Monday, June 2, 2008

Nan Mooney's "(Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents"

Nan Mooney is the author of I Can’t Believe She Did That: Why Women Betray Other Women at Work and My Racing Heart: The Passionate World of Thoroughbreds and the Track. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate, The Daily News, Utne Reader, and other publications.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Class, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book broaches one of the many financial pressures faced by today’s professional middle class — the rising cost of child care.

“’It’s been a nightmare,’ says Allegra, a freelance copy editor earning $30,000 a year, about finding decent, affordable care for her two children both of whom have been in day care since they were a few months old.”

Child care today costs between $4,000 and $14,000 a year. Add that to the escalating costs of student loans, health care, and housing and the fact that middle class wages have remained stagnant for the past five years, and you understand why so many of us are struggling. It’s no longer enough to have gone to college or even graduate school, to have worked hard in a career that we hope has some meaning beyond just a paycheck.

With raising kids, as with most everything else, the government — despite trumpeting its support for family values — doesn’t lend much help. Back to page 99:

“Though they’ve certainly created this middle-class time and money crunch, neither the government nor private employers have stepped in to help relieve it. For the most part today’s families still have the same social support and protection designed for single-income, dual-parent households of the ‘50s, programs that assume one parent is at home to tend to illnesses or other emergency situations or to jump into the workplace in a pinch.”

Unlike nearly every other industrialized country, the United States guarantees no paid parental leave. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act grants 12 week unpaid leave to those who working at companies with fifty or more employees. If there are pregnancy complications or health complications with the baby, if childcare arrangements fall through, we risk losing our jobs – and health benefits – in order to protect our families. Surely that’s not a choice any civilized country asks its citizens to make.

In writing (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Class I spoke to over a hundred individuals and families. Many of them feared they wouldn’t be as financially comfortable as their middle class and even working class parents. They knew any unexpected financial blow, from job loss to a medical crisis, could tip them over the edge. They were confused and scared.

To them and to everyone else in a similar position, I have two messages. First, you’re not alone. And second, you have a choice. Start pressing for change. Vote, campaign, teach your children about money and teach them to value other things more. We have a right to reject this value system that has embraced our country, the one that says the rich get richer and everyone else is left to tough it out on their own.
Learn more about the book and author at Nan Mooney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue