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Against the Poor



  Winter 2007


Mothernomics - The Economics of Motherhood

"Unpaid female caregiving is not only the life-blood of families, it is the very heart of the economy" Ann Crittenden, The Price of Motherhood (2001)

 A university text book on economics by Prentice-Hall (1996) states: "The rewards of a market system are linked to productivity..." One would think then that since women produce the entire human species, they would be the richest people in the world.

However, 70% of those living in abject poverty in the world are women (UN Development Programme,1999). Poverty is also prevalent for women here at home. "As soon as a woman has a child, her income plummets..." writes Marika Morris, from the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (2001). Information from Statistics Canada reveals that two thirds of minimum wage earners are women. 56% of female single parents are poor (compared to 24% for male). And 49% of single women over 65 are poor.

"If you can't afford kids, don't have 'em" is a common refrain used to justify this situation. In an article titled "Poverty is Voluntary", Fraser Institute researcher Fred McMahon advocates ending welfare because it "subsidize[s] bad choices." He writes, "The end of welfare would eliminate the two main routes for the 'inheritance' of poverty-- the welfare culture and single-mother families." (Vancouver Sun, Aug. 9, 01)

This view hinges on the assumption that having a child is a personal choice and responsibility. It implies that society does not need children. Therefore it has no obligation to provide for their needs or the needs of those who care for the them.  However, a closer examination reveals that the opposite is true. And evidence of this is appearing not in feminist journals, but in daily newspapers.     

"Unto Canada, too few children are born" is the headline of a David Frum newspaper column in the National Post (Dec. 22, 04).      

"Atlantic Canada will face a 'long, slow and torturous decline' unless its population begins growing"(Globe & Mail, March 27, 04).   

"If we are not producing more citizens who will ultimately consume, that is a problem," (Alan Mirabelli, Vanier Institute of the Family, Globe & Mail, Aug. 12, 03).

"Until we can produce the labour force we need to remain competitive in the world, we'll have to import it." (Victoria Times Colonist editorial, Sept. 9, 03.)

Not having children might be financially wise individually. But when the desired goal of society --as stated repeatedly by leaders of all stripes-- is for unlimited economic growth, then it becomes a massive disaster. 

Feminists have pointed out that it is the so-called 'non-productive' work that is the prerequisite for all other work. This idea is at first hard to grasp. Unpaid work is like air: it is everywhere, essential for life, but is unnoticed and unvalued, unless it disappears.

But shouldn't mothers just be happy they get paid in hugs? That would work if you could also pay your rent in hugs, or if other people were paid in hugs. But as Ann Crittenden states: "Virtues and sacrifices, when expected of one group of people and not of everyone become the mark of an underclass."

Society has a real problem. Those doing essential and beneficial work like raising children are financially penalized. At the same time harmful industries reap financial rewards because they are considered 'productive' such as the tobacco, alcohol and junk food industries. It is time to toss the productivity rule into the dustbin of history. And who better to do the tossing than those who do the cleaning.

The idea that your "productiveness" determines your right to a decent life is clearly outdated. But it is not only mothers who suffer from the "unproductive" label. As automation replaces human labour with machines, more people fall into the "unproductive", "unpaid" and "poverty" category.

This leaves us with four options:        

• The Luddite solution - smash technology because it robs people's means to "make a living";


• The Ecocide solution - increase consumption to create more jobs;

• The War on the Poor solution - accept that people deemed "unproductive" by conventional economics are left to live and die in poverty;

• Or, the only just and realistic option, implement a universal guaranteed livable income (GLI).

A GLI is environmentally and economically feasible and will create productive choice for people and the planet. A GLI is a goal that addresses the lives of those most devastated by the current death-cycle economy. And it would simultaneously address determinants of health, social justice, economic democracy and replacing the punitive welfare system.


The evidence for a strong argument for a Guaranteed Livable Income is mounting:


1) A GLI is necessary to stop the killing of poor people (genocide) and more babies and children will continue to die from easily preventable poverty-related causes despite the obvious fact they can't take paid jobs and yet need income with which to consume.


2) As long as money is used as means of exchange, everyone needs enough to consume to prevent businesses from going bankrupt.


3) Without a GLI, more women will have no choice but to not have children (and all non-market activities including all types of unpaid care work and volunteering will dwindle).


4) Without a GLI, increasing ecocide is inevitable because every citizen will have no choice but to produce products regardless of the impact on life as whole and on the planet.


Cindy L'Hirondelle,Coordinator

Women’s Economic Justice Project

P.O. Box 8484, Victoria, B.C. V8W 3S1; (250) 383-7322 Email: swag@ pacificcoast.net

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