Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"Entitlement Whore"

That, appparently, is me, according to one person who wrote in after my appearance on BookTalk over the weekend. It seems I am an entitlement whore because I dared to suggest that the costs of childcare shouldn't fall on workers alone. I may even have paired that daring statement with an announcement that California now offers twelve weeks of paid family leave, that it's a good thing, and that other states, such as New Jersey, might be following suit.

That's right. Who, we must ask, needs us to be at work so many hours of the week? Not hardworking moms and dads. Many of them would prefer to work fewer hours for more decent wages, and see their kids more. A heavily guarded truth about our society is this: it is not those of us who work who care the most about our jobs, it's the employers. It may seem counterintuitive. It may take some time to get it, but ultimately, that's right, it's those who make a true profit from our work who have the most at stake in our working. They care more than we do. Without all of us working, there is no productivity. Without productivity, there are no profits. You don't need a PhD in economics to figure that out.

One of the many mystifications about caring for young children in our country is that is should be a private cost, a cost shouldered by an individual mom or dad who also holds a paying job. Businesses have lobbied long and hard to keep us believing that. The result is a god-awful system of childcare that's often not so great for kids, anxiety-producing for parents, and pays its own workers barely livable wages. Those who have access to and can afford good childcare, consider yourself lucky. Consider yourself among the top 20% of income earners in the country. Then look around at those other childcare centers, the ones you would never ever consider putting your kids in, and ask about the other 80% who use them. If this sounds harsh, know that I mean it in the best, most generous and caring sense. It can feel unsettling to reflect on what one can afford that others can't; it can be angering to think about what you can't afford that others can. I think this looking around can be uplifting; those of us--myself included--with some economic and cultural privilege in our nation need to keep our eyes open, even when it hurts. Even though we often feel alienated and silenced and powerless, we're the ones who are closer to having a political voice in our nation, and my new goal in life is to help us figure out how to find and use those voices.

But back to topic:

We've been persuaded that childcare is a private cost, kind of like a yearly vacation to Disney World. It's something extra.

Well, it is something extra, and it isn't. The question of who shoulders this extra cost should be up for question. Currently we think of childcare as an extra, not a necessity. K-12 education is seen as a necessity, still, and funded collectively. I'd like to see us debate which category--extra or social necessity--childcare falls in. I think it belongs in the latter category, and that we need to shift from seeing it as extra to seeing it as a necessity. In the long run, childcare costs should be shared by all who pay corporate taxes in America. After all, they're the ones who really, truly need us to work. And they're the ones who have been getting quite the tax cuts lately. Childcare should be seen as part of the employer's cost of doing business in our country. If that cost is shared, then each of us and each of them would barely feel it.

If that makes me an entitlement whore, so be it.

I'm sure I'm in good company.

(And for those who complain about the cost of such a shifting in tax priorities, and are sure we can't afford it, repeat after me ten times: billions spent in Iraq, billions spent in Iraq, billions spent in Iraq.....)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

You can count me as an "entitlement whore," too. As one who has had children in paid care for seven continuous years now, I am becoming obsessed by this topic. I pay tens of thousands of dollars a year and have gone into debt that it will take years of my children being in public schools to pay off. It's less debt than I would have been in had I forfeited my very good job to stay home, but it's a huge set-back for our family nevertheless. And my pet peeve in all of this is that it is not even tax deductible beyond $5,000 a year (although others are able to deduct "working vacations" to Hawaii, etc.). Several years ago I heard of a childcare center in our city that was closed down for having maggots and other unsanitary conditions, and it nearly broke my heart to think of the families that are forced to send their children to places like that just so they can put food on the table.

And I am with you on the American people generally being duped into believing that it is a value to work excessively just so someone else can make hundreds of millions in profits. My own spouse has gotten into this mindset, and I have had to remind him that when he works more than 40 hours a week (which is every week), the person profiting is certainly not himself. He actually has learned to feel guilty for not working 50+ hours a week, which he considers an average work week, and he makes very median or slightly below median pay for his profession and experience.

Lone Star Ma said...

I guess I'm an entitlement whore, too. And, hey - I think the government should fund healthcare for kids, too! I am SUCH a whore.

32poems said...

Thanks for this. I posted about daycare -- and how Nixon nipped national daycare in the bud -- on my blog and was attacked by a visitor who said I shouldn't expect handouts from the government.

Anonymous said...

When my husband worked for a company that was voted one of the top family friendly companies, I had to laugh. Although things look great on paper, none of the benfits work for us and we are a fairly typical family.

I find there are a lot of guilty feelings where work is envolved, like you are lucky to work for them when it should be the other way around.
When I missed a days work at a boutique hotel, I was asked for a doctors note to explain my absence. Since I had never had a sick day, I was appauled. I had given over 12 hours notice that I would not be in. I was having a D&C and din't feel I would be up to slicing and dicing 6 hrs later. Not the bosses business if you ask me, but they still managed to make me feel guilty for missing my shift.

karrie said...

Oh wow. What a ridiculous insult.

Your observations are dead-on, and I hope you'll continue to write & speak about these issues.

Anne Michaud said...

Hi, Miriam. I came up and said hello after your talk at Festival of the Book. Anyway, "entitlement whore" is in my opinion an example of hateful verbal backlash, like "feminazi." I wish these words would not silence as many women as they seem to. I guess, like Barbara Ehrenreich, we need to be really sure of our positions and answer back in an intelligent and spirited way. I'm sure you do. Anne Michaud

Sandy Kristin Piderit said...

If you're an entitlement whore, then I am too. But I don't think we are alone in our beliefs, and I don't think there's anything disreputable about our point of view.

Anonymous said...

I've been looking for resources on family and home information including debt reduction debt and child care information debt

Anonymous said...

yes, the whole daycare system is outrageous. like many, unfortunately, I'm single [divorcee]who receives 0% in support or aide. I literally pay more for pre-school than my monthly apt.'s rent. After food, electricity and even buying used clothes, there's squat left.
Sorry, not everyone was born with a trust fund.