As our own Cathy Seipp points out in July’s MoDo Watch, Maureen Dowd’s new co-columnist at the New York Times, Barbara Ehrenreich, possesses the wit and writing skill that MoDo so sorely lacks. But as Mickey Kaus notes, Ehrenreich can also be a bit of a fact-fudger–or rather a figure-fudger. Kaus does the math and concludes that Ehrenreich is just plain wrong when she asserts in her latest column, “Let Them Eat Wedding Cake,” that a woman on welfare would have to marry 2.3 blue-collar men, “which is, strangely enough, illegal,” Barbara jokes) in order to lift the couple from poverty.
“I can’t tell if Ehrenreich is joking about the ‘2.3’ or if she’s up to her old tricks (as when she wrote in 1986, with Frances Fox Piven, that long-term recipients were only a ‘tiny minority’ of welfare mothers, when in fact they were nearly two-thirds of those on the rolls at any one time). If she’s serious, how exactly did she calculate that 2.3 figure? ….Some numbers: The 2004 government poverty line for a family of four is about $18,850. For a family of three it’s about $15,500. (The exact amount depends on whether you’re using the Census or HHS line.) … Even at the current minimum wage, a full-time worker earns $10,700 a year and an Earned Income Tax Credit of $2,500 (three person family) to $4,200 (four person family). Add in $4000-5,000 of food stamps and subsidized Medicaid or CHIP health care for the children, and you’re well above the poverty line even with a single breadwinner and a stay-at-home mom. … Is Ehrenreich saying the poverty threshold is set too low? Fine–I’d have trouble living on it–but then she should tell us what idiosyncratic definition of ‘poverty’ she’s using. Is she assuming the ‘blue collar’ man can’t find even minimum-wage work? If so, again, why not make this assumption clear? … Or is Ehrenreich, in the fashion of some left-wing organizers, simply ignoring the programs (especially the Earned Income Tax Credit) liberals have struggled to put in place to help low-income earners? … P.S.: I doubt it’s intuitively obvious to most Americans that the families of women married to typical blue-collar workers live in poverty. (Most blue collar workers make more than the minimum wage, and most wives work too.) The burden would seem to be on Ehrenreich to explain her startling stat.”
For some reason rad-fems like Ehrenreich are down on marriage, maybe because it’s patriarchal oppression. They’ve been especially critical of a Bush administration program that encourages low-income women to hold out for marrying the men in their lives. I myself have doubts about the program, because I don’t think words alone can change a deeply embedded underclass culture–encouraged by our elites in their exaltation of sexual freedom–in which men simply don’t have to get married in order to obtain all the benefits of wedlock–sex, food, kids, a free place to stay–without having to shoulder any of the responsibilities. Sad to say, if an underclass young woman says, “I’m saving myself for marriage,” she’ll quickly find herself without anyone to save herself for (middle-class young women, pressured for sex in the most casual of encounters, have similar problems).
But the rad-fems’ opposition to marriage advocacy rests on a different ground: they think that the best solution to the problems of welfare mothers is more welfare. Men are bad; the government is good. Thus they have no qualms about ignoring the mountain of evidence that intact families headed by a married couple are always better off than single-parent families, no matter what the income level. At the very least, they have resources to pool. It’s cultural problems, not economic problems, that are the greatest obstacle to marriage in the underclass.