Why Do Americans
There is a simple principle that can test the moral spirit of a people and their government. Here it is: what is good for kids, is good; what is bad for kids is ungodly. Let's take that principle and look into the American soul. I warn you in advance: the U.S. doesn't get a passing grade.
My main guide here will be the recent blockbuster book by Gloria
Albrecht: HITTING HOME: FEMINIST ETHICS, WOMEN'S WORK, AND
THE BETRAYAL OF "FAMILY VALUES," Continuum, New
York, 2002). Albrecht makes it clear that our nation does
not think that having babies is in the national interest.
(How could we miss the
Obviously, children need care but the ruling assumption in this land of ours is that if you have a baby, it's your problem. Child care is looked on as a consumer item. If you can afford it, great; if not, tough! 96 % of working parents pay full costs of childcare. What government help there is, is inadequate. Only 12 percent of employers provide childcare. Of course, all this hits the poor hardest. Low income families who pay for their childcare spend 35 percent of their incomes on it compared to 7 percent of income spent by non-poor families.
Thus, in democratic America the quality of child care varies according to class. Once society decides that child care is a consumer item and not a basic human right that deserves national support, market logic kicks in, and you only get what you pay for. Of course, and ironically, according to classical economics, those who receive the benefits should pay the costs. The benefits of healthy, well cared for, well educated children accrue to the nation not just to the families. They are tomorrow's citizens.
Because they are the bearers of children, women are discriminated against in the workplace. They are denied opportunities not just when they have children, but by the very fact that they can have children.
Our attitude toward children also shows through in this telling statistic: the median wage of childcare workers in 1997 was $7.03 per hour, three cents less than that of parking lot attendants--and this is usually without benefits. These workers could not afford child care for themselves. Obviously caring for children is not work that we value.
Has anyone heard from the so-called "pro-life" people on any of this? Could it be that their interest in life is short circuited by birth?
Here is another look into the American heart: according to the Temporary Aid to Need Family program, caring for someone else's children is classified as work; caring for your own is not!
As Albrecht says: "The United States lags behind all other industrialized nations in addressing family/work concerns through public policies." A White House report in December 2000 said that "states were able to provide childcare assistance to only 12 percent of all federally eligible low-income working families." Albrecht states the assumption of U.S. welfare "reform.": "There is widespread social agreement that economically poor mothers cannot, by definition, be good mothers unless they work away from their homes and their children." Poor parents can often not afford to work because of the cost of transportation, clothing, and childcare needs at home. In a United Nations survey of 152 countries, the U.S. was one of only six countries that does not have a national policy requiring paid maternity leave.
Some 40 states are deeply in debt and are shortening the school week and cutting certain classes and programs. According to the New York Times (January 12, 2003) 60%of Americans oppose raising taxes to correct this. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is spending billions to ship soldiers to the middle east while the states back home starve and victimize kids.
There are countries that do not hate their children. Albrecht: "Many European countries already provide universal healthcare, childcare, and requirements benefits, as well as generous (by U.S.. standards) paid parental and family leave, paid vacation time and unemployment policies." Swedes currently are entitled to eighteen months of paid leave with job protection that can be prorated over the first 8 years of a child's life. France provides universal childcare to all toilet- trained children, and single mothers receive government payments until their children are over the age of three. In Denmark all children up to 18 years of age have access to free dental care for both routine examinations and treatment. Europeans are guaranteed longer vacations times, four to six weeks, and this is protected by legislation.
Americans bask in a surreal self-image, seeing themselves as a "kind and gentle" people. Most would be offended to read in Duane Elgin's book PROMISE AHEAD: "The United States is the stingiest developed nation in terms of the proportion of total wealth that it donates." We should not be surprised. If we can treat our kids the way we do, why would we be generous to strangers?
Other writings by Dan Maguire