penalizes women after divorce and how tax policies encourage mothers to quit work. Crittenden proposes several remedies, some available in most industrialized countries (paid maternity leave, flexible work hours for parents, universal preschool, free health coverage for children) and others seemingly utopian (Social Security credits for mothering, remedying the tax bias against married working mothers). This thoroughly documented and incisive book is must reading for women contemplating parenthood or divorce, and could prove an organizing tool for women's organizations. Agent, Katinka Matson. (Feb. 15) Forecast: Bolstered by a seven-city tour to top markets, this is a great choice for women's reading groups, offering facts and figures that supplement recent investigations of the emotional terrain of motherhood, such as Susan Maushart's The Mask of Motherhood and Peggy Orenstein's Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Kids, Love, and Life in a Half-Changed World.
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