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August 2010, Week 5

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Sun, 29 Aug 2010 23:01:23 -0400
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90 Years After Suffrage, Impoverished Mothers 
Need Another Kind of Equality
By Michelle Chen
In These Times
August 27, 2010
http://www.inthesetimes.com/working/entry/6376/impoverished_mothers_need_another_kind_of_womens_equality1/

Just in time for Women's Equality Day, a new study has
dampened the anniversary of women's suffrage 90 years
ago by highlighting the despair of women in poverty
today.

The study by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute
decisively links depression, economic struggles, and
family well-being. The Washington Post explains,
"researchers reported that one in nine infants in
poverty had a mother with severe depression and that
such mothers typically breastfed their children for
shorter periods than other mothers who were poor."

Researcher Olivia Golden told the Post, "A mom who is
too sad to get up in the morning won't be able to take
care of all of her child's practical needs," including
constructive play with the child that fosters
intellectual development.

The recession has unleashed the assault of poverty
across the country: a recent analysis by the Center for
American Progress and Women's Voices, Women Vote shows
that economic instability disproportionately impacts
unmarried women. Depression is a reasonable response for
the countless single moms who have to worry constantly
about where next month's rent will come from.

These findings affirm previous research on the
psychologically corrosive impacts of family poverty.
Mental health advocacy groups have reported that in the
midst of the recession, unemployment and pay cuts raise
the risk of severe mental illness.

An in-depth study on economic mobility by the Pew
Economic Mobility Project found that children growing up
in high-poverty neighborhoods tend to face similarly
bleak prospects throughout their lives. For black
families condemned to these economic barriers, all the
rosy assumptions underlying the American Dream were
turned on their head:

Neighborhood poverty alone accounts for a greater
portion of the black-white downward mobility gap than
the effects of parental education, occupation, labor
force participation, and a range of other family
characteristics combined.

The Urban Institute study adds a psychological dimension
to the vicious cycle of economic distress. The study
comes out the same week as a survey of survivors of
Hurricane Katrina that links the trauma of the disaster,
economic hardship and children's emotional disturbance.
Children's mental health is also shaped by their
parents' emotional turmoil as they struggle to cope.
Whether or not the Gulf Coast recovers economically, a
young child who has already spent his most formative
years in a landscape of hopelessness (now doubly
devastated by the BP oil spill) may never heal from the
the scars of Katrina.

The racism embedded in these dilemmas rubs salt in the
wound. Sociologist Francis Adeola of the University of
New Orleans explained in a 2009 article that disaster-
related mental health vulnerabilities loom larger for
blacks than for whites, from depression and anxiety to
family conflict.

Among the women studied by the Urban Institute, the Post
reports, "The severely depressed group was 44 percent
white, 30 percent black and 21 percent Hispanic." These
mothers were also at high risk of domestic violence and
drug abuse. Such crises often entangle poor families of
color in the child welfare or criminal justice system.

What makes this research especially stunning and ironic
on Women's Equality Day is that it shows what feminism
hasn't done since women won the right to vote. So few
poor mothers will see reason to celebrate civic
citizenship in the absence of economic citizenship.

NOW celebrated Women's Equality Day by calling for a
revitalization of the Equal Rights Amendment, which
would build upon the 19th Amendment with a full
constitutional guarantee of equality before the law. The
ACLU and the AFL-CIO renewed their call for legislation
to close age-old gender wage gap underlying women's
economic marginalization. Activists continue to push for
incremental state-level reforms as well, like paid sick
leave to accommodate working mothers' family
responsibilities.

Ninety years on, equal access to the ballot still hasn't
yielded fairness in the workforce. Although the women's
vote marked modern progress, modern women seeking to
overturn economic patriarchy today need something on the
order of a revolution.

_____________________________________________

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