‘Bah Humbug” on charities!

t1larg.ccarol.disneyDecember is crunch time for charitable giving, with many nonprofit organizations taking in a third or more of their yearly income during the last month of the year. Perhaps that’s why Sunday’s New York Times featured not one but two A1 stories on charities?

“Aid Gives Alternative to African Orphanages” by Celia W. Dugger explores the idea that small cash payments to families are “a much better way to assist…bereft children” than the traditional orphanage model favored by many churches and organizations.

“Charities Rise, Costing U.S. Billions in Tax Breaks” by Stephanie Strom examines the rapid growth in the number of tax-exempt charitable organizations, including many that “are skillfully exploiting the tax code’s elastic definition of what constitutes…a charity.”

If Scrooge was seeking absolution for his miserly ways, he would find plenty of ammunition in these two articles, which generally downplay the tremendous good accomplished by thousands of effective and fiscally responsible charities.

The African orphanages article uses The Home of Hope orphanage in Malawi as its example of the traditional model of relief and development. Readers aren’t told why the article focuses on this particular institution, which cares for 653 children, except for the fact that the pop singer Madonna supports the institution and adopted a boy there from this home. This hardly makes it representative.

The article consistently favors a newer and still unproven alternative model that focuses on cash grants to extended families that provide care for some (the article doesn’t say how many) of “the 55.3 million children in sub-Saharan Africa who have lost at least one parent.”

The need in Africa is great, and it’s always good to question business-as-usual. But the article repeatedly takes what feel like cheap shots at the traditional model charities and orphanages:

Experts and child advocates maintain that orphanages are expensive and often harm children’s development by separating them from their families….

More than a billion dollars in foreign aid has been spent over the past five years for orphans and vulnerable children, but some major donors cannot break down how their contributions were spent. Researchers say donors need to weed out ineffective, misconceived programs, scrutinizing those that are managed by international nongovernmental organizations or governments but reliant on volunteers in villages to do the work.

“An enormous amount of money is going into these efforts with very little return,” said Linda Richter, who runs the children’s programs at South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council.

Here in Malawi, hundreds of community groups have won small grants to start small labor-intensive businesses and are expected to donate all the profits to orphans. Pauline Peters, a Harvard University anthropologist, and Susan Watkins, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who have independently done years of field work in Malawian villages, say orphans have received few benefits from the millions spent.

“The donors have fantasies of the way things work–that you can mobilize villagers to care for children who aren’t theirs without paying them to do it,” Professor Watkins said.

The article does not address the fact that for many individuals and churches who support work with children in Africa and elsewhere, instruction in the Christian faith is an important component of ‘holistic” (physical and spiritual) care for children, a component that is difficult to monitor if this work is handled by families instead of institutions.

The U.S. charity story took a fun approach to a serious problem by focusing on groups like the Woohoo Sistahs, a 50-member group that uses social events to fund cancer research; Save Your Ass Long-Ear Rescue, a donkey and mule refuge in Vermont; and “the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of cross-dressing ‘nuns’ who recently raised more than $25,000 for AIDS treatment and other causes with an event featuring a live S-and-M show.”

On the serious side, the article points out that:

The number of organizations that can offer their donors a tax break in the name of charity has grown more than 60 percent in the United States, to 1.1 million, in just a decade.

Experts say nonprofits are skillfully exploiting the tax code’s broad and elastic definition of what constitutes such a charity, making it difficult for the Internal Revenue Service, which must bless them, to say no. The agency approved 99 percent of the applications for public charity status last year, according to a new study by students at Stanford University–or more than one every 10 to 15 minutes….

The $300 billion donated to charities last year cost the federal government more than $50 billion in lost tax revenue.

While no one contends that even a small portion of the new charities are fraudulent, critics argue that the I.R.S. and state regulators cannot keep up with the growth of charities–and therefore cannot possibly determine whether the applicants are adhering to state and federal regulations and laws.

Indeed, the students at Stanford found that while the I.R.S.’s electronic database records more than 40,000 new charities, its much more widely circulated annual Data Book puts the figure at more than 50,000, a discrepancy of more than 20 percent….

This is important information, but the article never mentions the good done by many new (and old) tax-exempt organizations, giving an unbalanced perspective on the issue.

