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Eaton: Stay-at-home parents need appreciation more than ever

Updated: May 19, 2012 8:19AM



My stay-at-home, eighth-grade-educated mother taught her five children to be fiscally responsible by often quoting Ben Franklin’s “A penny saved is a two pence dear.”

Today, homemakers understand Franklin’s value concept when they cut coupons and scour for cost savings rather than pay full price. It’s simple — bargain shoppers who avoid wasteful spending create more appreciation for every dollar they don’t spend. It’s a budgetary concept that could influence the way we view and appreciate frugal full-time moms.

Political pundits and cynical comedians are making headlines these days ridiculing homemakers such as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, for “never working a day” in her life and “not moving her (rear end) out of her house” to deal with a mean boss.

But full-time wives and mothers rarely are appreciated for what they contribute to their household, the state and the nation by preventing substantial spending of precious taxpayer dollars.

Illinois is in such financial ruin that even Democrats acknowledge the need to cut state spending. No state agency willingly gives up much in its budget, lest it admit its irrelevancy. So, lawmakers searching for budget cuts are hearing why they should be made elsewhere.

Anticipating a battle for budget dollars, Voices for Illinois Children began its public relations campaign several months ago, stressing the need for early childhood education funds and that the program had already suffered substantial cuts.

Between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2011, Illinois Kids Count 2012 reported that a combination of budget cuts and delayed payments to service providers resulted in 11,400 fewer children participating in preschool programs. The elimination of pre-kindergarten services for another 6,700 children is expected this year.

But think about the number of preschool children in Illinois who are cared for by full-time mothers or fathers, costing the state nothing, while they are taxed to pay for their neighbors’ preschools.

Voices for Illinois Children also voiced concern about state budget cuts that could reduce opportunities for at-risk youth.

“In 2011, high school graduation rates in Illinois were 89 percent for whites, 77 percent for Latinos and 74 percent for African-Americans. Sustained participation in high-quality after-school programs can contribute to improved academic performance and job-readiness, as well as better social-emotional and health outcomes for youth,” the Illinois Kids Count 2012 report says. “Yet state funding for Teen REACH after-school programs, which offer prevention-focused services for at-risk youth, has been cut by more than half since fiscal 2008.”

Other incalculable contributions that full-time moms make to the state: being there to encourage their kids when they come home from school, providing healthy and nutritional snacks and listening to their hopes and worries while maintaining a stable, loving environment. Fewer at-risk children come from homes with a full-time parent on hand.

Voices for Illinois Children agrees that poverty and its accompanying mental distress detract from the family setting.

“Most families in the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program are single-mother households, who have very high poverty rates — 38 percent in 2010,” Voices reported in 2012. “Last year, the income eligibility limit for the program, which enables low-income parents to maintain employment, was reduced from 200 percent to 185 percent of the poverty level. This new restriction could result in the loss of services for more than 9,000 children — potentially putting their parents’ jobs in jeopardy.”

The popular perception that only families who are financially well off are able to have one parent at home full time is really insulting to the many families who sacrifice a substantial second income for their children’s welfare. While they’re doing all they can to remain independent from state programs, at tremendous financial relief to the state, they’re subsidizing neighbors and tightening their families’ budgets at the same time.

The more stable the family, the less cost to the state, and the more those families should be encouraged and lauded for their approach.

However last year, the General Assembly hiked Illinois’ income tax and drained an average of a week’s salary. But even that higher tax won’t balance a state budget that’s been out of balance for three years while racking up roughly $8 billion in unpaid bills, not to mention a staggering pension debt.

Still, Voices for Illinois Children doesn’t want to hear about budget cuts.

“We must summon the political will to ensure that children are provided with the opportunities to develop their full potential, or we risk losing an entire generation of children — and jeopardizing our future work force,” said the organization’s president, Kathy Ryg.

“... Investing in opportunities for children now can help ensure the future well-being of everyone in the state.”

Funny. With simpler language, that’s exactly what my stay-at-home mom would have said, but her way wouldn’t cost the state a dime.

Fran Eaton is a Southland resident who co-founded and edits the conservative political blog illinoisreview.com.



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