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Home Truths about Working Families

May 29, 2008

The Rudd Government speaks incessantly about working families. The recent Federal Budget was all about working families. Government policy is aimed at working families. So just who and what exactly are these working families?

Certain terms are simply government code-words, or euphemisms, for politically correct ideologies. That is certainly the case here. The term ‘working families’ means only one thing to Federal Labor: paid working mothers, especially with young children.

That is why the phrase is so often bandied about with another PC icon: day care. The two go together. You see, for decades now feminists have pushed one very consistent message, that the only good woman is a woman in paid employment. For years now motherhood and homemaking has been bagged by the feminists.

These ideologues may talk much about choice, but when it comes to home versus career, there is no choice: only the paid workplace is where women should be. And day care is the only place young children should be. And many people have bought this line. Thus for the first time in human history perhaps the majority of young children are being raised by strangers in the day care farms, instead of by their own parents, especially their own mothers.

I have written elsewhere about the many real negative effects of long-term day care for young children. The social science data is quite clear about the harm toddlers experience when deprived of the maternal presence for large hunks of time. Indeed, the research shows that the more time in day care, and the younger the age in which babies and toddlers are put there, the more detrimental the consequences will be.

But the abandonment of babies is simply part of the price being paid when the feminist ideology takes hold, and masses of women are convinced that being a mother and a homemaker is a second-class occupation – or worse – and fulfilment and joy can only be found in the paid workplace.

So when the Rudd government drones on and on about working families, it only means one thing: mothers who are in the paid workplace. The government does not mean families where one parent is in the paid workforce, while the other parent stays at home to mind the children. Thus single-income families are the new pariah in the eyes of Federal Labor. They do not even appear on the radar screen.

All the attention – and all the money – is being devoted to the two-income families. Thus stay-at home mums are the big losers here, and doubly so. Not only are they not getting government assistance to the same tune that paid working mums are, they are foregoing a second income so that their children can come first.

Even though they are caring for their children every day, day care subsidies only go to mums who dump their kids into formal day care. The two-income families are getting all the financial breaks, while the single-income families are effectively being penalised for their choices.

Now there is certainly nothing wrong with mothers who want to have paid careers. That is their choice, and many of them want to get back to work as soon as possible after the birth of their child. But the truth is, most do not. That is, most working mums with young kids are in the workforce by compulsion, not by choice.

Economic constraints – mortgages, paying off the bills, etc. – are the main reasons why so many young mums are in the paid workplace. Most would rather not be there, if a real choice were available to them. Survey after survey and poll after poll have made this clear. And the findings have been consistent.

Consider the newest data concerning this question. A survey of 15,000 Australian women found that the majority returned to work within twelve months of childbirth in order to pay the bills, not because they wanted to be there. Indeed, a full 75 per cent said paying bills was the driving force behind returning to the paid workplace within a year.

Thus it seems that if the Labor government were really concerned about working families, they would take note of what they want. Most do not want more government handouts to enable them to be in the workplace even more, and at ever earlier times after giving birth to children. Most want to stay home with the youngsters for the first year or two, and would like the financial freedom to be able to choose that option.

So instead of simply making things easier for just one group – two-income families – why not create a level playing field in which real choice is available to all mothers, not just some? Why not, for example, simply offer a child care tax rebate or assistance package or voucher system to all mothers, and let them decide what they want to do with it?

Pay all mothers, and let them choose how that money will be used. Some will use it for formal day care, and head straight back to work. Fine. But many will use it as a supplementary income, so they can stay at home and provide the very best care that is available to their children: themselves.

Real choice would be fair, equitable and compassionate. But at the moment, such choice is just not there for most mothers. They are being forced back too early into the paid workplace simply because the government is beholden to the feminist agenda, and their understanding of what working families mean.

And there are numerous other possible government initiatives that would be of genuine help to all families. These would include various fiscal and tax policies, ranging from income-splitting to family unit taxation to a homemakers’ allowance, and so on.

If the government is serious about helping families – and all families, not just some – then it should consider the cries of the majority of young mums who are a new stolen generation – stolen away from their own children because they are forced back into the paid workplace against their own wishes.

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15 Responses to Home Truths about Working Families

  • Thanks Bill.

    This is an important issue and it is good to be reminded about it. Children should be looked after by their mothers particularly when they are very young.

    One often thinks of the slogan “Our Children. Our Future”. Once people leave this world, for the vast majority the most important people to them that they leave behind are their children. Children are the future of a family line, but also of a nation. If we don’t give our children the best possible start to life then we are compromising the future of the nation.

    The government should be looking to build a better Australia for the future, not a nation where kids grow up hardly knowing their parents.

    Labor is stereotyped as the major party that is better on “social welfare” issues. But, really this isn’t true. There are few issues more important to our society than the ability for a mother to spend time, not just ‘quality time’ but lots and lots of time with her child/children.

