Shanesha Taylor did what she felt she needed to do to survive. She did what many would have done if they were in her shoes. Sadly, Taylor’s greatest mistake was to assume that the system would protect and perhaps provide a helping hand rather than punish her.
Being a poor, black, woman in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. Which suggests more about the United States and its inadequate social support system, than the crime that Taylor is accused of.
If you haven’t heard about the case by now, Taylor is a homeless, single mother living in Arizona. She has two kids; 2 years old and 6 months old. Last week, she secured a job interview, and for a mother in her position this was a godsend. However, having no one to watch her children and obviously unable to afford daycare, she left her children in the car unattended during the interview.
Taylor undoubtedly knew that this was dangerous because anything could have happened to her children while she was gone. Yet with limited resources, she envisioned no other option. What else could she have done? Choose not to go to the interview or perhaps bring her children inside and thus take the risk of not being employed? Like many women in a similar position, Taylor faced an inescapable dilemma – a double bind: “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Someone walking by Taylor’s car saw the children inside and called the police. Despite explaining her situation to officers, she was arrested on felony child abuse charges and was recently released on bail. Child protective services also took custody of her children.
Marginalized Americans and the Inaction of Politicians
An online fundraising campaign established in Taylor’s name has raised over $64,000 to cover legal expenses; still the fundraising efforts mask the regularity of single mothers living in similar situations. Too many Americans — especially women and children — continue to suffer from the war on poor people rather than from poverty.
More than one in three Americans, almost 100 million citizens, lives in poverty or close to it. The poverty rate continues to be higher among women than men, especially women of color. One would assume that just the number of people living in poverty should serve as wake up call for leaders of a democratic country. Instead, politicians and lawmakers seem to adamantly believe that making the situation even worse for their citizens will somehow strengthen the nation.
This explains why Congress has yet to pass a bill extending unemployment benefits, which could help more than 2 million Americans. Republicans such as John Boehner are opposed to extending these benefits. Opponents argue that the country should instead focus on job production, which is a valid but distracting argument.
While unemployed people are waiting for these jobs to be created, they need something that can help them to survive while keeping a roof over their head. And the budget cuts from last year’s sequestration have not provided any solace. They continue to have acute human consequences as federal cuts from programs such as affordable housing, are leaving many people homeless.
Last year, more than 600,000 people were homeless on any given night and over 20 percent of them were children under 18. When compared to other industrialized nations, the U.S. has one of the largest numbers of homeless women and children. But this should not raise eyebrows considering that this country seems reluctant to truly commit to fighting inequality.
The Unaffordable Cost of Childcare
Over the last quarter-century, the cost of childcare has almost doubled and during recent years, “the cost of childcare increased at up to eight times the rate of increases in family income.” This has become an extreme financial burden on American families and for mothers such as Taylor; it’s simply impossible to put their children in childcare.
Furthermore, considering how states such as Arizona address child welfare, one should not be surprised by Taylor’s actions. The state has cut more than $80 million in childcare subsidies over the years. This has denied more than 30,000 eligible children any form of care. Consequently, one should praise women who constantly fight against a system without laws that minimize and eventually abolish gender-based barriers.
For women like Taylor, even if they get employed, their chances of lifting their family out of poverty still remains a constant struggle.
Today, more than 40 million women and nearly 30 million children who depend on them are just one bout of sickness or other unexpected event from economic hardship. In part, that’s because women continue to make up the majority – nearly two-thirds — of minimum wage workers. More significantly, there’s the salary gender gap.
Despite a gender-blind ideology, a woman who works full-time on average still only makes 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterpart. Even worse, a black women working full-time makes less than two-thirds (or 63 cents) for every dollar her male non-Hispanic counterpart earns.
Gender Equality and Economic Justice: One and the Same
Recently, the Executive Director of the PAC Red State Women, Cari Christman, said that today women are simply “too busy” to make equal pay their primary focus. What Christman fails to understand is that gender equality cannot exist without economic equality.
It is because of poverty that women can be criminalized for actions similar to Taylor’s desperate acts. It is because of poverty that American women have to worry about the cost of child-care, which continues to be one of the main barriers to working and earning a living. Out of 178 nations, the U.S. is only one of three that does not offer paid maternity leave benefits. This reality should serve as a wakeup call for women like Christman who are “too busy” to combat gender inequality.
Those who oppose a stronger social welfare system where gender inequities as well as other inequalities can be eradicated are arguably supporting a “survival of the richest” environment. This means that children who are born into poverty are not worthy of society’s time or care.
Slowly but surely, this nation is legislating its own downfall. And soon enough, no amount of money will prevent the disastrous outcomes.