Kennedy heir and former First Lady of California Maria Shriver has dedicated her considerable resources to promoting awareness of various social issues through her media initiative, The Shriver Report. The most recent report highlights American women and poverty; sadly, it gets very little right. It focuses far too heavily on government expansion to push women from the brink of poverty, and far too little on the ability of women – strong, smart, brave, intelligent women – to lift themselves from poverty.
In this third Shriver Report, we are told that:
- 1 in 3 women are either in poverty or nearly in poverty
- 2 of 3 families rely on the mother as the essential or only breadwinner
- Women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers
- More than half the babies in the U.S. are born to unwed mothers
- We must face the fact that the American family has changed, and the idea of family as dad, mom and kids is outdated and unrealistic
“We’re proposing a new social contract built around the reality of the new American family,” proclaims the Report. But that social contract is held together by a gooey glob of government programs from which escape is difficult. Despite growing realization that the War on Poverty is a failure , and Head Start (which was meant to be educational) is glorified government daycare , The Shriver Report is sure that government has the answer to all of women’s financial woes.
Recall that Maria Shriver’s father, Sargent Shriver, was the primary architect of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, perhaps the best-known enchantment with big government in the 1960s. From the “New Deal” to the “New Frontier” to “Hope and Change,” government is the solution, regardless the issue.
In some ways, this new Shriver Report is an expedition in silliness. It features odd little essays by Beyoncé and LeBron James, among other celebrities. Beyoncé (a one-woman empire worth an estimated $350 million), rants “gender equality is a myth!” She is held up as a role model for girls, yet her website , full of soft core porn images, warns of “mature content” on nearly every page. Even stranger, James’ essay, purportedly an homage to his single mother, tells us that when he was 9 years old, his mom realized she couldn’t raise him alone and sent him to live with his then-football coach, his wife and family.
The report calls for government subsidized daycare, afterschool programs, “fulfilling the Affordable Care Act’s promise,” equal pay for equal work, expanded unionization, ”more and better” access to birth control, jettisoning the Defense of Marriage Act, and looking to the European Union for such things as paid parental leave and other entitlements. (See Samuel Gregg’s Becoming Europe  if you have any doubt as to how disastrous this would be.) One thing the report doesn’t talk about is finances; how do we pay for these entitlements and programs?
The report doesn’t get everything wrong. It is very clear about the fact that a woman who chooses to have a child at a young age outside of marriage is setting herself and her child up for poverty. But the report insists we must realize there is a “new American family” – one that generally doesn’t have a man in it. If there is a man, he is relieved of responsibility, as with Britani’s story, contained in the report:
I am the mother of 2-year-old twin girls. I was 15 when I started dating their dad. Having not grown up with a dad, it was the only love from a man that I knew. We were together for almost six years, got engaged, and as soon as we found out that I was pregnant, he left.
He actually called the girls yesterday to wish them happy birthday. He doesn’t pay me child support – nothing. I’ve told him “As long as you have a relationship with the girls, you don’t have to.
Ron Haskins, former senior advisor to President George W. Bush, states in the report that if couples marry and stay married, poverty rates fall. As Joseph Sunde pointed out  on the Acton PowerBlog, the War on Poverty has dismantled the American family and validated the absent father. Yet, The Shriver Report is sure that this program and more and more (and more) like it are the answer to women’s poverty issues.
We are told that we are guilty of blaming the poor, judging their lifestyle choices. But what good can we do if we refuse to look at systemic issues that indeed cause poverty: irresponsible sexual choices, dropping out of school, a revolving door of men in women’s and children’s lives? We must not demonize the poor, but we must cut the roots of poverty. And we need to be truthful – brutally so - to do that.
The report follows a woman named Binita Pradhan, a single mother who benefited from the privately-funded San Francisco-based La Cocina , a restaurant incubator program. La Cocina helps culinary entrepreneurs learn small business development, marketing and finance, along with other skills, with the goal that graduates will have a sustainable food business at the end of their training. Ms. Pradhan now runs Bini’s Kitchen , featuring Nepalese cuisine.
Ms. Pradhan needed help, help she got from a local, privately-funded organization, which showed her how to become financially independent. A smart, intelligent, gifted woman got a helping hand – a local, privately-funded hand– and worked hard to achieve her dream. She didn’t get pushed back from the brink of poverty with an onslaught of government programs; she made the hike herself.