    Matthew Mulvaney

  • Another idea would be negative taxation up to a point, as advocated by Milton Friedman, and advocated from an Australian perspective in Reform 30/30: Rebuilding Australia’s Tax and Welfare Systems by John Humphreys. The Liberty and Democracy Party summarizes:

    Reform 30/30 includes a tax-free threshold of $30,000 and a flat income tax of 30%, with no deductions. All income taxes (company, Capital Gains Tax [CGT], Pay As You Go [PAYG], Fringe Benefits Tax [FBT]) would be equal at 30%, and the Medicare levy removed.

    The tax-free threshold (TFT) would be increased to $30,000 per person and all tax expenditures (tax deductions, offsets, and so on) would be removed.

    The current welfare system would be replaced by a sliding scale of payments (called a Negative Income Tax or NIT) that phased out at 30% and finished at an income of $30,000.

    For example, if you earned $0, you would receive 30% of $30,000 ($9000). If you earned $10,000, you would receive 30% of $20,000 ($6000). If you earn $25,000, you would receive 30% of $5000 ($1500). This would involve a cut in payments to the unemployed and an increase in payments to low-income earners.

    The Humphreys paper advocates raising the tax-free threshold by say $10,000 per child. That way, there would be no discrimination against single-income families. They could use the extra money for daycare centres, to help Mum stay home, or contribute to Granny’s costs in looking after the little ones after school … This would be an even simpler way of achieving what Bill rightly advocates, but without the wasteful bureaucratic “churning” where the government both gives money then takes it back from the same family.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Hello from Canada where I so much agree with the writer that I would like to frame his article. For many years a number of organizations here have been working to get government to value care of a child period, not just when it is done by a nonrelative but unconditionally. In this way we redefine work which is revolutionary, but we also provide the level playing field of choice you are suggesting so a family can choose dad care, mom care, grandma care, sitter, nanny, dayhome, 3rd party daycare or a range of options as they find the child needs. That’s democracy. That also is legal equality and consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to let parents not the state make the carestyle choice. It also is the final step of ensuring women’s equality since it notices the unpaid roles they historically have done at home. Your country and mine and many others promised to value unpaid labor way back in 1997 at Beijing and this would do that. The problem with the other argument offered, that choice is only choice of daycare, and work is only paid work away from kids, is that it does imply parents are incompetent, don’t provide good care, can’t even recognize good care elsewhere so the money can’t possibly go to them because they can’t be trusted. That assumption denies some basic human rights.
    Good work. I love your article.
    Beverley Smith, Canada

  • Hi Bill,
    I’m a bit confused about what you’re saying in this article. Firstly you said:

    “I have written elsewhere about the many real negative effects of long-term day care for young children. The social science data is quite clear about the harm toddlers experience when deprived of the maternal presence for large hunks of time. Indeed, the research shows that the more time in day care, and the younger the age in which babies and toddlers are put there, the more detrimental the consequences will be.”

    But then later on you say:
    “Now there is certainly nothing wrong with mothers who want to have paid careers. That is their choice…”

    I find these 2 statements to be largely in confict with each other. Could you perhaps clarify a bit?

    Thanks

    Robert Phillips

  • Thanks Robert

    Timing is the key. Women can have it all (career and family) but not necessarily at the same time. The research about the harm done to children in extended periods of day care mainly has to do with children from around 0 to 3 years of age. Thus mums with older children of course can pursue work with less concerns about any harm to the kids. Or if really young children are in formal day care, the less amount of time, the better. Thus mums who work part-time and therefore only have their children part-time in day care will have less to fear than the full-time career mum.

    And I am not trying to lay guilt trips on all working mums. Some have no choice in the matter (as this article tried in part to argue). Many single parent families for example have little or no choice in the matter, and the mum must get some paid work, or the family starves.

    My real point here was that real choice should be available. If a young mum insists on going back to work, and puts the child into, say, 60 hours a week of day care, that is her choice, although I think the child will suffer, as the research makes plain.

    But my main concern was the majority of young mums who are in the paid workplace not by choice but because of economic necessity. Governments should work toward making things more family friendly. In the old days there used to be a family wage, which was enough for the sole breadwinner to take care of his whole family. That existed both here in Australia and in the US. But of course that was abandoned years ago, as feminist ideology captured government thinking on these issues.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,
    A generation or two ago, most families were single-income and we seemed to be able to pay the bills, including the mortgage. I wonder if part of the contribution to the apparent need for two incomes is a relative increase in cost of the necessities of life compared to the median wage, together with an advertising-boosted desire for more and better ‘stuff’.
    Graham Keen

  • Thanks Graham

    You raise an interesting and quite valid point here. Surely the cost of living is rising, but then again, perhaps so too is our perception of what are the necessities of life. Many two-income families are simply trying to pay off the mortgage and put food on the table. But how many families have both parents in the paid workplace just so that the European vacation can be had, or a second plasma TV can be purchased, or a swimming pool can be installed in the back yard?

