Voices of Everyday Leaders

by Willie Francois | May 20, 2019 10:06 pm

Why Does America Celebrate Mother’s Day Given Its Treatment of Poor Mothers?

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone! School-age children with sharp grins delivered to their mothers their hand-made gifts with Elmer’s Glue bubbling beneath the green, red, and blue construction paper. Mothers eagerly adorned their refrigerators with these new creative uses of paper and markers. Indeed, another Mother’s Day has come and gone. However, we have an opportunity to offer mothers more life-sustaining gifts in the years to come. The moral nerve to see low-income and no-income mothers and demand bolder fiscal protections for them would make America great.

The son of a single mother of two, I regularly witnessed the frustration of my mother scraping meager resources together just to get by and attempt to shelter our childhood from the weight of poverty. Weekly she poured over bills and amassed exorbitant sums of debt to cover the necessities of raising young children on an X-Ray technician’s salary—a job she held until becoming a registered nurse. Income support like a universal basic income could have made a world of difference for our young family of three.

On May 12, 1968–Mother’s Day, scarcely more than a month after the horrid assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and two weeks after the Poor People’s Campaign (The Campaign) presented their objectives to the Johnson administration, Coretta Scott King marshaled the first public action of The Campaign. Some of the protest paraphernalia dramatized the demand for gender equity, childcare access, food Justice, and democracy reform: “Mother Power,” “We care for our children,” “Income, Dignity, Justice, Democracy,” “Bread and Justice Now,” and “Free Women from Poverty Now.” Harvesting the public significance of the holiday dedicated to celebrating motherhood, Scott King and The Campaign targeted Arkansas congressman Wilbur Mills, the chairperson of powerful Ways and Means Committee of House of Representatives.  In concert with Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, Mrs. King demanded a robust federal anti-poverty program as memorials to the blood shed by their deceased husbands.

In her 1968 Mother’s Day address, Scott King excoriated, “I must remind you that starving a child is violence. Suppressing a culture is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working [person] is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence.” Mothers make less than their male counterparts across various demographic categories—geography, education level, and age, confirming the ways the intersectionality motherhood and other social locations contribute to the gender pay gap. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF), full-time employed Black women earn only 63 cents for every dollar that white men earn. American Black and Latinx mothers make about half of what white fathers make.

From Senators Cory Booker’s, Kirsten Gillibrand’s and Bernie Sanders’ respective federal job guarantees to Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income, anti-poverty legislative proposals predominate the 2020 presidential campaign trail.  In a similar vein, Kamala Harris proposes what she calls the LIFT the Middle-Class Act, a tax credit of up to $6,000 a year for married couples whose joint annual income is less than $100,000 and a $3,000 credit for single individuals earning under $50,000 a year. In Jackson, Mississippi, Magnolia Mother’s Trust is a pilot project of Guaranteed Annual Income, in which individuals are given cash without any “means test” or work requirement. Twenty families will receive $1,000 a month for 12 months.

A decade after the Mother’s Day March, during a Full Employment Action Week—a mobilization of more than 1.5 million people in 300 cities bolstering the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978, Scott King said, “The conscious politically motivated economic policies of the past few years that are keeping large numbers of Americans unemployed, especially blacks, are nothing less than a frontal assault on the gains and victories of the civil rights movement.” A guaranteed annual income and jobs guarantee inch us closer to abolishing the economic incentives of racism and patriarchy.

An economy that works for the super-rich, while feeding on the very low-wealth communities responsible for carrying the burdens of American prosperity, condemns the majority of us to social anxiety unbecoming of the fullness of the human spirit. People structurally trapped in the ferocious wildernesses of American Capitalism can no longer diet on the myth of meritocracy and the illusion of our exceptionalism. To secure a future of international exceptionalism—if that is even a worthy goal, our federal legislators must heed to the roaring despondency of the disinherited that surely transcends race and gender. Income inequality damages the national organs of prosperity and clogs the arteries of democracy.

Underemployment and insecure wages thwart full participation in the so-called strong economic life of America. The promise of America suffocates us absent an intentional, structural guarantee of a life-sustaining income and universal access to employment with said income. Devoid a guarantee of job and/or income, we deprive people of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our gross fiscal abandonment reduces the lives of non-white mothers to food insecurity, housing scarcity, and healthcare inaccessibility.

Hopefully, this season of celebrating mothers catalyzes a collective resolve to create new opportunities for the people responsible for our presence on the earth. Mothers find disingenuous those who rally to save unborn children if those rallying are not interested in the children who are here and are poor, gay, have physical disabilities, and are black or brown. In what the conservatives perceive as the strongest American economy in decades, we need to mobilize the political forces of our nation to re-vision the economic security of living in the US. Political courage and moral imagination grounded in equity and sufficiency lay the foundation and install the tiles for a sturdy economic floor for all. Our mothers should not be the most vulnerable among us. Our mothers deserve justice, jobs, and freedom. Protecting our mothers protects our shared future as a nation.


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