One of our local TV stations shared this video on YouTube.
Their comment read:
This Mother’s Day video is a heartwarming story of love, sacrifice and what it means to be a mom. This tribute shows the multiple perspectives of motherhood: from the parent and the child, and it’s our hope that it tugs at your heart strings. This is a tribute to all moms! Happy Mother’s Day from all of us at Denver7.
While some may see this as sweet and endearing, it’s actually anything but that. It’s horrifying and tragic.
First, the Dad (or other partner) seems to be absent. It could be because of divorce or death, or the partner could be a deployed service-member or on some sort of long-term business trip. Either way, the two are on their own and managing on opposing time schedules. They’ve also been doing this long enough that it has become routine.
Not Poor – Yet
The house is a pleasant looking, stand-alone property. They have a dog and trendy furniture and appliances, so they’re not dirt poor. Perhaps the Mom won the house in the divorce, or her partner left them with a level of comfort when they died. If her partner is out of town related to their job, the family could be on good footing to maintain their status of living.
But other evidence implies that they are dealing with significant financial troubles. Here is Mom’s schedule:
- 4:30 am – Wake up, prepare for the day, chores
- 7:00 am – Job #1.
- 2:30 pm – Home again. We don’t know how long her commute is, but Job #1 probably ends around 2:00, making it a 6 hour/day part-time position. (Most jobs don’t pay for the lunch hour anymore, so 7:00-2:00 is 6 working hours with a 1 hour unpaid break.)
- 3:00 – Off to Job #2.
- 10:05 – Home again. Again, depending on her commute, it could be a 5 to 6 hour shift.
Job #2 is the real teller. She’s not a restaurateur, she’s not a manager, and it’s not a volunteer, help-the-community role. She’s a waitress/busser. And based on her expressions on her shift, she isn’t working there because she wants to. She’s doing it because she has to.
Her income from Job #1 (and any income from the partner that may or may not exist) cannot meet her expenses by itself. Therefore she needs another job to cover the bases, one that will work around her day job. If she wants to keep that nice house with the nice furniture and nice appliances, she has to take a crappy, after-hours job and never see her kid during the week.
This does not sound like a family that is financially secure. It sounds like one that is just holding on.
The Low Cost of Women’s Labor
Food service and retail are the most available positions for the swing shift, the working period somewhere between mid-afternoon and midnight. Retail typically pays around minimum wage or a little above; but food service and hospitality are frequently paid below that, relying on tips to make up the difference. It is no coincidence that these positions are significantly filled by women. According to the Department of Labor1:
- Almost 90% of housekeepers and maids are women
- 73% of cashiers are women
- 70% of restaurant servers are women
- 63.5% of fast food workers are women
- 56.6% of the service industry overall are women
Women are more likely to accept these low-paying jobs for many reasons including social expectations, discrimination in education and/or hiring, fear of harassment in certain fields, or sheer desperation. Women who have children or aging family members to take care of can’t afford to wait through a three-tiered interview process for a salaried position. They need a job that they can start yesterday. So even highly overqualified women will apply at a nearby Applebee’s or Target that will allow them to flex their schedule around their family’s needs.
Notice that Video Mom’s Job #1 is a part-time position. Why does she have a part-time administrative job? It’s not because her schedule doesn’t allow for it – she goes to Job #2 just a half-hour after she gets home from Job #1. If she had a full-time job, it would free up her evenings for her son.
Part-time positions are cheaper for employers to fill. They allow employers to deny employees benefits such as healthcare, disability, retirement plans, and paid time off. According to the National Women’s Law Center2:
Part-time employees are especially likely to be female and earn low wages. Millions of those in part-time jobs work part time not because they want to, but because they cannot get full-time work. … Part-time employees frequently make less per hour for the same work, lack access to important workplace benefits, are denied promotion opportunities, and are subject to abusive scheduling practices.
There is no legal definition of part-time, but it is generally considered to be less than 35 hours per week. A person can work two 34 hour/week part-time jobs, totaling 68 working hours/week, with no benefits and minimal stability or chances for advancement. Compare this to a person with a full-time job, working 40 hours/week, receiving insurance, 401(k), PTO, and promotion opportunities.
Put It All Together, And What Have You Got?
We have a woman who has been forced by undisclosed circumstances to work 11-12 hours a day. Because both of her jobs are part-time positions, she most likely does not receive any employee benefits. Therefore she has to work even harder to be financially prepared for any emergencies that may come up for her or her son.
Her son has had to grow up too soon. He looks to be about 9-10 years old, but he’s already mature enough to get ready in the morning on his own, do his homework, reheat his own meals, and take care of himself in the evenings.
And this situation is supposed to be “heartwarming”? It’s not heartwarming; it’s heartbreaking. It’s not sacrifice; it’s exploitation. Sacrifice is when you willing give up something. Exploitation is when you are forced to do something you wouldn’t normally do for someone else’s profit.
And it’s even more disturbing that this heartbreaking, exploitative situation has become so normalized that it is seen as beautiful instead of hideous.
I am not ok with that. I hope you’re not ok with it either. Elections are coming up, and I encourage you to use your vote to ensure that working families don’t have to live by the skin of their teeth. Vote for politicians who support fair labor practices, equal pay for women, workplace safety, and child welfare programs like pre-K and after-school enrichment. Your Mother deserves nothing less.