Hilary Rosen may have done Barack Obama a big favor. The controversy over her remarks about Ann Romney and her experience as a stay-at-home mom overshadowed the President’s commentary from last week about their own choice in raising their daughters. Our Erika Johnsen didn’t miss it, though, emphasis mine:
And once Michelle and I had our girls, she gave it her all to balance raising a family and pursuing a career. And something that, could be very difficult on her, because I was gone a lot. Once I was in the state legislature, I was teaching, I was practicing law, I’d be traveling. And we didn’t have the luxury for her not to work.
Well, most stay-at-home moms would bristle at the idea of that being a “luxury.” It’s a sacrifice in most cases, a denial of luxuries from the lack of a second income. Obviously Obama wanted to draw a contrast between himself and the Romneys with the word “luxury,” but instead it suggests that only wealthy families that commit to one full-time parent at home.
Besides, why couldn’t the Obamas have chosen to be a one-income family? Malia was born in 1998, when her father was in his first term in the Illinois legislature. At the time and to this day, the pay for Illinois state legislators was among the highest in the US. The Illinois Policy Institute protested this fact in 2010 with some research into the history of legislative pay, and lists the statutory levels of pay for each year going back for nearly a century. In 1998, Obama earned $49,807; in 1999 that went up to $53,581, and by the time Sasha was born in 2001 it was $57,619, where it remained until Obama went into the US Senate. Add to that the per-diem allowance granted to legislators, which in 2007 was $125 per day the legislature is in session and was likely substantially close to that during Obama’s tenure, and it adds up. (While Obama had published his memoir Dreams from My Father in 1995, sales were relatively modest at that time and wouldn’t have produced any windfall in royalty income.)
Put that together with whatever income he derived from teaching and practicing law, and the Obama household income looks pretty decent indeed, especially in comparison to national income averages. The median household income in 1998 was $$38,283, and by 2000 it had risen to $41,362. In comparison, the median income in 2000 for two-parent households where the wife was not in the workforce was $49,800 in 2009 dollars, which would have been $40,371 in 2000 dollars — or slightly less than the overall median household income (h/t Maggie Gallagher). On just his legislative salary alone, the Obamas brought in 33% more than the average two-parent, single-income household at the time.
The Obamas certainly weren’t wealthy, but they were hardly doomed by circumstances to get a second income, either, even without counting the income from Obama’s teaching and law practice. And as the national averages from the Census Bureau show, the average stay-at-home-mom family wasn’t living a life of “luxury,” either.
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