The divorced mother labors thirty-five weeks in a car wash for $7.65 an hour while her three children are cared for my an over-extended day care worker. At nights she cares for her sister’s two kids as well as her own. She does not see her child support which goes to pay the state for her “costs.” Rising at 4:00 AM, Anna walks to work, then stands on her feet all day in the Arizona sun, rushing to wipe remaining water of newly cleaned autos.
At least once a week, Anna and her children travel by bus to the social welfare office, adding a bus ride and filling out forms to her long hours. Being on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Anna discovers, is itself nearly a full time job. She sleeps less than five hours a night, and feels embittered, wondering how her schedule, lack of quality time with her children, and the car wash can possibly be giving her the “dignity of work.”
Alexander Cockburn, writing in The Nation, 4-23-12, talks about the impossibility of about fifty million full time workers to earn enough for their families to rise out of poverty, which Andrew Hawker says is $23,050 for a family of four. Cockburn lists the following occupations and their average pay: Office and administrative support occupations (median wage of $31,200); sales and related occupations ($24,840); food preparation and serving occupations ($18,900); childcare workers ($19,430); personal care aides ($19,730); home health aides ($20,610); janitors and cleaners ($22,210); teaching assistants ($23,220); nonconstruction laborers ($23,460); security guards ($23,900) and construction laborers ($29,730). Even if Anna works full time at her minimum wage job, there is no way she can raise her family out of poverty.
Cockburn proposes that the greatest anti-poverty program would be to increase wages for the jobs already out there. He describes the suggestion of a coalition of economists who propose a minimum wage of $12 an hour as a long-term stimulus. If that happened, Anna would immediately spend the extra money on family necessities. The consequence would be the creation of jobs for other workers, a real stimulus package which would go to some of the hardest working people in our society.
It also would be a God-send to Anna. Adults on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families can only receive federally funded cash benefits for three years of their adult life. No wonder at night anxiety twists Anna’s stomach and she can not sleep, and during the day she sometimes snaps at her children.
In a new book by Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White American, 1960-2010, Murray accuses many poor whites like Anna of having lost the nation’s “founding virtues” of honesty, industriousness, marriage, and religion. (Quoted by Andrew Hacker in The New York Review of Books, 3-10-12) In the past, Murray says, poor whites applied themselves to their jobs at whatever their level of skill and took family responsibility seriously, as compared to now.
Likewise, Romney claims that all mothers work, as his wife did, but at the same time he wants the poorest women to also be employed by the time their children are two. He says it will give them dignity and meaning and states that it is worth it even if the costs of day care are higher than if the poor woman stayed at home. He has no vision about reality for Anna.
Stressed almost to the breaking point, often terrified for her children, and well aware of her image in the culture, Anna frantically rushes around, trying to please authorities. No wonder she feels nearly broken.