In 1831, French thinker and historian named Alexis de Tocqueville toured America. He later wrote this in Democracy in America:

Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. The Americans make associations to found seminaries, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools….Perhaps there is no country in the world where fewer idle men are to be met with than in America.

Americans still form numerous associations and organizations. And even if the government isn’t monitoring all of these groups as well as it could, it is still relatively easy for conscientious citizens who don’t want to be Scrooges to ascertain which ones are the most effective and give their support to them.

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Black Fridays and purple Sundays

Advent-CalendarEvery year we read about the War on Christmas. The mainstream media love to cover stories about those Scrooges who ban the use of any specific greetings related to Christmas and the old curmudgeons who complain about the same.

But I like to cover the war on all the other seasons of the liturgical calendar. For one thing, how can it be a war on Christmas when this isn’t even the Christmas Season? That begins on Christmas and lasts 12 days. You may have heard of these mysterious 12 days of Christmas. But half the time we get stories about the 12 days of Christmas, we get them as the final 12 days leading up to Dec. 25. A few years ago, there was a minor epidemic of Washington-area newspapers confusing the issue. This year we have an Associated Press story about how much it would cost to give the gifts mentioned in the famous “12 Days of Christmas” song ($87,403). But maybe the AP is just super early rather than wrong.

So Sunday was the start of the Advent season for Western Christians. Advent is the beginning of the church year and the time in which the church patiently and eagerly prepares for Christmas by confession and repentance, prayer, Scripture study, fasting and the singing of seasonal hymns. The liturgical color for the season is purple (or, I hear, blue).

This is a major season that isn’t ignored so much as competed against with “Christmas.” The first day of this alternative religious season begins with Black Friday. That’s the day when we all pin our annual economic hopes on mass purchasing of retail goods. So here’s how one recent Reuters story broke the news:

U.S. consumers spent significantly less per person at the start of the holiday season this weekend, dimming hopes for a retail comeback that would help propel the economy early in 2010.

My sister is a retail manager and she was forced to open her story at midnight after Thanksgiving. She worked two eight-hour shifts that day. I agree with Dell Dechant that there are religious components to the consumer culture. It might have something to do with why I avoided the malls.

And I might not be alone. Jeff Strickler of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune found others who rebel against the pressures of Black Friday:

William Doherty won’t be among the throngs in the shopping malls Friday morning. He will be in church.

Doherty, a professor in the Family Social Science Department at the University of Minnesota, is part of a growing backlash against the commercialization of Christmas. Last year, he helped his church, Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul, hold a worship service on what has become known as Black Friday, the official kickoff of the holiday gift-buying bonanza and biggest retail shopping day of the year.

This year, he is helping launch a similar “Black Friday at Church” event at New Hope Baptist Church in St. Paul.

The protest against Christmas consumption, organized by the Advent Conspiracy, has become an international phenomenon. The program, created by three pastors in 2006, is being presented this year in as many as 1,500 churches, including several in the Twin Cities.

The story is a great local look at a religious trend in the area and he does a good job of explaining the theological approach of the folks behind the Advent Conspiracy, although the name isn’t explained at all. I was also wondering why those of us liturgical Christians who are engaged in, um, an Advent conspiracy every year weren’t mentioned. But it’s okay because Strickler has another article devoted to nothing other than explaining the symbols of Advent:

This weekend marks the first Sunday in Advent, the month leading up to Christmas that Christians have marked for centuries — but not always in the same spirit.

Originally, Advent and Lent were cut from the same theological cloth. They both were times of devotion, introspection and repentance. But while Lent has retained its initial tone, Advent has become more about parties than penance.

While the activities of Advent might have changed, its symbols live on. Many of the iconic images of Christmas actually started with Advent. The wreath, St. Nicholas and even the decorating of a Christmas tree trace their roots to the days leading up to the holiday.

Well, for some of us Advent is still a time of devotion and repentance rather than parties. The Orthodox even call this period Christmas Lent. But Strickler’s point is clear. And with an economy of words, he quickly runs through many Advent traditions and where they come from. Here, for example, is a treatment of the color for the season:

The color purple: In most Protestant denominations, ministers wear purple vestments during Advent. Contrary to what many football fans might think, this has nothing to do with supporting the Minnesota Vikings (although if your minister shows up this weekend wearing green and yellow, be very suspicious).

