In response to:
The Lower Depths from the August 12, 1982 issue
To the Editors:
In his review of The Underclass, Andrew Hacker asserts that, “Women who have wage-earning husbands are not expected to take jobs; even now not many with young children have full-time employment.”
In fact, the rise in two-earner families has been one of the most dramatic demographic trends of the past decade. Labor Department statistics show that married couples with children under age eighteen, in which both spouses were earners, numbered about 15 million, or 60 percent, in 1980. Only 7 million, or 28 percent, still conformed to the pattern where the father had earnings, but not the mother. A striking 48 percent of married women with children under age six were in the labor force in March 1981, according to the same Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, and the rate rose to 62.5 percent for those with school-age children. The pattern holds true for Black and Hispanic couples with children, except that in those families even more of the mothers work.
Mr. Hacker was apparently trying to make the point that welfare mothers, substituting government support for that from a husband, are conforming to a social norm which calls for married women with children to stay at home. Even if this norm were still operative, which is questionable, it would seem more appropriate to compare the situation of welfare mothers with that of divorced women with children. Among this group, in the overall population, 78 percent work including 83 percent of those with children six to seventeen and two-thirds of those with preschoolers. Here the norm seems clear. Whether or not women with husbands should work, those without husbands are expected to support themselves and their minor children…and they do so overwhelmingly.
The Demographic Institute, Ithaca, New York