January 28 2014
Ever since Ronald Reagan’s time in office, presidents have been “humanizing” the State of the Union by profiling individuals to show how policies set in Washington will improve the lives of average Americans. One woman who will be in the viewing box tonight is Sabrina Simone Jenkins.
A single mother, Jenkins served in the air force, took classes at DeVry University, and even earned a master’s degree. But today she is saddled with terrible student loan debt, and as a working mother she caught the attention of The Shriver Report, as well as the White House, as an example of how many women are living on the brink of poverty.
Jenkins is clearly a strong woman, having served her country, cared for a child on her own, and figured out a way to better herself through more education. She’s the quintessential American story of self-improvement and ought to be applauded. Yet, the president plans to use Jenkins as an example of a woman he is “determined to help” through greater government.
Jenkins will be used as another flag in a political campaign to perpetuate the myth that America is inherently unfair to women and girls, and to encourage even greater dependence on the state. Profiling Jenkins is an easy way to show the challenges that many women face; but Mr. Obama will likely ignore the many causes of that hardship and instead double-down on a government-knows-best approach to solving her problems.
I don’t’ know Jenkins, and I’m certainly not in the business of judging her circumstances from afar; but I do think there are some very real opportunities to show how Jenkins and other women and families facing similar hardship would, in fact, benefit from less government and a stronger civil society.
While no one wants to criticize an unmarried woman who certainly experienced challenges and sacrificed for her child, the president has an opportunity to emphasize the benefits of marriage. We know that marriage is one of the best ways to stay out of poverty – that it is an institution that creates stability, encourages community involvement, and provides a natural safety net. The elimination of marriage does not get rid of the function it serves, and when marriage becomes obsolete the question is who – or what – will step in to fill its place. Short of a family or community to fall back on, government is too often there to act as the provider for women.
President Obama will no doubt criminalize for-profit colleges like DeVry University – which admittedly aren’t perfect – while ignoring the value such educational outlets provide women to improve their circumstances. He’ll certainly overlook the fact that for-profit schools are really not much worse in terms of cost and graduation rates than the rest of higher education despite the hysterical response from Democrats like Sen. Tom Harkin.
While one can certainly sympathize with Jenkins’ challenge of being burdened with an overwhelming amount of student loan debt, the president will likely ignore that the best “help” for Jenkins is a robust economy with greater job opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for a human resource manager is $109,590, with many of those jobs closer to the $200,000 mark. But with a lagging economy, Jenkins will be pressed to find a high-paying job.
Despite her high earning potential, the president will likely use Jenkins as an example of why we need to mandate paid leave and implement The FAMILY Act, while he’ll ignore how such workplace laws will create a less flexible work environment for Jenkins and will make employers less likely to higher her. Instead, the president has an opportunity to talk about how businesses recognize Jenkins’ value, and that many more workplaces are creating flexible work arrangements everyday.
He should insist that we streamline our tax system so that Jenkins could keep more of her take-home pay and save more easily for when she needs to take time out of the workplace. The president could acknowledge that Jenkins would benefit from owning and controlling her health care dollars, so that she’s not tied to her place of employment should a better opportunity come about. And the president could recommend lifting unreasonable environmental and workplace regulations that make the cost of goods more expensive for Jenkins and her family.
In the name of fighting poverty and the so-called War on Women, the president will use Jenkins as a way of selling new government programs, while ignoring the very real costs of this intervention not only on the larger economy but also on individual lives. President Obama will likely waste a golden opportunity and show once again that our over-bearing government is too often women’s worst enemy.