Monday, May 24, 2010

Women and work, at different ends of the privilege spectrum

Yesterday's New York Times Magazine ran this item by Lisa Belkin about the anticipated presence of three women on the U.S. Supreme Court, two of them single and childless. What, Belkin asks, has changed since mothers like Justices O'Connor and Ginsburg ascended to the high Court? Are women making progress? Have women's paths narrowed, even as they have ascended? Belkin writes:
Expectation brings obligation, and Sotomayor and Kagan were of the generation facing new tradeoffs. Pursue the career and sacrifice the family. Have the family and ratchet back the career. True, the stigma of not marrying or having children waned for this younger generation, making it more of a deliberate choice for some. But still, roads had to be chosen. There would be no taking five years off to stay home with your children [as O'Connor did] if you hoped for a seat on the Supreme Court.
So, there's a not terribly uplifting report from the more privileged end of the work-life(family?) conundrum.

At the other end are the working poor, like Alexandria Wallace, featured in today's NYTimes front-page story headlined "The New Poor: Cuts to Child Care Subsidy Thwart More Job Seekers." Wallace, 22 and a single mother, has left the work force because state cuts to subsidized child care have put her 3-year-old daughter on a waiting list for that care--along with 11,000 children. Here's an excerpt from Peter Goodman's story, which illustrates how the recession and associated cuts to state budgets have turned welfare reform on its head:
Despite a substantial increase in federal support for subsidized child care, which has enabled some states to stave off cuts, others have trimmed support, and most have failed to keep pace with rising demand, according to poverty experts and federal officials.
Goodman notes that cuts to child care subsidies challenge "the central tenet" of the 1996 welfare reform legislation: "low-income parents were forced to give up welfare checks and instead seek paychecks, while being promised support — not least, subsidized child care — that would enable them to work."

The story continues:

Now, in this moment of painful budget cuts, with Arizona and more than a dozen other states placing children eligible for subsidized child care on waiting lists, only two kinds of families are reliably securing aid: those under the supervision of child protective services — which looks after abuse and neglect cases — and those receiving cash assistance.

These reports show the landscape for working mothers to be rather fraught with pitfalls--regardless of the socioeconomic stratum into which they fall.