There are various explanations for the choice of purple. The most common is that in ancient times, purple dye was the most expensive and was reserved for use by royalty. Therefore, the theory goes, it was chosen to designate the Christian year’s most regal event, the birth of its new king.

Like I said, it’s a real quick treatment. There are huge differences of opinion in the Western church over whether the proper color is violet, purple, blue, etc. And I’m not even sure that “most” Protestant denominations mark Advent, much less that its ministers wear vestments of any color. But purple was traditionally chosen for its royal ties and it’s good to mention that.

And I’m just so happy that any major paper is treating Advent at all. This is a very important time for so very many liturgical Christians and it’s wonderful that a paper would simply acknowledge that and instruct readers about it. And on that note, here’s USA Today‘s Advent calendar shopping guide!

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Christian survivalists?

Michelle Obama And School Students Help With Harvest Of White House Garden

The Washington Post has a feature headlined “A muscular, die-hard spirituality: Self-sufficient Christians prepare for Second Coming or for life after global disaster.” So you can imagine that I expected the story to be about that.

It begins promisingly enough, with an anecdote of a 74-year-old computer professional Ken Uptegrove. He has a garden, tries to live simply, studies the lives of early Christians, launched a ministry and an unnamed Web site, and hopes someday to move to a remote area with other self-sufficient Christians.

But then the story just goes in a completely different direction. No other survivalists are quoted, much less Christian survivalists, although we hear that business is booming at one online store that sells emergency supplies. In fact, it sounds like any trend toward survivalism, if there is one, could very well be secular:

Sustainability and self-sufficiency appear downright mainstream, exemplified by first lady Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden. . . .

In the popular imagination, survivalists are Rambo types, [Richard Mitchell Jr., a professor emeritus at Oregon State University,] said. But survivalists often are urbanites or suburbanites who distrust the government or think the government is flawed. For the less hard-core, survivalism might offer a measure of control that seemed lost to natural disasters or terrorism, [emergency supply store owner Joe] Branin said.

“This is one way people feel like they’re taking control of their own situations again,” he said. “We’ve had so much drama. It’s like getting your oil changed in your car. You’ve done something that feels good. It’s the same way with somebody going down and getting a survival kit and having extra food or water. It gives them that level of a little bit of security.”

And then this:

Yet being prepared isn’t all bad, Mitchell said. If survivalists are gardening because they think the United States should be less dependent on foreign countries for food or energy, maybe they’re on to something. And if survivalists distrust government and economic systems they don’t completely understand, perhaps the recession has proved that they have a point.

The story says that “some Christians see signs of the end times and Jesus’s Second Coming.” Well, sure. “Some Christians” have seen signs of the end times since shortly after Jesus walked the earth. There’s nothing wrong with writing a story about survivalists motivated by religious beliefs, but this was not that story. And a story about those Christians who believe the end times are nigh might also be insightful. And a story about gardeners being “on to something” would be interesting — although I would hope we’d learn what that something might be. (Ditto for those of who distrust government or economic systems “having a point.”)

But this is a story that desperately needs either more religion or less religion in it. Otherwise it just seems confusing.

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Cutesy phrases aside

ramseytvMy family and friends are a little obsessed with a Monopoly/Risk/Axis & Allies-like game called Settlers of Catan–too obsessed that my husband won’t play with me because I become too competitive that we stop speaking to each other. After several rounds of winning one Christmas, it inspired me to get my sheep, wood, wheat and ore in order in real life.

I began checking out personal finance books from the library, mostly popular materials from Suze Orman and Wall Street Journal guides. Then out of curiosity, I searched for some Christian personal finance books, and after very few books came up in the system, one of my friends told me about Dave Ramsey. I didn’t spend much time with his material when I didn’t see something radically different from the books that I had read. So when I read The Atlantic‘s profile on Ramsey, I wondered whether it would help me see how Christian personal finance is different from a Christian who gives personal finance advice. (Another colleague will look at Hanna Rosin’s cover story “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?“)

Overall, the story is more about debt than it is about religion, but Megan McArdle does a nice job at looking at it from a religion angle. If I can be a little nitpicky, though, she starts off pretty poorly: “Dave Ramsey looks nothing like a televangelist.” Well, duh. He’s a Christian financial adviser that appears on television. He may talk about Jesus, but it’s like comparing Mike Huckabee to a televangelist. Yes, he’s a Christian and yes, he’s on TV. But would you compare him to a televangelist? I don’t think so. Anyway, McArdle proceeds to caricature televangelists.

