Back from the Brink

THE PHRASE “POVERTY in America” still conjures up, for many of us, images of a homeless person begging on an urban street corner or a dilapidated shack in rural Appalachia. But a report this winter presents a very different picture of poverty in the U.S.: “a working mother dashing around getting ready in the morning, brushing her kid’s hair with one hand, and doling out medication to her own aging mother with the other.”

The study released in January by The Shriver Report, “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink,” examined the rates of financial insecurity among U.S. women. The report notes that the average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar the average man earns, and that closing this wage gap would cut the poverty rate in half for working women and their families.

A few years ago, I was at a global women’s conference looking at the economic dimensions of women’s realities when I first heard the phrase “time poverty,” in an academic talk given by a sociologist. The phrase captured the deeply insidious economic realities that are holding back women’s equality. Most mothers know this reality as we multi-task through our day trying to hold life together for our families. Women everywhere carry the double burden of working outside the home to support their families while still doing the large majority of unpaid domestic work.

The phrase “time poverty” stuck with me and, strangely, captures my reality as a mother of three leading a relatively privileged life. For those of us in the mothering season of life, all over the world, time is not exactly on our side. From sunup to sunset, we find ourselves constantly multitasking, moving as fast as possible and feeling like the hub in the middle of everyone’s wheel. Any tiny setback—a lost pacifier, a sick child—can threaten the whole highly tenuous ecosystem of the day.

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