Monday, April 16, 2012

The Affordable Luxury

My father used to always tell us, “You’ve got to distinguish between wants and needs.

Recently President Obama said that after his daughters were born, he and Michelle “could not afford the luxury” of her staying home with the children.


Both Barak and Michelle are Harvard graduates. She had been working for 10 years, he had been working for 6 when their first daughter was born.

They hadn’t been working at McDonald’s.

In 2005 their combined income was nearly $500,000. And certainly they had savings. In 2005 Barak alone was making over $162,000.

Yet, with that kind of income, Mr. Obama said they “couldn’t afford the luxury” of living on just his income [Insert my dad’s advice here—remember—wants vs. needs?].

Does he realize that his measly $162,000 is more than triple most states’ median incomes today?

Most people in this country, and most certainly in the world, live on far less than $162,000, even with two incomes.

I grew up in a town with many large families who lived off one income (my family was one of them). Often times that one income was that of a farmer or school teacher. Sure, most of us had to wear out our tennis shoes before we could get a new pair, and we shared bedrooms, and even, gasp, rode the bus to school since we teenagers didn’t have our own cars.

We got jobs to help pay for school trips, new shoes, dates, and college. We didn’t have a TV in every room. We stayed home for spring break. I didn’t know a single family who took a trip to Europe every summer or had a home in Aspen. But we had plenty to eat and we went to school, and we had clothes to wear (of course, my older siblings reminded me I was spoiled since they only had two pairs of pants in Jr. high). And even though it may have just been to Yellowstone National Park, we took vacations and spent time together as a family. And guess what—we turned out fine. In fact, we thrived.

Could some of those families have been better off financially if both parents brought home a pay check? Could they have had fancier vacations, nicer wardrobes? How about expensive colleges, and new cars? On a small-town’s school teacher’s salary could they afford the luxury of a single income?

Well, somehow, yes. But it was a choice. A life-style choice.

Could the Obama’s have afforded the luxury of his single income? Absolutely (and had they lived anywhere near where I grew up, they could have afforded to live high on the hog and then some).

But, perhaps they wouldn’t have been able to have the vacations they wanted or live in the house they wanted in the city they wanted with the cars and clothes and careers they wanted.

Like most Americans, they would have had to survive on much less. Maybe even sacrificed a bit. But make no mistake, they could afford it.

So, I say, Mr. President, don’t insult working families by trying to paint yourselves as poor, suffering Americans.

Thinking they couldn’t afford living on $160,000 a year, answer me this—who is the one out of touch now?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Women's War

Perhaps it’s time for those of us moms who have “never worked a day in our lives” to start lining up for unemployment benefits. That ought to make the joblessness numbers more interesting! Maybe then we could show we care about the economy.

If a woman is not in the “work force” does it mean she cares less about economic issues? Does it mean she is less aware of the terrible economic problems facing our nation, more particularly her own family? Does it mean she is out of touch with how the economy impacts hers or her family’s life?


If a woman is not the one bringing home a pay check, she still has to worry about that pay check.

Right now my husband’s company is going through a hostile take-over. It is not my job at stake. I am not the one dealing with the intricacies of such transactions. The share-holders do not even know I exist. But am I concerned? You better believe it.

My husband and I made the choice nearly 20 years ago that when children came to our family I would care for them full-time, even if it meant financial sacrifice and sacrifice of my own time and career, among other things. For the last 15 years, this is exactly what I have been doing. I know many people think that’s crazy. I know many people, including other mothers, put very little value on what I do and the choice we made.

Several years ago, when we tried to get life insurance for me, the first insurance company we went to refused to insure me because I “didn’t contribute” enough to our financial well-being. When we sat down and calculated my “contributions” we quickly discovered that were we to have to hire out the “work” I do (if I were to die or become incapacitated), we wouldn’t be able to afford it! This was just for the basic cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, music lessons, and child-care, not to mention tutoring and full-time teaching for our one home-schooled child. Needless to say, I was more than displeased with the insurance company’s ignorant response (obviously, we dropped them as our carrier for any insurance and went with another company).

When a woman leaves the “work force” to care for her family, it does not make her less concerned or less in touch with economic concerns. If anything, it makes us more concerned. We have to plan carefully, make adjustments and sacrifices, and be creative in budget development. We know that if our husband loses his job, we do not have a second income to fall back on. I fully recognize many women don’t have the choice to be at home full-time, and I feel extremely grateful that I can be with my kids. Although it is not without its challenges, being home with my kids is my favorite place to be and it is my very most favorite job. I wouldn’t change it for the world. And I hope I don’t have to.