    No one begrudges two-income families if they really are just seeking to cover the basics of life, but in an age of rising expectations, materialism and never ending consumer demands, maybe we need to ask how much “stuff” is really needed for today’s families. What is a real necessity and what is just a luxury?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for the Reply Bill.
    Yes I now understand what you are saying. However, the demarcation point of the 3rd year of life seems to me to be somewhat arbitrary. I would not be at all surprised to hear of another research study finding in say, 5 years time that said something like: “Contrary to previously held views, this study has found that the effects of absent parents before and after school and also during school holidays has been found to have a significantly detrimental effect on a childs psychological & emotional development, well into the early teen years.”…..or something to that effect.

    Yes, I am running on “gut instinct” and not study findings.
    I also think Graham Keen made a good point. Instead of buying a “McMansion” and then sacrificing your childrens development and/or ones marriage on its “altar”, I think that Australian couples should consider living more modestly and instead put a higher value on raising well adjusted children.
    For a Christian the ultimate goal in this respect, should be to produce Godly Offspring….although this is ultimately God’s sovereign prerogative. But from a human point of view we can increase the likelyhood of this happening, by not doing what is proscribed in 1 John 2:15-16.
    Both sides of government have shown themselves not to be friendly towards single income families, as is evidenced by the taxation system.
    Go head and do a hypothetical income tax statement for a single bread winner earning say $80,000 and then another for 2 earners earning $40,000 each. See which household gets hit with the most tax, even though both households pull in $80000 per annum.

    Robert Phillips

  • Thanks Robert

    I too think kids need plenty of parental involvement well beyond toddler years. Adolescents, teenagers, all of them need to have mum and dad around as much as possible.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Totally agree with you Robert Phillips. But then people would argue that it is your choice if you want to have children, and the consequence is that you forfeit some of your income to raising these children. However let us see when we have aging population, as to who will be paying the taxes to support the many services that an aging population will require. It will be the children who become the future income earners. We need to support families.
    Teresa Binder

  • Bill

    I like your ideas about encouraging stay-at-home mums with financial incentives.

    I like Jonathon’s suggestions but I don’t think a tax system like that on the unemployed and underemployed would work without dropping or eliminating the minimum wage, unfair dismissal laws, union power etc. In other words, there needs to be emphasis on increasing the supply of work as well as the incentives.

    Damien Spillane

  • Damien

    The John Humphreys paper shows how the 30/30 tax system would hugely help the unemployed. The current system has a high effective marginal tax rate, i.e. their benefits are heavily slashed as they take on paid work, so the net effect is that they keep only about 30% or less of any income they make. The 30/30 tax plan means they keep 70% of any extra money. So this eliminates the poverty trap that keeps so many people down.

    The simplicity of the tax system would also mean far less time (and money) in compliance and ATO bureaucracy, and less bureaucracy to take money and give it back to the same individuals. Humphreys shows that the best proportionate change is to minimum wage earners, who would be 31% better off; half-timers at the minimum wage would be 21% better off.

    And this in turn means that it’s an encouragement for the unemployed to take up such jobs and gain valuable work experience. But lefty politicians don’t like such ideas, since they need a permanent victim class for votes.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Jonathon

    I don’t disagree with any of that. Humphrey’s paper sounds like good sense. But creating the motivation only seems like part of the job. You also need to increase the supply, of which dropping the minimum wage will do.

    Damien Spillane

  • Hi Bill, i am currently a stay at home single mum trying to raise 4 children and i am in full support of a fairer system for mums who really wish to do this, but i know myself with the changes to support coming on the 1st of July will put people like myself who are managing with no spare income from week to week into a position where we will have to seek employment to keep our heads above water.
    Donna Bowey

  • Bill,
    I don’t disagree with your solution. I do somewhat disagree with your analysis. Not in that it misrepresented anything but it didn’t ask a question I would be asking – why are the bills so high that it takes two incomes to pay for them? Are incomes in Australia too low vs. cost of living? I suspect a lot of it has to do with materialism. People want to live in suburb X and over commit to a mortgage. Or they MUST own that new Mercedes S series and there is more debt.

    I know a couple commentators already touched on this subject but its worth repeating – why are the bills so high? I agree government and society isn’t helping. But I suspect many of these graves are self-inflicted. I also think it’s important to mention the other contributing factor to all this – the removal of the father from the “family”. Feminism I believe is a bit of ouroboros – destroying itself in the process of feeding itself. How many abortions are targeted against girls for example?

    On a side note the Rudd government is proving itself to be a government of cowards. Avoiding the hard-decisions at all costs as well as pandering to secular ideologies which have proven to be failures.

    Michael Mifsud

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