Advice on Balancing Work and Life Could Use More Balance

Catherine Rampell

Catherine Rampell

“‘I never miss a baseball game,’ said Ms. Uttech, uttering a statement that is a fantasy for millions of working mothers (and fathers) nationwide,” New York Times economic reporter Catherine Rampell (7/8/13) reported.

Sara Uttech, a mom from Wisconsin who is white, middle-class and works full-time as her family’s primary breadwinner, is the subject of a recent New York Times feature used to kick off Rampell’s series on balancing work and life:

Ms. Uttech, like many working mothers, is a married college graduate and her job running member communications for an agricultural association helps put her family near the middle of the nation’s income curve.

The article, and Rampell’s subsequent blog posts (7/8/13, 7/9/13, 7/10/13) responding to criticisms about the piece, does not discuss the many other working mothers who are not married, do not have college degrees and are not members of the white middle-class.

One of the most important facts left out while discussing breadwinners? Of female breadwinners in America, 63 percent are single moms with a median family income of just $23,000. Mostly young and without a college degree, they are also disproportionately black or Latina (Pew Research, 5/29/13).

“There is only so much I could squeeze into one article about a complicated topic,” she blogged a day after the story’s publication (7/9/13). True–but her simplified story ended up following the well-worn path of discussing mothers in the workforce by excising women of color or women in poverty from the equation.

In These TimesYvonne Yen Liu (7/10/13) responded to Rampell’s piece:

Work-life balance has been an area of growing concern as daughters of the New Left have grown up, gotten jobs and had families. Books such as Lean In, by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, advise women that they can have it all–family and success at work–if they take more risks in their careers.

Unfortunately, mothers working in low-wage jobs, many of them women of color, don’t have the option to step up into risky ventures with high opportunities for growth. As government support for children and families have shrunk since the 1980s, many women have been pushed into low-paying service jobs and can barely keep step with the economic demands placed on them.

Rampell’s article focused on Uttech, who persuaded her boss to allow her a more flexible work hours, while the blogs discussed gaining more flexible hours by transitioning to self-employment, working part-time or sharing household chores with your spouse.

But here is the hitch: Persuading your boss requires a job where you are not easily replaceable (read: a high-paying job). Self-employment requires capital (read: disposable personal wealth). Working part-time and relying on a spouse for help around the house requires someone else co-supporting your family (read: married with a dual income).

Hardly valuable advice for 63 percent of female breadwinners.