Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

“Large families, large houses, traditional role models, and single incomes”

November 18th, 2014 by MC

Those words would be as good an answer as I could give to the question originally addressed to Conan the Barbarian: “What is best in life?”

But they’re actually taken from this passage:

“As the economy has adjusted for families with two paychecks, those who do not have two paychecks are at a decided disadvantage.  It is now both a luxury and a sacrifice to have a non-working mother. Stay-at-home mothers illustrate the difficulty of living out the American Dream on short rations.  Mormon assumptions conflict dramatically with basic feminist assumptions, that women should be able to pay their own way, not held in thrall to the big male boss. Large families, large houses, traditional role models, and single incomes have led to some painful economic realities in current Mormon lives:  bankruptcy, foreclosure, welfare.  That’s not what anyone had in mind.  We need some creative new models.”

I don’t disagree with this, though I’m sure that Sister Bushman and I have different ideas of what “creative new models” ought to emerge, and I’m also guessing (perhaps wrongly) that her models aren’t all that new or creative.

I’m reminded of a family I met on my mission (Spanish-speaking in the U.S.). The father was a traveling fire alarm salesman. His suits were clearly second-hand, but durable, clean and well-fitting. They lived in an old, tiny (but clean) two-bedroom house on the edge of town. Mom took care of their eight kids at home (one was in college). Two sets of triple bunk beds, plus another bed for the oldest and a crib in the parents’ room. All meals were home cooked; how could they not be? Their kids were jarringly polite and intelligent, and I would not be remotely surprised if every last one of them served a mission. I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture; I’m sure they had plenty of heartburn in lean times. But they were as happy as any family I’ve known.

We previously had not employed women who have minor children at home, in consideration of their important role as mothers,” Webb said. “While we continue to recognize that contribution that they make in their homes, we also recognize that sometimes their personal and family circumstances require them to work.”

The prosperity of the 50s was an artifact of the post-war rebuild, the Baby Boom, you name it. It was a brief window, but doggone it, it was a good one. Maybe without feminism, we’d still have it, although it’s also possible that without women pushing down wages in the developed world, the export of jobs to the third world would have proceeded even more quickly. Regardless, there’s been an obvious deterioration in the sort of employment that allows a man to support a wife and more than 1.5 kids in the middle to upper-middle class existence that is typical of people we see called to positions of responsibility in the Church.

A cynic would say that we should stop expecting every bishop to be a Romney in miniature. But it’s not that simple. I just had the bishopric reject my choice to fill a scoutmaster calling because the husband simply has to work too many hours to make it feasible. This is an intelligent (though not bookish) returned missionary with kids whose wife is employed full time. They live in a small apartment in a shabby neighborhood. And I do not doubt that they really do need the money.

Then there’s this:

“Every aspect of family and community life gets an infusion of vitality and depth from wives who are not working full time. If you live in a place that you cherish because ‘it’s a great community,’ think of the things you have in mind that make it a great community (scenery and restaurants don’t count), and then think about who bears the brunt of the load in making those things happen. If you live in a place that is not a community—it’s just a collection of unrelated people, living anonymously, without social capital—think of the reasons why it is not a community. One of the answers will be that no one has spare time for that kind of thing.”

I don’t think we squares can give up without a fight. It’s too important. When moms go to work en masse, the nurseries empty out. And no one will have time to run the Church except the dentists, doctors and bankers.

What is the solution? The brethren already hammer it into the young men (rightly) to take education seriously. Utah already has one of the highest rates of entrepreneurship in the country; no doubt some of that is RMs without fancy degrees who haven’t given up on making a buck.

But I’m thinking it needs to get weird; we need those “creative new models.” Maybe some philoprogenitive Mormons could buy up those broken-down $500 houses in Detroit (hey, there’s a temple there), and perform the mother of all gentrifications. Maybe we need to follow the Brigham Young model, and start some cooperative enterprises outside the gentile economy. A small housing colony built from scratch in a rural area, perhaps.

Maybe (gulp) breaking the taboos against food stamps and Medicaid, etc., is the less-bad alternative to families with more employers than kids.

Or maybe we just need more people willing to pack eight kids into a two-bedroom house on the outskirts of town. As sacrifices go, it beats handcarts by a mile.

Comments (29)
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November 18th, 2014 02:31:03
29 comments

John Mansfield
November 18, 2014

This stuff worries me a lot. We can’t live differently in the matters we want to and the same in those things where we want what everyone else has. Two-master problems are rough stuff, probably more of a retention difficulty affecting more people today than all the polygamous marriages of the 19th Century put together.