He’s a little on the short side, neither fat nor thin, and he wears jeans and a sports jacket, not a shiny suit and an oily smile. With his goatee and what’s left of his graying hair trimmed close to his head, he looks mostly like what he is-a well-groomed, middle- to upper-middle-class American professional. But when he runs out onstage and starts dispensing financial advice, you realize that he could have been a great preacher.

Do you think shiny suit or oily smile when you think of Robert H. Schuller, James Robison, or Pat Robertson? A similar stereotype in a piece about Wall Street bankers probably wouldn’t pass through the first copy edit.

McArdle uses lots of cutesy religious hints to get her message across.

Here are some examples:

“the format was more tent revival than accounting seminar”

“his disciples routinely shun lucrative financing deals”

“Ramsey is not the first evangelical to sell financial advice to his co-religionists”

“Ramsey devotees”

Why can’t she show us through descriptions and quotes instead of telling us using these little canned phrases?

Also, McArdle uses the term “evangelical financial adviser” a bit loosely here.

“But although other evangelical financial advisers flourish mostly within their religious communities, Ramsey has made himself the breakout act, bringing his basic message to the wider world.”

Using evangelical as an adjective can get a bit tricky. Ramsey isn’t just an evangelical financial adviser — there are probably hundreds of financial advisers who happen to be evangelical. What sets Ramsey apart, though, is that he markets himself to evangelical Christians.

ramseyplanningOverall, however, McArdle gives a colorful picture of Ramsey, weaving her personal life into her experience attending one of his seminars. She does a nice job of explaining Ramsey’s obsession with debt and why it matters to the economy.

Ramsey offers some investment advice (much of which would have struck horror in my business-school professors), but for most of his followers, the main attraction is a simple program: give 10 percent of your income to charity, save 15 percent for retirement, build up a sizable emergency stash and a college fund for your kids, and above all, stop borrowing money. Ramsey devotees pay cash for everything they can. They are allowed only one exception to the no-more-debt rule: a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Ramsey tells the audience about Jesus, but McArdle isn’t moved.

Ramsey closed his talk in Detroit with a sober lecture on taking care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and of course, spiritually. “Bluntly,” he said, “I’m talking about this man named Jesus, and if you don’t know him, you need to be introduced.” The arena erupted in a joyous roar.
Though I did take the audio CD of Ramsey’s personal witness being handed out free at the exit, I’m afraid that Jesus and I aren’t really any better acquainted than we were before.

This comes across as fairly obligatory (don’t worry, fellow journalists. I didn’t convert.)

She ends with: “You don’t need to be a Christian to look for a better way. Even an unbeliever knew enough to listen up when he saw the bright light on the road to Damascus.” There goes that cutesy language again.

Despite some of these nitpicks, the article really is worth the read–McArdle is right to recognize how big Ramsey is in Christian circles. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like McArdle tried to interview Ramsey, which is where she could have probed him on what makes him different from another financial planner. Maybe the next story about Ramsey can tell us what is Christian about his financial planning more than how he quotes Bible verses and appeals to Christians.

Photos via imelda and Matt McGee from Flickr creative commons.

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A changed heart on abortion

Although it wasn’t covered by a wide variety of media outlets, this local TV news story (embedded here) sure made a splash yesterday. It’s about how the director of the (Texas A&M-area) Bryan Planned Parenthood resigned her post last month after watching an abortion being performed on an ultrasound.

Reporter Ashlea Sigman of KBTX broke the story, near as I can tell, and I want to commend the station for that since so often stories like this end up running only in the religious or pro-life press. But watch the story, or read it here, and tell me if you don’t have a ton of questions.

The story explains that Abby Johnson worked at the center for the last eight years, was its director for two years and turned in her resignation October 6. She says that she was also troubled by pressure to increase her clinic’s focus on abortion rather than pregnancy prevention. She said that while there was much more money to be made in abortions, the business model troubled her. Religion is in play and the reporter includes that angle:

Johnson said she was told to bring in more women who wanted abortions, something the Episcopalian church goer recently became convicted about.

