THE SUPPLY SIDE OF THE CARE DEFICIT
Meanwhile, as the need for public services lias increased, American voters have come to favor reducing the supply of care that government provides, and many favor turning to the beleaguered family as a main source of care. They f all back on the image of Madonna and Child. Despite signs of distress and lower well-being among the growing number of poor children (declining academic performance and high rates of substance abuse, depression, and even teen suicide), much of the American middle class responds with “sympathy fatigue,” for some of their children are in trouble too.
While the number of homeless and destitute people rose under the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, government services began to fall. Both presidents tried to resolve the gap between demand and supply of care by a cultural move-privatizing our idea of care. President Bush cut the national budget for school lunches and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), calling instead for volunteers who might model themselves on his nonworking wife, Barbara. In this way, Bush projected a collective, yet private, version of mother and child as a supposed solution for a growing array of social ills.
Under the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton, the mid
dle-class “sympathy fatigue” persisted and grew. For example, the Personal Responsibility Act, introduced in January 1995 and passed in 1996, called for permanent cuts in welfare to unwed mothers under age eighteen, to anyone who has received aid for sixty months, or to anyone who bears a child while on welfare. In 2002, under George W. Bush, the law requires that single parents receiving aid must be engaged in “constructive activities” for forty hours a week, and the care ot their own children or elderly relations doesn’t count as such. The beat goes on: Force carers into paid work. Reduce public care.
If the stale refuses to provide a public solution to the care gap by funding service programs, can the private realm do the job? Like women in most of the developed world, American women have gone into paid work in extraordinary numbers. In i960, 28 percent of married women with children under eighteen were in the labor force; by 1996, 68 percent of those mothers were working. More mothers than nonmothers now work. In 1948, і i percent olf married women with children aged six and younger worked outside the home. In 1991, 60 percent did. Today over half of all mothers of children one year and younger are in the labor force.
Working mothers are also working longer hours than they were twenty years ago. In The Overworked Лmerican, Juliet Schor argues that Americans are working “an extra month” each year compared to twenty years ago. They take shorter vacations, have fewer paid or even unpaid days off, and work longer hours. According to a 1992 national survey, the average worker spends 45 hours a week on the job, including overtime and commuting time.17
In truth, die private realm to which соnservalives turn for a solution to the care deficit itself has many problems that call for care. Many in need of care are caught between the hardened sensibility’ of a taxable middle class coping with a recession and government cuts, on the one hand, and fewer helping hands because of overstretched kin networks, on the other.