Bruce Charlton
November 18, 2014

It is a long time since the basic LDS expansion model switched from expanding from Utah outwards by immigration, to planting stakes all over the world (asking converts to stay-put and build). But it must be much harder for small stakes to live differently. Maybe some combination would work best – with converts encouraged to relocate to established centres? Then there could be some creative new solutions, perhaps.


G.
November 18, 2014

The good life works for us, but we have to live tight.

I see two problems. First, a lot of Saints aren’t willing to sacrifice enough for the good life. They haven’t faced the music yet. Second, a lot of Saints can’t afford it, even with sacrifices. I don’t often think that I do measurable good in the world, but there are at least two marriages I’ve helped by having a long talk with the wife about the specific socioeconomic changes that have made it hard to impossible for her husband to provide a comfortable though not lavish middle-class lifestyle by himself. Or even an uncomfortable middle class lifestyle.

There are a number of legal changes that are probably needed, and broader cultural changes. A number of them would be relatively simple (for example, make it cheaper to employ teenagers–prolonged childhood is death on family formation). We should absolutely support those. But we have to start where we are, with what we have at hand. Here are my thoughts, most of which I and my wife are implementing in one form or another.

1. Education: our young men and young women, and even our middle aged folks, need to be consciously aware of the factors that are making the good life more difficult. You can’t plan if you don’t consciously realize there is a problem. People drift into debt or into a lifestyle that requires two incomes to support, or mentally never recalibrate their lifestyle expectations, because they never realized they needed to. Parents don’t teach their kids and mature community stalwarts don’t reach out and provide the support they could, because they don’t realize they need to. Or people do recalibrate their lifestyles and parents do provide support, but with a sense of failure and judgment, because they haven’t realized the larger socioeconomic factors at play.

2. YM need to be serious about career and work from an early age. If you’re not college-bound, so be it, but think about alternative careers to make. Be flexible. But above all, start working as early as possible and saving money. College majors should have a career goal in mind. There is room for prayer and Spirit-guided exceptions here, to be sure. But for the most part a fine arts major should be an indulgence for the wealthy.

2. YM should avoid considerable college debt. Medical school is an exception. Maybe also Harvard or Yale or UChicago or Stanford. Even then, be cognoscent of how much of the debt is actually lifestyle debt. Start scrimping in college. YW should avoid college debt like the plague.

3. YW should think seriously about getting employment early on (teenage years and through high school) to build up what will effectively be a dowry. Remember, the object isn’t to have fun and splurge, not before marriage, not at the wedding and honeymoon, nor in the first years of marriage. The object is a downpayment on a home or a reserve fund that makes having a child possible early on.

4. YW should think seriously about developing skills that make part-time flexible employment possible.

5. Homeschooling, highschool Junior College co-credit programs, and the destigmatization of the GED have meant that you can graduate high school early and compress your college education. It’s not right for everyone, but it should be considered.

6. Yes, food stamps and Medicaid and occasionally Church help when needed. That change has already happened down here, there is no longer a stigma. Church members are already paying the price for these in taxes and in a less robust economy and a less flexible and robust job market, so they might as well compensate by taking benefits where it is reasonable and honest to do so. I try to model this at church by talking openly about the time we took Church help and about being on WIC during our first two pregnancies. Conversely, I also try to pay a generous fast offering now.

7. Try to live close to parents or other church members/friends/neighbors who can provide a support network. It makes having children and also part time, flexible employment for women much easier. Perhaps even live *with* parents. I’ve told my children that there will be no stigma living with us when they and their spouses are starting out, if they are using it as an opportunity to save.

8. Provident living. Smaller houses mean less debt and more job flexibility. Make children work to support the household. Do a little research on frugal living ideas. Probably the younger, the better.

9. Parents, plan on helping out your children in their young adulthood as much as possible. Perhaps not paying for college, because that is a treadmill it is going to be very difficult to stay on. But setting aside money to help with house payments is reasonable. Or adjusting retirement/lifestyle plans so you can be supportive with childcare.

10. More informal experimentation with more communal style living. Too many possibilities to describe here, but here’s a sample: two families could buy a duplex, or two homes next to each other, or a small apartment building, and share one or two vehicles. Could save quite a bit that way.