“I feel so pure in heart (since leaving). I don’t have this guilt, I don’t have this burden on me anymore that’s how I know this conversion was a spiritual conversion.”

Johnson now supports the Coalition For Life, the pro-life group with a building down the street from Planned Parenthood. Coalition volunteers can regularly be seen praying on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood. Johnson has been meeting with the coalition’s executive director, Shawn Carney, and has prayed with volunteers outside Planned Parenthood.

The story concludes by mentioning that Planned Parenthood successfully got temporary restraining orders issued against both Johnson and the Coalition for Life.

Many readers submitted this story and asked tons of questions.

Why, exactly, did she resign? Why did Planned Parenthood seek a restraining order? What does Planned Parenthood not want her to disclose? How did Johnson get involved with the Coalition for Life? What role did being Episcopal play in her conversion? Why is an ultrasound of an abortion mentioned in the headline but then not mentioned again? Was the conversion solely about the abortion issue or was it a larger religious conversion? Why did it take a month for this story to break? How is Planned Parenthood funded? Is it a non-profit or private business? Does it receive federal funds? What does Planned Parenthood have to say in response to the allegations? What do we know about Planned Parenthood’s business model?

This story is just begging for more information. I actually thought FoxNews.com did a good job of writing it up. It has better details and actually gets valuable information from Planned Parenthood. Here’s how it begins:

Abby Johnson, 29, used to escort women from their cars to the clinic in the eight years she volunteered and worked for Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas. But she says she knew it was time to leave after she watched a fetus “crumple” as it was vacuumed out of a patient’s uterus in September.

“When I was working at Planned Parenthood I was extremely pro-choice,” Johnson told FoxNews.com. But after seeing the internal workings of the procedure for the first time on an ultrasound monitor, “I would say there was a definite conversion in my heart … a spiritual conversion.”

The story explains that abortions cost patients between $500 and $700 and that the clinic retained an average of $350, netting around $10,000 each month. While Planned Parenthood doesn’t directly respond to Johnson’s allegations, a spokesman says that 90 percent of the company’s services are preventive in nature. The reporter also asked Johnson for any proof of her allegations about the Planned Parenthood business model and she says all of the pressure to increase abortions came in meetings with a regional manager. The story also mentions that it’s unclear why Planned Parenthood sought a restraining order and notes that Johnson says she did not intend to release any sensitive information about former patients. So it fills in some of the blanks.

On the other hand, the story has precisely no mention of the religious angles that were present in the local broadcast piece.

Now, I’m glad that we have at least a couple of instances of mainstream media covering this story. But this is a big story and even with the major problems the media tend to have covering abortion and the battle over abortion rights, they need to cover this one well.

First, the basic story should be told. But this is also a great hook to discuss whether technological advances are behind the trend of more Americans identifying as “pro-life” than “pro-choice.” Reporters could also look at how Planned Parenthood’s business runs, how religious views shape our vocations in life, what it’s like to change sides in the abortion debate and how successful pro-life groups are in opposing abortion clinics. Let us know if you see particularly good or bad coverage or if you have ideas for further exploration.

The ultrasound image is of my youngest at 8-10 weeks.

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From print to pulpit

2ndCareerCOVER1You’ve heard of religion reporters becoming atheists. And you’ve heard of religion reporters becoming agnostic. But have you heard of religion reporters becoming pastors?

Associated Press reporter Patrick Condon files from Wisconsin with a lede readers of this blog will love:

On the first Sunday morning of October, pastor Steve Scott looked far beyond the surroundings of his western Wisconsin congregation to find worthy subjects for their prayers: recent natural disaster victims in Indonesia and the Philippines.

There’s nothing unusual about clergy taking inspiration from headlines, but for Scott it’s instinctive. He spent 23 years as a journalist at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, most of the last five as religion reporter for Minnesota’s second-biggest newspaper.

The story, as you might expect, gets into the sad fortunes of the newspaper business and the religion beat in particular. When Scott was reassigned to cover the suburbs of St. Paul, he described himself as “petulant … pouting … not very professional,” and took a buyout.

