Mothers Bear the Brunt of Biases

Contempt for impoverished women, with children, fuels poverty

Mother in a homeless shelter. Photo Diane Nilan

Among the social ills that need fixing — unbridled disdain for women, specifically mothers in poverty who have (gasp!) children. This spilled out on my Facebook thread about minimum wage jobs. The catalyst for the bile — my brother. (Sorry, bro, but when you post on my FB page, you’ve gone public.)

She is 28 and has 6 kids?
She has created her own ‘constant struggle’ by having too many kids.

I tried to warn him. You picked the wrong person to have this disagreement with, brother. With over 3 decades working with families experiencing homelessness and poverty, including for the past 14 years chronicling their stories as part of my work for my nonprofit, HEAR US Inc., I’ve heard and seen too much suffering to let my brother’s cluelessness slide.

The CNBC news story focused on how the minimum wage doesn’t begin to cut it for families trying to survive. This dilemma pits profitable corporations employing slave labor techniques to keep costs down and earnings up against, well, the powerless, often impoverished mothers.

Many opponents of the bill say they’re concerned raising the minimum wage to $15 may cause significant job loss. A report from the Congressional Budget Office released last week found that a mandatory $15 minimum wage may eliminate as many as 3.7 million jobs across the U.S. because companies will look to cut costs. Additionally, the report projected that real income — the compensation and purchasing power you have after taking into account inflation — would fall by about $16 billion for families above the poverty line, which would reduce their total income by about 0.1% due, in part, to consumers potentially paying higher prices. (What it’s like trying to live on minimum wage — it’s a ‘constant struggle’ Megan Leonhardt, CNBC, 7//18/19)

These same opponents include elected officials that seem willing to ignore the juxtaposition between increased poverty and homelessness and the lack of adequate wages. It’s been 10 years since Congress raised minimum wage. (For the record, I’m a proponent of LIVING WAGE. More info on this, and a calculating tool)

No one can argue the fact of skyrocketing costs for housing, food, medical care, child care, transportation, etc. Whatever possible downfalls imagined by naysayers, other computations indicate massive improvements if wages are boosted.

The EPI estimates that the benefit could be even wider, calculating that 33.5 million workers would see increased wages. Of those workers, the National Women’s Law Center estimates that one in three working women would directly receive a raise. And 43% of single mothers in the U.S. would see an increased income for their families, the EPI calculates.

The mother in this story, with her 6 children, struggles to survive. They’re homeless, for now doubled up with her mother. No imagination needed to know that this arrangement is fragile.

The other aspect of this argument that gets short shrift — the fact that homelessness, hunger and poverty are horrible for babies in their most critical stages of development. So, brother and those “thinking” like you do, why should we guarantee that babies, as they get older, will struggle to be productive, self-sustaining adults?

My friends at Schoolhouse Connection point out that extensive research confirms that experiencing homelessness as a child has devastating impact as the child gets older.

The findings make painfully clear that housing alone is insufficient to prevent and “end” youth homelessness, and that addressing youth homelessness alone, without explicit connections and fervent attention to family homelessness, will result in continued homelessness for all populations.

Many of my HEAR US videos focus on families doubled up due to hardship and housing loss. You can watch to your heart’s content here.

Stress spills over from mother to baby. Photo Diane Nilan

To cut to the chase, here are my theories about why we have ignored the need for living wage employment and access to affordable housing, child care, and medical care:

> Such “luxuries” would empower women, freeing them to do something other than scramble to survive.

> It would tilt the power from the minority of monied males who have their thumbs on the scales of justice, upending the age-old scheme of keeping women in their place.

Homeless shelters, and homelessness…no place for babies. Photo Diane Nilan

Lest you think I’m a little harsh, I’m mild compared to the women that rightfully unleashed their fury on my brother.

Well I still think somebody who has 6 kids by the time they are 28 years old should probably reevaluate her decisions. (brother Chris)

I’ve not had children, so I thought it appropriate to invite their comments to explain why my brother might be a little, um, unenlightened. After all, that’s why my national nonprofit organization is named “HEAR US.”

Here’s something you can do to reduce family homelessness —

We need to change the way HUD defines homelessness, for many reasons, found here. Bipartisan legislation, the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HR 2001), will push HUD, and Congress, to recognize that many more families (and individuals) are homeless and not receiving any assistance because they don’t fit HUD’s extremely narrow definition.

When you go to www.helphomelesskidsnow.org you can take quick action — telling your Congressperson that the HCYA needs to pass. NOW!

Motherhood — it’s an endangered species unless we take a stand for women struggling, like hard-working, underpaid and scorned mothers everywhere, to provide for their kids.

Thanks, brother, for inspiring my post. I can only hope you read and learn from it.

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store