“Legislation Considered to Curb Working Wives” by Roger W. Babson, from the front page of the March 29, 1940 issue of Henderson Daily Dispatch. Today, some argue that foreigners are taking American jobs. In 1940, the complaint was that working wives were taking jobs from unemployed men. The other concern that asking people if they were employed in the 1940 Census would result in faulty statistics turned out to be false.
The biggest reseach job ever undertaken by any nation in any age begins on Monday when the 1940 census starts. Each decade this vast nose-counting project gets bigger, the blanks longer, the questions more personal. However, as long as people want to turn to Uncle Sam for help when they are in trouble, they must expect to furnish the information which the government needs in order to intelligently provide such help.
Notwithstanding all of the hullabaloo about “your income”, most anxiously awaited reply will be to the question, “Are you employed?” I fear the nation will be shocked when the answers to this query are added, tabulated, published. However, it will be impossible to compare this figure to any previous totals. Our national ideas on unemployment have changed drastically in the past 10 years. We went “unemployment conscious” during the 30's. Ten years ago a jobless family of four was content to consider that one person—usually the father—was unemployed.
Today, that family would report there are four out of work.
Millions of Working Wives
During the last decade, business has been unable to absorb the trek of women into industry and find new jobs for the displaced males. It is estimated that there are three to four million married women holding jobs. Of course, in many cases this wives are the sole support of their own family, of their aged parents, or of some other family. My hat is off to any wife with guts enough to support the family if her husband cannot or will not do so. But many people believe something must be done about those cases where both husband and wife are holding down good jobs.
Under normal conditions I would feel that nothing need be done legislatively about the problem of working wives and husbands. Today’s conditions, however, are not normal. There are millions of men out of work, the government is supporting upwards of 20 million people, federal expenses have soared to an all-time peak. At least one-quarter of this money goes directly for relief and another 25 per cent for recovery. In addition, nearly every town and city runs community chests.
Adding to Tax Burden
Yet, from one end of the country to the other there are glaring examples of wives holding down good jobs while their husbands are doing likewise. These cases cover public jobs as well as private employment. So long as we have to hand over one-quarter of our income every year to meet government bills (which have been pushed up to record highs to support the jobless) then some type of formal action to stop this practice is bound to come.
A storm of controversy has rated around this subject for years. Protectors of the home have thumped the tub against working wives on the basis that the place for the wife is in the home. They insist that if we wish to continue with our present system of the family as the unit of society, we must confine the wife to her real role of mother and homemaker. I think a lot of words are wasted in arguing along this line. If the family as a unit of society is going out the window, then we can not stem the tide simply by putting a new law on the books. Only a spiritual family awakening will solve the problem properly.
Real Objections Are Economic
My only objection to married women working is based on cold economic grounds. Working wives take many part-time jobs, they work at lower pay scales than single women, they create a surplus of labor, they fill jobs that unemployed men could handle. The tide of resentment against the practice is rising steadily throughout the nation. I understand that two state legislatures have already adopted laws designed to force married women out of industry. Twenty-eight other legislatures have considered the subject.
Yet if legislation is to be adopted, I hope it will be practical, sensible, not too restrictive. There are hundreds and hundreds of cases that must be made exempt—cases where the wife must help support her own family, an unemployed brother’s family, an aged mother or father. If any legislation is adopted, it should not automatically purge married women from industry. It should merely prohibit both husband and wife form holding certain types of jobs, especially government jobs. In many a family the wife makes a far better bread-winner than the husband. If the wife has the business ability, then why shouldn’t se hold the family job while the husband stays at home and changes the baby’s diapers?
Should Recognize Trend
Working wives can make out a splendid case for themselves. Yet I believe they would be smarter if they recognized the rising tide of national resentment against both husbands and wives working where there is no need for both to work. They would do far better to resign their jobs now and prevent restrictive legislation—legislation which it may take years to repeal. We already have too many regulations shackling employers and employes. But if wives insist on working when their husband have good jobs, then they must face the day of reckoning.