Scott was always interested in religion even if he stopped worshiping regularly. He was a Methodist pastor’s kid and his mother was an organist. He minored in religious studies and took a seminary course the year before he got the religion beat. We learn a bit about some of Scott’s theological views:

Scott likes to talk about the notion of a calling. Though the term is most often applied to clergy, he believes it’s pertinent to anyone trying to figure out how they can best use their abilities to make the world a better place.

“I absolutely believe, as corny as it might sound, that I was called to be a journalist when I was 14,” he said.

After his buyout, he thought he might become a religion professor. But his coursework led to a consultancy at a parish. And his wife since 2007 is a Methodist pastor. Somehow he’s ended up serving two small congregations in Wisconsin. He’ll soon become a full-fledged pastor with his own congregation.

And here’s the nice ending to the piece:

“Cynically, some of my friends have asked me: ‘What are you thinking? You left the newspaper business, and you’re going into the church business?’ They sort of share a demographic of a certain age, and they’re both wondering why young people don’t seem that interested.

“Perhaps there’s a point. But I believe in newspapers, and I believe in the church, and despite their flaws, if we didn’t have either one …”

Scott trailed off, not completing the thought.

Lutherans, too, view journalism as an important vocation. Getting the news out to our neighbors is an important job with important repercussions. It’s sort of nice to see a discussion of this in a major article.

Either way, this story seems like it was just written for the GetReligion reader.

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Another salvo in the Mommy Wars

MommyWarsI’m fairly new to motherhood, with a 2-year-old and an infant. I recently wrote my take on the Mommy Wars — that term used to describe everything from whether women should work outside the home while raising young children to whether to use cloth or disposable diapers — over at Christianity Today. So I was intrigued by this front-page Washington Post story that looks at a new Census report dealing with stay-at-home moms.

Reporter Donna St. George frames it in a curious manner:

A first census snapshot of married women who stay home to raise their children shows that the popular obsession with high-achieving professional mothers sidelining careers for family life is largely beside the point.

Instead, census statistics released Thursday show that stay-at-home mothers tend to be younger and less educated, with lower family incomes. They are more likely than other mothers to be Hispanic or foreign-born.

Census researchers said the new report is the first of its kind and was spurred by interest in the so-called “opt-out revolution” among well-educated women said to be leaving the workforce to care for children at home.

The story shows that mothering full time at home is a widespread phenomenon with nearly one in four married mothers with children younger than 15 staying out of the labor force. It’s worth noting that this figure does not include women such as myself, who also stay home to raise children. That’s because I’m still in the labor force (I really have the best of all worlds, I think.) Also unrepresented by the Census definition of stay-at-home moms are mothers who work even a few hours a month or just one week out of the year, such as freelancers, those who run their own home businesses and seasonal laborers.

So what is this opt-out revolution? (Style note: do you need both the “so-called” and quotes around opt-out revolution? I’m not sure.) Well, here’s how the story explains it:

The notion of an opt-out revolution took shape in 2003, when New York Times writer Lisa Belkin coined the term to describe the choices made by a group of high-achieving Princeton women who left the fast track after they had children.

It has since been the subject of public debate, academic study and media obsession. It has been derided as a myth but has never quite gone away in an era when women still struggle to balance work and family and motherhood’s conflicts have been parodied and probed in everything from Judith Warner’s book “Perfect Madness” to television’s “Desperate Housewives” and “The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom.”

The census statistics show, for example, that the educational level of nearly one in five mothers at home was less than a high school degree, as compared with one in 12 other mothers. Thirty two percent of moms at home have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 38 percent of other mothers.

As much as I love the idea of debunking a story every time a New York Times reporter pens a huge trend piece based on nothing other than anecdotal evidence from three of her friends, this Washington Post article in no way does that. Unless reporter Lisa Belkin said that all women who stay at home to raise their children — or even that most women who stay at home — are “high-achieving Princeton women,” that is. And she didn’t. Neither did, one presumes, any of the other stories alluded to above. Instead, these other stories discussed an increase in the percentage of women who choose to either opt out of the labor force or cut back on their hours to focus on their families. As I mentioned above, this article only deals with women who have completely abandoned the labor market.

The Post article goes on to say that a higher percentage of stay-at-home moms (relative to other mothers) live below the poverty line and smaller percentages of stay-at-home moms live in households with incomes above $75,000 a year. Again, this has nothing to do with proving or disproving an assertion that high-achieving women are opting out or that more women are choosing to stay at home to raise children. In order to determine that, we’d need to see longitudinal studies or, simply, data over time.

