Losing Ground

Everywhere you look -- in the factory, in the office, in the military, you see them: mothers of young children. Given how hard they and their husbands work, you'd think dual-income families would enjoy high incomes -- especially in such prosperous times. But recent reports suggest that the income of the average household has remained largely stagnant, and some families are even losing ground. What accounts for this phenomenon? The author of a new book about the family says we can blame the loss of a family wage. In his book, There's No Place Like Work, author Brian Robertson says that a "family wage" allows one parent to support a family on just one income. The concept is based on the belief that it's vitally important keep married mothers from having to work in order to maintain a family wage. Strange as it may seem today, it was the early feminists who fought hardest to keep mothers at home. From the start of the Industrial Revolution, factory owners had their eye on women as a cheap source of labor. In order to keep industry from forcing mothers into the workplace, women's groups and labor unions designed and fought for the family wage. Thanks to their efforts, by the 1960s, more than 80 percent of industrial employers paid a wage that was sufficient to support a family. But then modern feminism was born. Housewives were told that they were wasting their brains at home. Millions of women listened -- and went to work. The results were dramatic. New laws barring wage and employment discrimination leveled wages, and the family wage all but disappeared. By 1987, only 25 percent of all jobs paid enough for one wage-earner to support a family. Today, Robertson writes, the family wage is "effectively dead." Worse, as the family wage ceased to be the norm, prices were adjusted to dual-income family standards. "The price of family necessities now reflects an economy in which most wives work," Robertson notes. The result is that keeping mom at home is becoming a luxury few families can afford. And don't look to big business to help, for they make more money not having to pay a family wage. In fact, they encourage moms to work by offering on-site daycare, counseling for stress, dry cleaning services, and cafeterias that prepare take-home dinners. What they will NOT support, Robertson says, is "paying one parent enough to support a family on a single income." But Robertson warns that this anti-family attitude may ultimately backfire. Corporate America may wake up one day to find it has undermined the primary source of productive labor. The traditional family motivates its members to excellence at work. But today companies are spending more and more money trying to solve their employee's emotional problems, because so many of our families are in chaos. As Christians, we need to help our neighbors understand why the concept of the family wage, rather than mere economic growth, is still the best measure of a society's economic well being. Stay tuned for the rest of this special series based on the book, There's No Place Like Work. Over the next few days you'll learn how you can fight for policies that recognize what those early feminists taught: That families -- not profits -- must come first.


Chuck Colson


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