“The dignity of work”: how it would have worked in Massachusetts

It’s been almost three weeks now since the Romney campaign hit that hanging curveball offered up by a Democratic strategist — “stay at home mom Ann Romney has ‘actually never worked a day in her life'” — into the bleachers. But the campaign is not done rounding the bases yet. Did you know you can buy a “Mom’s Drive the Economy” bumpersticker at Romney Gear?

The Romney folks have not had much to say of late about moms on welfare, though, largely because of this video clip first aired by Chris Hayes showing Mitt in contradiction with himself on the subject of the nobility of the work of childrearing. Here he is in January recalling his efforts as Governor to require mothers on welfare to get jobs:

While I was governor, 85 percent of the people on a form of welfare assistance in my state had no work requirement. And I wanted to increase the work requirement. I said, for instance, that even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work.

And people said, ‘Well that’s heartless,’ and I said, ‘No, no, I’m willing to spend more giving daycare to allow those parents to go back to work. It’ll cost the state more, providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.’

The campaign is probably not eager for attention to Mitt’s statement because it’s inconsistent. It’s also not an entirely accurate statement of his welfare reform policy.

As Governor, Romney proposed to require mothers of children as young as one year to work (mothers of two-year old children are already required to work 20 hours per week). As he said in the 2005 press release announcing this proposal, his welfare plan would have made:

adults with children at least one year old subject to work. Under the current Massachusetts program, able-bodied recipients with children two years old or under are exempt from the work requirement…

He continued to champion this idea even after a special welfare commission he established to endorse his welfare proposals singled that one out to reject. The Legislature, siding with the commission, rejected it as well. So when he said “two-year olds,” he simply misspoke? Maybe — and maybe his campaign will issue a correction.

And what of the second part of Romney’s statement — that it would “cost the state more providing that day care,” but what price dignity? He did propose to add a little more money (his press release says $6.4 million). That sum would have covered the child care costs of fewer than one third of the 2,700 mothers subject to his new work requirement. But it might have been enough to achieve the Romney administration’s policy goal. Think about it – how many mothers of one-year old children would have been able to find a job and then locate a child care center nearby that even takes one-year olds (did he have any idea how much work they are)? And what if the job was a night shift – most child care, as Romney apparently realizes, is “day care.” What happens when the toddler gets sick and child care center doesn’t want him until he’s better? Any welfare mother who stumbled and lost her job would also lose her welfare grant. In the world of GOP domestic policy, this is considered a not unfavorable outcome: no day care costs, no welfare costs. The goal was not to help these mothers to succeed, the point was to drop them off the welfare rolls. Or as Mitt put it recently in a different context, “I like being able to fire people.”

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