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Two-Income Families Mother Must Work to Pay the Taxes

Main Story: Working Wives Needed by Middle Class in Massachusetts

By John Pike
Reprinted July 8, 2002

This article is reprinted from the September 1999 issue of MassNews.

Mariann Cannizzaro, 36, who is married with two boys aged five and seven, told Massachusetts News she works full-time in Concord because of financial reasons. "I would not work if I did not need to. The tradeoff would be to not have children at all," she said.

"It is difficult," continues Cannizzaro, standing outside the Burlington Mall. "I do not get to relax until 9 or 9:30 p.m. Weekends are now spent doing household chores."

With her children often in day-care, Cannizzaro says she feels she is missing out on something and sometimes feels guilty not attending some of her children's activities. "It is difficult knowing they are being raised by others to some extent."

She says she "spent a tremendous amount of time researching, interviewing, and inspecting day-care providers. It is a very difficult decision who to choose. It is hard to trust someone with your kids."

Industrial State Has Vanished

Although Mariann Cannizzaro spent $12,000/year on day-care while she worked in Concord, she earned enough money in her job to help with finances, but a second income does not always add up to a profit for some couples.

The great majority of married women who are working outside the home are doing so for economic reasons, including the increased cost of living and the extra burden of taxes, not because they desire to do so, says Caryl Rivers. He is a Boston University journalism professor and co-author of the book She Works/He Works. The industrial state from the 1950s has vanished so that most women need to work to help pay expenses. The mothers are also working to save for college tuition and provide health benefits.

Sixty-one percent of married women, with at least one child under the age of six, work outside the home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 42 percent work full-time. In 1970, only 28 percent had jobs. In 1960, only 6 percent of married mothers with children under 15 worked outside the home.

There has been a dramatic change since the 1950s when very few women raising small children believed they had to work to defray family expenses. The U.S. at that time enjoyed great prosperity as American manufacturing was peaking.

Median family incomes have not risen since the early 1970s, according to Professor Lester Thurow of MIT; yet the average wife is working 15 more weeks a year than she did back then, he says.

In the pre-industrial age the whole family worked at home, including the children. Only after the industrial revolution in the early 19th century did the concept develop that men would work outside the home.

During World War II many women worked in the factories producing weapons because the men were overseas fighting.

However, it wasn't until after World War II that "modern home conveniences," which were possible due to electricity, made it practical for many women to consider working outside the home.

85% Prefer Not to Work

According to a 1996 poll commissioned by the Independent Women's Forum, 85 percent of all women would prefer not to work full-time while raising children.

Janet Parshall, who is a spokesperson for the Family Research Council of Washington D.C. and also hosts a national daily radio talk show, told Massachusetts News it is not beneficial for children to have both parents working full-time while raising kids up to the age of five. "Kids do not want more things. They want parents. The fact that anybody can take care of kids has not been the 'way' through history. It is a myth that there is a difference between quantity and quality time."

Parshall continues, "The abandonment of children has created a sense they do not belong. The kids feel disconnected from their parents."

The kids are involved in day-care bonds with the workers, said Parshall. If they are handed from one day-care provider to another, this contributes to a disconnect.

The children involved in the recent high school killing in Colorado created and joined a group, the Trench Coat Mafia, so they could have a sense of belonging, she says.

Professor Rivers says studies have shown that for children up to the age of three-and-one-half, there is an attachment, a bond between the mother and infant even if the child has been raised with extensive day-care. "If the day-care is good, the kids will do well. If it is substandard, they will not. If a two-earner family lifestyle is done well, with the parents cooperating, the effect on the children can be beneficial," says Rivers. Factors such as flexibility and enough time in work schedules and the attitude of the husband can play a role in the success of raising children. "If the mix is good, the children will do well."

With the new kind of information-based economy we now have, says Rivers, it can be better for two-earner families because not one single pattern will fit all jobs and lifestyles.
And with technological advances such as cellular phones and high-speed modems, contact with children by working parents can be easier than before, says Rivers.

Amy Steede, 30, of Waltham is the mother of two-year-old Alyssa and works full time outside the home. She says Alyssa is a "happy and well-behaved kid" and her husband's irregular work schedule helps with raising their child because he often works when she is not. Alyssa is only in day-care eight days a month and her husband contributes to parental responsibilities.

Taking care of Alyssa works out well, says Steede.

Still she would prefer to stay at home all the time to raise her child but maintains a job for financial reasons.

Tend to Spend More

Although Mariann Cannizzaro spent $12,000 last year on day-care while she worked in Concord, she earned enough money in her job to help with finances, but a second income does not always add up to a profit for some couples. Spouses who do the math might find out additional expenses outweigh the pay.

In many cases, couples who earn more with a second income begin to spend more instead of using the extra cash for necessities or increasing their savings.

Before too long, they are hit with a double whammy. First, they find themselves on a reward-guilt cycle: "Because I worked so hard, I am entitled," they rationalize, only to feel guilty later, says Linda Kelley, who has written about the pitfalls of a second income in Two Incomes and Still Broke? It's Not How Much You Make, It's How Much You Keep.

Each family needs to weigh how much a second paycheck provides once they deduct job-related expenses. Some common costs include a baby sitter or day-care center, a professional wardrobe, higher dry cleaning costs, lunch and coffee break money and transportation to and from work, which may involve more than monthly parking and gas, according to Kelley. You may have to add in interest on a car loan, more auto insurance, license plates, maintenance and repairs, she says.

But two-income families also need to consider other expenses and effects of that second career. A second job may produce more stress, less time together, more expensive take-home meals if no one is home to cook and might increase the amount of money paid in taxes.

More stress is one factor Cannizzaro is aware of.

Cannizzaro says at times raising children and working outside the home can be "hectic and stressful, which may then get passed off to the kids."

"In the 1950s life may have been less stressful and more balanced," she says.

"Weekends were for fun. If you do not need two incomes, then you should absolutely not do it.

"There is a perception that stay-at-home mothers are lazy," she says. "There is a lot of work in raising a kid. If women today are supposed to have a choice, then there should not be career pressure put on them by society."

There is also a basic economic lesson of marital life: The Internal Revenue Service taxes a second income at a higher rate then the first. As a result, it may not be financially worthwhile for a second person to work.

The federal marriage tax, now being debated in Congress, forced 21 million families in 1996 to pay nearly $1,400 in extra taxes simply because they were married. Since marriage combines two tax units into one, a married couple's combined income can mean their joint tax liability is higher than the sum of what their individual tax bills as single filers would be.

Supporters of the marriage tax argue that married couples most often have lower household costs because they share some expenses.

The main problem, however, is that 40% of the family income now goes to the government as compared to the 5% that was taxed back in 1950.