Thursday, March 14, 2013

Can We Please Search for the Root Cause? - Single Mother Edition

   The title of this post is based on the idea of root cause analysis that shows up in engineering and perhaps other professions as well.
Root cause analysis practice tries to solve problems by attempting to identify and correct the root causes of events, as opposed to simply addressing their symptoms. By focusing correction on root causes, problem recurrence can be prevented.
   It would seem this concept gets it's name from weeds. With weeds, if you only remove what can be seen at the surface and you don't remove the roots, the weed will grow back. The same concept generally holds true with other life situations — if you only try to fix the problems that can be seen at the surface and don't address what is causing the problem, the problem will keep coming back.

   Today, I wish to talk about single mothers. This is due to a conversation that I had recently with my mother. She has had it in her head (and so does my father) that women get pregnant so that they can get on welfare. First, before I even get into looking at the root causes, this is such bullshit! Additionally, it frightens and disappoints me a bit when I hear such crap from my parents because this is conservative rhetoric. It's not a far cry from the ideas of 47-49% of the country being "moochers", which is bullshit* I addressed in part back in December. I also addressed a bit of this bullshit about single mothers then as well. I'll quote what I said before, bolding the part about single mothers:
   Take some time to grab a calculator if you need, and let's do some math! Currently, federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Let's say you work 40 hours per week at that wage. In a year's time, you will make $7.25/hour * 40 hours/week * 52 weeks/year which amounts to a whopping $15,080/year. Apparently, this is near the 2012 poverty guideline for a household of two, but... Damn. That's not a lot of money. And what if you were a single parent making that wage? You'd be living in poverty and you would qualify for that dole money. Similarly, if we talk about people who are getting by on unemployment, I have heard the average unemployment benefits are just under $300 per week. At a full year, that again is only about $15,000. Who's going to be chilling on a hammock making that?
Likewise, I find it equally as stupid to suggest that women intentionally get pregnant and/or keep their children that result merely so they can live the "high-life" on welfare since that "high-life" does not exist.

   Getting back to the main topic, my mother's "solution" to this single-mother problem seemed to be that single mothers should give their children up for adoption. This was a bit bothersome first in how the point was so casually announced by my mother. It was as though this should be an easy decision. Perhaps it's easy for a woman who herself never had to make such a choise. For some reason, I don't suspect it would have actually been that easy if she had been in such a situatation. Second, it doesn't address the root causes. My mother fails to ask questions like "Why do single women get pregnant?" As suggestd, she seems to think the answer to "Why do single mothers go on welfare?" is that they are lazy mooches who want free gifts. (She also fails to consider the impact on foster homes.) I was able, though, to get the conversation redirected to those root causes, which involves the obstacles that society has set up in women's paths. I'll be going over these obstacles in this list below:
  1. Contraception and Sex Education — The very first obstacle is society's resistance to give women the tools they need to prevent pregnancy in the first place. This resistance primarily comes from the religious right. My wife, Amy, picked up a fundamentalist magazine from her place of employment that is somewhat refreshingly (though also frightening) blunt about why this resistance exists:
    With increased access to birth control, and the easy availability of abortion on demand, sexual activity has increased in the last few decades, as men and women alike have come to believe they can avoid the consequences of that activity.**
    If this doesn't make complete sense, I'll help clarify — Many denominations of Christianity disapprove of people having sex particularly outside of marriage and sometimes even within marriage if the couple is not having sex for purely reproductive purposes. When a single woman gets pregnant, that is proof that she was having sex. This allows whatever church to which she may belong to shun her***. But if a woman has access to contraception and proper sex education, then it is less likely she will end up pregnant and the church will not have the proof they need. So they oppose contraception and sex education.
    Having a society that opperates this way makes it more difficult for women to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
  2. Abortion — Similar to #1, churches oppose abortion because it allows women to not suffer the "consequences" of church-unapproved sex. Also similar to #1, this makes it harder on women to end an unwanted pregnancy.
  3. Low Wages — Already discussed above. It is bullshit to say that women get pregnant so that they can be on welfare. The reality is that welfare may seem like a better option because jobs don't pay worth shit. Not to mention who's going to look after the child while the mother is at work? So you have to subtract out child care costs. Let's please not make these stupid accusations until there are better incentives for people to work, shall we? If women had better incentives to work, you may find out that they will then want to work.
   So let's, as a society, work on these issues and give women better choices. You'll likely find that things will improve with such changes.

* I cannot help but do a bit of chest-thumping as well. I was addressing the minimum wage problem in this country before Obama brought it up in the State of the Union. Also, I want to take some extra time to say that I am pleased that attention is being payed to the issue. But let's not stop at $9. Also, let's try to start fixing our tip system for restaurants. Preferably, I think we should be like Europe where no such system exists.

** Tomorrow's World; "Sex: Is It Sin?"; Page 11. Edit: Oops! It would seem I forgot to include an issue would be an issue published around the time of this posting, so near March 2013.

*** There are at least two purposes to shunning. One is to make the woman herself feel bad that she then feels the need to ask the church's fictional Jesus for forgiveness, which has to be done at that church. In other words, the shunning has the goal of keeping her in the church. The second purpose is to keep the other parishioners in church. The pregnant woman serves as an example of what will supposedly happen when one strays from the teachings of the church. Since being shunned is an undesirable outcome, people will keep coming to church to avoid such an outcome.

   I feel I must end by pointing out that in previous discussions with my mother, she claimed that more acceptance of single mothers is leading to more of such pregnancies. This, too, is bullshit. Pregnancy rates have been going down for quite some time. Why could that be? (Could it be the result of improved access to contraception and sex education?)

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