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National NOW Times >> Fall 2003 >> Article

All Mothers Need Support Balancing Work and Family

NOW activists demand respect and support for low-income mothers and their families.
NOW activists demand respect and support for low-income mothers and their families. Photo by Lisa Bennett

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles on issues affecting women and welfare.

We all know that mothers work. The unpaid caregiving done by women should be revered as one of our nation's most valuable assets. Much of the health and welfare of our children, the elderly and those with medical needs depends on the unpaid work of women, many of whom also juggle workplace responsibilities.

A new Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) study found that less than one-fourth of all mothers are out of the workforce completely. Most mothers work for pay and spend a great deal of their time perfecting their juggling act. Half of those working are employed either part of the year, part-time, or both.

The average workweek for mothers working year-round is 38 hours. For all mothers nationwide who range from no paid work to full-time paid work, the average number of hours of paid work per week is 24.5.

These statistics show us that most mothers are balancing their jobs and their families by working outside the home for less than 40 hours per week. Yet conservative think-tankers and many in Congress believe that mothers receiving public assistance should not be accorded the option of balancing work and individual family needs.

The recently-passed House of Representatives welfare re-authorization bill mandates a 40 hour week with severe family sanctions if the woman fails to live up to this requirement. In the other chamber, the Senate Finance Committee is proposing to raise work requirements for mothers with very young children from 20 to 37 hours and from 30 to 37 hours for the rest of the mothers.

The extra Senate requirements, while still less that the 40-hours demanded by the House and by George W. Bush, will be almost impossible for women to meet without additional support for childcare, healthcare, housing, transportation and additional schooling and training.

More information about welfare reform is available online. You can also read IWPR's full report online.

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