John Mansfield
November 18, 2014

We had ward councils from a few stakes gathered last week for training by a General Seventy. He remarked about elders’ quorums failing to be a social support like they should be, and it seemed he intended to return to that point, that he had a lot more to say, but he didn’t get to it. When I moved into one ward, after introducing myself in my first quorum meeting, the quorum president in front of everyone said, “Don’t buy any tools! Whatever you need, someone in this room already has.” With that start I felt very comfortable months later asking who had a router for a baseboard I wanted to shape; two quorum fellows lent me theirs on different occasions. It was perfectly natural to ask another quorum member to spend a night with me screwing in a sheetrock ceiling, as if he were my brother-in-law. Reaching out for that kind of help feels more in place in some wards than in others.


John Mansfield
November 18, 2014

I was wondering where I had seen that Claudia Bushman passage before. It was a comment by MC to a post I wrote last year “Love One, Hate the Other?” I put up that post after reading a post at Times and Seasons by a writer lauding her un-Mormon economic choices. Looking at her personal blog today, I find an entry from last month: “Barely a day goes by when I don’t consciously think about how glad I am that we don’t attend the Mormon church anymore.”


MC
November 18, 2014

Funny, I had forgotten making that comment. What brought this subject to mind recently was the CES change and my scoutmaster issue. It feels like a tipping point.

Adam ‘s comment in that T&S thread is an all-time classic. Prophetic, even.


Man SL
November 18, 2014

“Parenthood powerfully combats the two greatest dangers to a democracy: selfishness and isolation. ”

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2014/11/13829/


Wm
November 18, 2014

I suggest we recolonize the inner ring suburbs of major metro areas using a combination of charter school and homeschool co-op efforts; an emphasis on technical training rather than the professions; and small-business/entrepreneurial efforts. We already have a reputation for friendliness and honesty. We need less lawyers (no offense AG) and more electricians and construction managers and HVAC technicians and machinists. This has several advantages in addition to the obvious:

1. Lower housing prices and lower commute times for those who end up working in the city.
2. Closer proximity to immigrants and working class folks who are more likely to join the Church.
3. Less of a need to continue to build out church buildings and a renewal of the existing building stock. The Church is doing a good job of balancing the migration of LDS to outer-ring suburbs, but it is a strain leading to either longer commutes to buildings for members or underutilization of inner suburb buildings or both.

The same can be done in non-metro-areas, especially mid-sized towns, which can also provide a better environment for Mormons who feel called to creative class professions.

There are, of course, a whole host of down sides. But based on some of the conversations with Mormon men in their thirties who are on the white collar track, they’d welcome the change. They all got MBAs or JDs because they thought that was the only way to support a family. They’re kind of right. But I think we should find alternatives.

Now, I’m a total hypocrite because I currently live in an outer ring suburb (albeit one that’s still close to the city). Although I do work in technical education and help support the classical education focused charter school.


G.
November 18, 2014

Wm.,
sound ideas.

I don’t know if my city qualifies as big enough to have an inner suburb, but the Mormons flooding the exurbs are there because its the cheapest part of town. Living in the trashier part of town isn’t all that cheap if you’re law-abiding and non-judgment proof.


Wm
November 18, 2014

That can be an issue, Man SL. And which locations would work best will vary by city/metro area.

And there are gradations of trashy — generally, the reasons to not live in certain parts of town are concerns about schools and about housing prices (e.g. white flight). Since housing is no longer a viable savings strategy and schooling can be (in some states) dealt with school choice options. The problem with continuing to emphasize the exurbs is all the hidden costs that go with life in the exurbs. The tradeoffs are understandable, but what happens if your exurb goes to pot? That’s happened in several metro locations.


Wm
November 18, 2014

Sorry — mis-read who I was responding to. That was directed at G.

The other thing that I’m seeing/hearing is the desire to re-migrate to the Mormon corridor. We already saw a ton of that from the West Coast to Utah in the late 90s/early 2000s, esp. with baby boomers. But I know a few Gen X/Y families that either have already or would jump on the opportunity to get off the corporate ladder and move back.


Wm
November 18, 2014

That should read: “help support the classical education focused charter school that my daughter attends.”


G.
November 18, 2014

One key point you’re making: the homeschool and charter school movements are giving Mormon and other Christian families unprecedented freedom to break out of the mold and do different things with our lives. They are good things in themselves, but they are also enablers. For the most part, we aren’t taking full advantage.

Your Mormon corridor thought brings me back to one of my other crazy notions, which fits with Bruce C.’s suggestions. I believe the church should designate a few secondary gathering places around the US, probably by founding schools or, more cost-effectively, by setting up super institutes with boarding options and offering partial scholarships to all LDS applicants. Ditto countries outside the US. It would be a cheaper way of expanding the BYU-type opportunities and create some needed eggs outside the one basket.

