The Stay-at-Home Mom Choice: Should Taxpayers Pay for Your Kids?

Posted on April 24, 2012


A hundred years ago, it was common for a young man to ask a girl’s father for her hand in marriage, and equally common for the father to ask the young man how he intended to support his daughter.  Today we dismiss this as quaint and chauvinistic, entirely missing the point that responsible people did not take on major life-changing responsibilities without some kind of financial plan.

Today, women have choices.  They can marry or not, have children or not, and work or not, in any combination.  But all is clearly not well in paradise, as the Hilary Rosen – Ann Romney spat, and all the reactions to it, demonstrate.

The latest is that some House Democrats have introduced a new bill, HR 4379, the Women’s Option to Raise Kids (WORK) Act.  The purpose is “To amend title IV of the Social Security Act to permit States to exempt single parents with children under 60 months of age from TANF participation rate requirements.”  Quick background here:  TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families)includes mandatory work requirements, and currently, States must enforce those requirements for at least 90% of two-parent families and 50% of all families receiving benefits.   However, there is an exemption for single parents of children up to 12 months of age; at their discretion, States can choose to grant benefits to these parents without counting them against their overall work-rate averages.  The new bill seeks to change this exemption to include single parents of children up to 60 months of age.

I really doubt this bill has any chance of passing, and it seems cynically introduced mainly for the purpose of highlighting Republican hypocrisy when it comes to who is allowed to be a stay-at-home mom, and who is not.  Sure enough, the press has been having a field day cornering Republicans, getting quotes on the value of stay-at-home moms like Ann Romney, and then watching them squirm when asked about this bill.  The effect is to paint the GOP as morally supportive of wealthy stay-at-home moms, but not materially supportive of low-income moms who, it is implied, should have an equal right to stay home and raise their children, too.

But hold on – the basis of that argument is flawed in itself, because it conflates rights, privileges, responsibilities and choices.  The real question is:  should taxpayers of all stripes, many of them not well-off themselves,  have to support other people’s poor financial choices?  We all have the right to have families, but do we have a right to other people’s money to support the families we choose to have?

I say, no.  It’s one thing to need temporary assistance in a time of crisis; I do think a good society helps those who sometimes need it, or who need it because of some permanent disability.  But there is a difference between getting through a crisis and creating one out of one’s own ill-planned choices.  If there is any doubt, look at all of the invective leveled at the Octomom.  And look at the TANF program itself, which was revamped under President Clinton in response to national dissatisfaction with, and the financial unsustainability of, the old welfare system – where the welfare rolls had grown by as much as 27% just from 1990-1994.  It’s not just the Republicans who won’t support the draft WORK bill; it’s the public.

Ann Romney and her fabulous wealth have distracted from the reality of most stay-at-home moms, who hardly fit the image of pampered princesses with no financial worries.  There are plenty of stay-at-home moms out there who are not wealthy.  I recall a former co-worker, who had seven children and a stay-at-home wife.  Another friend has five children and has always been a stay-at-home mom.  Both are highly educated and could have made a good salary, yet the logistics of raising their kids meant that they were far better off making do with one salary and a full-time mom.  Military spouses often are stay-at-home parents because they move so much that it is impossible to get a good job, and they make do even on modest lower-enlisted salaries.   What do these parents have in common with Ann Romney?  They pay for their own families.

Again:  today’s women have choices.  Having a child is a choice, a right, and a tremendous personal responsibility.  Not a taxpayer responsibility.