Instead we get quotes from folks saying that the census figures are a reality check against the notion of an opt-out revolution. Oh, and the only time-lapse data that is included in the Post story is this bit that undercuts the Post‘s thesis:

Historically, the Census Bureau’s annual population survey shows that there are more mothers at home now than in the mid-1990s.

In 1994, 19.8 percent of married-couple families with children younger than 15 had a stay-at-home mother. Last year, it was 23.7 percent of families — an increase that [Diana Elliott, a family demographer who is co-author of the U.S. Census Bureau report] said was statistically significant. “I don’t think we exactly know why,” she said.

Now, if the percentage of stay-at-home moms (in married-couple families with kids younger than 15) is increasing — and it is — that actually seems interesting. I wish the Post — and the Census study purporting to debunk the opt-out-revolution theory — had looked into that a bit more. Heck, since Census claimed that the whole reason they did the study was to respond to media reports about women putting their careers on hold, it seems odd that they don’t know anything about this increase.

All this to say that I have a suspicion that women’s decisions about staying-at-home to raise their children might have a few religion ghosts. The story explains, for instance, that Hispanic women are more likely to stay at home to raise their children than non-Hispanic women. Does that have anything to do with higher than average rates of Catholicism and religious activity among Hispanics? I have no idea. Census didn’t break down the data that far, near as I can tell.

The report had some other interesting figures with some religious ghosts, too. For instance, parents in married relationships were more likely to own their own homes, have higher household incomes, be employed, and have at least a bachelor’s degree. They were less likely to receive food stamps than other family types. And 94 percent of fathers who lived with their children, lived with the mother of their children. Only 74 percent of mothers who lived with their children lived with the father of their children.

It’s almost like all that morality stuff that religious groups are shoving down our throats has some merit or something. At least it has some policy implications.

But as far as shedding light on whether women with small children are decreasing their hours or opting out of the labor force altogether — much less why or whether they should — this article doesn’t deliver much.

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Moore and mammon, revisited

michael-moore_0031Who says civility is dead, or that America is on the fast track to a new Idiocracy-style dark ages?

I was tickled pink by the 17 comments (so far) responding to Wednesday’s post on “Capitalism, Catholicism and Michael Moore.”

Christina and others debated a phrase in The New York Times Moore profile stating that there was a long tradition of social justice and activism in the American Catholic church “at least until Pope John Paul II.”

Jane and others explored the meaning and merits of capitalism, socialism, and free enterprise.

And Cheryl unsuccessfully tried to steer the discussion toward “life issues.” (Jerry spoke for many of us when he wrote: “Personally I don’t think that issue has to be part of every news story, important as it is.”)

My hope and prayer was that journalists would drill a little bit deeper during their interviews with Moore during his current media blitz so we could better connect the dots between Moore’s theology and his activism.

Some GetReligion regulars found insights in Moore’s CNN interviews with Larry King and Wolf Blitzer. I found more of what I was seeking in Fortune’s interview, which ran with this big, bold headline: “Michael Moore: Capitalism is anti-Jesus.”

The article quotes Moore’s conclusion in “Capitalism: A Love Story:”

“Capitalism is an evil and you can’t regulate evil. You have to replace it with something that is good for everyone.”

And reporter Scott Cendrowski asked a simple question that evoked an intriguing answer:

How is this film different from your previous ones?

I talk about my religion, which I have never talked about. I think religion should be a private matter. But I thought it was important to this discussion. I’m not a proselytizer, but I do have very strong beliefs and these beliefs were formed not in the school of Karl Marx, but in the Catholic Church. Priests and nuns taught me these lessons of how we’re to treat each other, how we’re to treat the poor, and how we’re to divide up the pie.

I’m one of the few people on the left who’s been fortunate to have access to a mainstream audience. I’m always thinking about ways to communicate with them and stay true to myself, because I am them, and I come from Middle America. I have very conservative values that go contrary to the fictional character that’s been created of me by Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and the Fox News Channel. I’ve been with the same woman for 30 years, I don’t invest my money in anything but a savings account.

This is getting interesting! In addition to Catholicism and capitalism, Moore is now raising questions about what’s good and evil, what makes a true conservative, and so much more.

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