Household Incomes and Humble Pie

(Posted 10:51 AM PST, October 11, 2006)

A recently released study by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that homeowners in every state in the union except Alaska spent more of their incomes on housing costs last year than at the start of the decade.

Who needed to read a survey to guess that? Not me. Hey, it's common knowledge that most two-income families of the '00s bring home less money than dear ol' dad did all by himself in the '60s. This, despite the fact that over 60% of all women between the ages of 25 and 50 are now working out of the home.

I guess that means less time for the pleasure (or pain, depending on your point of view) of preparing the nightly meal.

No longer is the goal to keep up with the Joneses; now the Smiths, Browns, and Ortegas, Goldsteins and McDougals have learned that there are some things we can do without. We don't have to max out our account at Nordy's every thirty days, or buy a new car each year; and it's not a prerequisite for our children to experience Europe before their 18th birthdays. We just want to make enough money to keep a roof over their heads. The local homeless shelter is crowded enough as it is.

Women who first entered the workforce in the late '60s, the '70s and the '80s believed that the business world was theirs for the taking. This was reinforced by real life role models like cookie queen Debbie Fields and make-up maven Mary Kay, and was reinforced by television caricatures like Mary Tyler Moore's Mary Richards, and Joan Collins' Alexis Carrington.

Today, some of these same women have given up on the concept of "a career". They've realized that the personal sacrifices — coupled with knocks on the head against glass ceilings, a dearth of mentors, and sexual harassment in the workplace — weren't always worth it.

Work is a wonderful ethic, but it would be nice if all of us, both men and women, worked only because it gave us pleasure. Unfortunately, most of us work out of financial necessity; if we don't, there will be no new sneakers for the kids, let alone health care benefits, college tuition money, or retirement funds. Take into account the bites our paychecks get from taxes, inflation and the gasoline loans we might all be taking out soon, and the notion of women working for pin money is a thing of the past.

This sets up a situation where today's working woman is called upon to be Superwoman: broom, baby and bottle in one hand, and briefcase in the other.

And recent surveys show that the Age of Enlightenment — when our spouses wake up to our plight and pitch in with the laundry, vacuuming, or making meals — is still far off.

When that day comes, I'll make the time to to cook a very celebratory meal—or at least flip a coin with him to see who gets to burn it.

No Martha Stewart, I,


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