Although sometimes I think all this boils down to is me being an eccentric who really wants to live in a semi-commune with family and good friends.


Wm
November 18, 2014

The thing with charter schools is that Mormons can’t do it on their own. This is one reason why I’m grateful that the charter school in my area that we helped start (although 98% of the credit goes to the three founders, none of whom are LDS) is a classical education focused school with an emphasis on a rigorous education and character education. Because it is non-denominational and apolitical*, it has attracted students from a wide variety of religious backgrounds and has led to some great common ground around the importance of family, self-discipline, learning, etc.

*I suppose no education is truly apolitical, but because it’s classical education, it’s secular humanist with an appreciation for religion and so only truly alienates progressives.


Zen
November 18, 2014

In so many ways, we are living a very different life than much of Western Civilization, or even the World in general. It is far more than just finances.

We are building an entire civilization from scratch, out of the sinking wreck of modern society. Babylon will fall, and it will be a great fall, and God is just getting us ready to have a substitute that will survive. This is the hard work of getting ready for Christ to return.


Geoff B
November 18, 2014

Just a data point from rural Colorado: in our little ward more than an hour from Denver, houses are relatively inexpensive ($200k will buy you a 4-2 2200 sq ft with a yard). Most of the families here have one person working and one person taking care of the kids. We are relatively modest in our expenditures, as a ward. If you are willing to go without many of the luxuries, it is still possible to live as families did in the 1950s. Too many people seem to think they need the 5,000 sq ft house, the private schools, the newest cars and ATVs, etc. You do not.


MC
November 19, 2014

“We need less lawyers”

HEY, if it weren’t for lawyers, who would be around to pedantically correct people? (P.S., that should be “fewer lawyers”)

Wm makes an interesting point about hypocrisy. I myself am part of the MD/JD/MBA/DDS brigade, so I’m aware that post could be interpreted as “let them eat WIC.” I have a little fantasy about the $500 houses in Detroit, but I’m not giving up a steady paycheck and health insurance to pursue it. And it should be recognized as a good thing that so many brethren have found stable and remunerative careers. I just don’t want the Mormon way of life to become the exclusive domain of people with good SAT scores.

The homeschool/attending college before 18 idea probably deserves it’s own post. I’m not exaggerating when I say it has the potential to upend society. In a good way.


Zen
November 19, 2014

The trend of an increasingly rapid rate of change in careers and technology will necessitate changes in education. This is going to mean online education will grow significantly and its lower costs will mean it will start to eat into a significant portion of university income. We certainly need to have shorter and more useful college degrees. But these changes could pop a bubble in higher education that would be quite devastating.


Vader
November 19, 2014

“I just don’t want the Mormon way of life to become the exclusive domain of people with good SAT scores.”

This is beginning to worry me profoundly. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart on the growing class differences, based largely on intellectual accomplishment, should give the heebie-jeebies to any Mormon who has read Mosiah.

“The homeschool/attending college before 18 idea probably deserves it’s own post. I’m not exaggerating when I say it has the potential to upend society. In a good way.”

And since consistency is the Sith Lord of little minds, I’m also concerned about a school system so determined to keep kids of the same age together and run them through the same number of years of instruction that the brightest kids end up marking time for years while the dumbest are still functionally illiterate when they are kicked out of the system.


Vader
November 19, 2014

And since lawyers shouldn’t have all the fun: It’s its and not it’s for the possessive form.


Zen
November 19, 2014

Nobody likes No Child Left Behind, but how much would they like the alternative?


Wm
November 19, 2014

Fewer is fusty. Less is more.

I’m skeptical of online education. It works for highly motivated individuals who need a few skills or just a credential, but not much more than that. The problem is that good education, especially good technical education which requires labs and equipment and time, is expensive to deliver. And the problem is that the expensiveness of the current system is found in all the wrong places. That’s a whole crazy debate that I still have mixed feelings on, but I do have a lot of experience in where higher ed is messed up and where it’s working.

On a more practical level, my advice for LDS youth in the U.S. is to work the current system as well and smart as you can. That means:

1. If you can get into a top-tier college that is willing to pay you money to go there, then do it and put in the work to keep the money flowing (that means not just keeping up your grades but also pursuing other sources of scholarship etc. money). Don’t go into more than $10k in debt to do so. Ideally, not even close to that.

2. If you can’t, go to a community college and do well in your classes. Consider getting a technical degree that then allows you to work part time and make decent (or even great) money and then go on to at least a bachelor’s completion degree and possibly an advanced degree.

