Last week, Mitt Romney criticized the “47%” of Americans who rely on government programs such as Medicaid, arguing that they don’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Since then, it’s been pointed out that the 47% includes the elderly, the unemployed, and veterans—but it also includes a significant number of young Mormons like me.
Last year the Salt Lake Tribune reported that “44 percent of births to parents who listed ‘student’ as their occupation” in Utah in 2008 were funded by Medicaid. About 39 percent of those births occurred in Utah County, home to a population that’s about 80% Mormon and to LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University. As the wife of a BYU graduate student, I know that using Medicaid to finance childbirth is a common decision among our student peers. LDS student families also take advantage of low-income housing, WIC vouchers, and other assistance. Restrictions on student employment, caps on student loans, and the high costs of insurance premiums and maternity deductibles don’t leave many other choices.
These students aren’t relying on government aid because they are irresponsible or careless. Young Mormon couples who have children are simply trying to live their faith. For decades, LDS Church leaders have instructed members to marry and have children early, without waiting for financial security or to complete an education. In fact, young Mormon men have even been chastised for postponing marriage for financial reasons.
The commandment for the LDS faithful to “multiply and replenish the earth” is coupled with teachings that, ideally, mothers should not seek employment outside of the home. Women who choose to work face messages from church leaders that they are acting contrary to their divine natures, introducing conflict into their marriages, and contributing to the disintegration of the traditional family.
Young LDS couples view government assistance as a way to bridge the gap between religious proscriptions and economic realities and as a stepping-stone toward the goal of self-reliance. In my own BYU student family, we too have wrestled with the economic difficulty of starting a family. We’ve experienced employers that are not friendly to families, part-time jobs without benefits, student loan debt, and high medical costs and insurance deductibles. We used WIC to obtain Pediasure when our daughter refused food. We’ve made compromises, lived frugally, and accepted help from family as we support one child on part-time salaries, and we plan to use 401K disbursements to cover our maternity deductible for a second child. But not every young family has those options.
I wish I could tell Mitt Romney that many people in the 47% that he disdains are doing the best they can in a world where our hopes and obligations don’t always match up with our resources.