3. Alternately, go to a community college and do really well and transfer to a top-tier college. If your local community college has a terrible transfer record, find relations or friends who live near one that is good and will room and board you for cheap. This is what I did.

4. Go to BYU or BYU-I or BYU-H only if you a) have a specific program that you want to study at the college and is one that will lead you to a good career path or b) live in area with very few LDS — as in almost no institute program at all — or c) already know you want to go on to a professional school and need a cheap but respected undergraduate education to launch you into a top-tier professional school. Top-tier can also mean top-tier regionally.


Geoff B
November 19, 2014

Another data point: the people driving new cars and trucks in Northern Colorado are all of the welders working in the oil fields, who easily make $120k-plus and don’t have any student loan debt because they never went to college. I am not convinced that in this day and age going to a college is the solution for the majority of people. Trade schools, yes.


G.
November 19, 2014

WM,
great comments. I might push back on your point 4, though. A big part of providing for a family is getting the family to provide for. Dating pool size matters a lot. The BYUs are pretty inexpensive if you are willing to work. When I talk to young men, I suggest that they consider some combination of attending the BYUs, attending another of the high Mormon pop schools (UVU, UU, USU, Eastern Arizona, ASU, BSU) or work in a period of time working or doing internships in one of those locations as part of the career plan.


G.
November 19, 2014

Geoff B.,
that is a great point to consider, since the college route isn’t for everyone. Not even the community college route, unless we’re talking a community college trade school. The problem I’m seeing is that there is really no good source of public information about what kinds of blue collar jobs are hot and where. I know about the Bakken boom, for example, but mostly just because I read all the time. Most of the blue collar guys I know either hadn’t heard of it or have only heard of it recently as word as percolated. But the boom has been going on for several years. A lot of my cousins are working up in North Dakota making very good money. What happened was that one cousin heard about it, investigated, and then passed the word to everybody else. But not everybody has 70 first cousins to serve as an information gathering net.


Zen
November 19, 2014

WM,
Online Education is my day job (teaching math specifically), and while there are plenty of growing pains, this is going to be big. Most of my students are adults returning to college, but there is also a lot of young ,more conventional students as well.

With the price point being where it is, the invisible hand will motivate people to make it work.

But regarding how we will get along – I suspect God wants us In the World, and not physically separate from it… yet. I do think a physical separation will come, and we will physically gather in one body. But that isn’t yet and will probably be precipitated by severe persecution.


John Mansfield
November 19, 2014

“But not everybody has 70 first cousins to serve as an information gathering net.”

An example why I think the “family is more important than all other social relations combined” message gets overdone in the church. Stakes, wards, and quorums ought to count for something and not be treated as a nuisance getting in the way of attention to blood kin. I want inclusive Zion, not clannish Zion.


Fraggle
November 19, 2014

I saw a friend I’d grown up with earlier in the year and one of the things we talked about was his dilemma with trying to find a house near London, knowing that all the ones they were looking at would mean his wife would need to work and the other financial pressures that he would be/is under.

I pointed out that selling prices in good locations are functions of competition and that as long as we engage in that competition we’re going to need to make the kind of money it calls for in whatever way is necessary. If everyone else has both partners working full-time, the only way to compete for the unexceptional is to do the same.

The other option is to accept that you’re not going to win that game and play a different one, where you live somewhere you wouldn’t otherwise choose (maybe meaning taking a job you otherwise wouldn’t) in order to be able to survive on a single income, and I think the *where* your house is will turn out to be more important than the *size*. That $500 Detroit house is the price it is because of where it is.

Incidentally, gentrification may be precisely what Detroit needs, but no-one will thank you for it, because the current inhabitants will then no longer be able to afford to live there.

I’m pretty pessimistic about the world turning this around. I do think it will take some like-minded families building some new communities, again, if the world lets them.

Btw, John you really confused me when you were talking about the personal blog that said they didn’t go a day without thinking how glad they were they left the church. I thought you were saying Claudia Bushman left the church!


el oso
November 21, 2014

I was having a conversation with a family member about teaching some of these principles and strategies to our children. It is hard to get the teenagers to understand what is clear with a long-term view of things.
In my city, our suburb is the most preferred for young LDS families. There are modest and affordable houses with good schools (for this city). There are also wealthy neighborhoods nearby and in the same ward. You can grow your family, income and house size and not leave your community. The homeschool families that are LDS come from all over, but half of them are in the district of the top 4 or 5 schools in the area. The gentrification areas are mostly condos and apartments near downtown, not a good choice if you want more than 2 kids.

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