That first working mother who muttered, "What I need is a wife," as she fixed breakfasts and school lunches with one hand and dressed for success with the other, said it all.
With two-thirds of American women working outside the home, there now are a number who are fortunate (or work hard) enough to afford the rough equivalent of that traditional wife to assist them on the domestic front. But they are hamstrung by the bureaucracy in their efforts to obtain that assistance.
It's not enough that President Reagan has inferred that the influx of women into the job market has contributed to record-high unemployment figures. The administration also has allowed the Department of Labor to pursue a regulatory scheme that has been in existence for years but enforced vigorously only recently.
All of us who have been working for the last decade recognize the incontrovertible truth: Good help is hard to find. Impose the restriction that the help must be American and you can substitute "impossible" for "hard." Yet the Department of Labor, in its position as ultimate decision-maker of what jobs aliens who do not have permanent residency visas in the United States can and cannot have, maintains steadfastly that (1) there are "sufficient United States workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available" to be live-in and live-out housekeepers and (2) the only way a family can hire an alien legally as a live-in housekeeper is to prove, to the department's satisfaction, that the live-in requirement is a "business necessity."
That is, the family hiring the alien must show work-related or extraordinary household conditions to justify their desire for live-in help. The increasingly common family with two working parents and preschool and/or school-age children does not meet the department's threshold requirements to warrant such assistance (even though their needs might be work-related).
To compare, it is fair to ask how frequently you encounter an alien taxi driver, bus boy or parking-lot attendant. Does the Department of Labor demand documentation of "business necessity" from the employer hiring aliens working in these jobs? No.
The Administrative Law Judges who apply this "business necessity" test to applications for permission to hire aliens as live-ins (or applications for labor certification) are, obviously, not working mothers themselves, nor could they be married to the not atypical woman (or man) juggling home, family and career.
Among those whose requests to hire alien live-in help turned down recently:
* The family living far from public transportation who cannot get help to come daily on a live-out basis.
* The wealthy couple with an expensive home and pets who do a lot of traveling and would have to hire three different services (including guards to perform necessary duties in their absence).
* The family with a father working irregular hours, a mother with a certified medical condition preventing her from doing housework, and three children (ages 7, 9, and 11). In this last instance the judge opined that the children were old enough to put themselves to bed with the mother only "tucking them in."
* A company president who had won custody of his 9-year-old daughter during recent divorce proceedings and, as part of his position, had to travel frequently, leaving his daughter home alone.
Without a trace of sarcasm, these judges have suggested a variety of alternatives to live-in help, such as:
Having one employe during the day and bringing in a babysitter to care for the children on those evenings when the parent has to travel out of town or work late; hiring a travel attendant to accompany a handicapped businessman on work-related trips so his wife can stay home and care for the children; having a day worker prepare the evening meal so that the working parents can heat it up for the family upon their return from work.
There is no acknowledgment of the difficulty in finding a reliable babysitter on short notice; no sense of ridiculousness in the suggestion that a man hire someone else when his wife stands ready and willing to assist him; no understanding of the needs of two working parents in switching gears from job to home and children. With all the hand-wringing about the quality of family-life these days, why make it more difficult for parents to spend some unpressured time with their children?
If Americans were indeed available to perform the surrogate mother/management duties that are part of the live-in housekeeper job description, we might not take issue with this government dictation of who is, and who is not, entitled to live-in help. But anyone who has sought such help recently (or even in the last decade) knows that more likely than not, respondents to an ad for a housekeeper will speak heavily accented English (or no English at all).
In believing that full disclosure is the best policy, I admit that I am: (1) a working mother, (2) an employer of a foreign live-in housekeeper, and (3) an attorney who specializes in immigration law. My own personal experience with the search for help, coupled with the frantic calls I receive weekly from women who need assistance to keep it all together, leave me convinced that this bureaucratic interference in the attempts of women (and increasingly, single fathers with custody) to run their homes acceptably is ill-founded and should be stopped.
It is not beyond the realm of feasibility to create an acceptable regulatory scheme applicable specifically to alien housekeepers to ease the crunch that more and more families are experiencing and to bring together the prospective employers and aliens already in this country who want and need live-in jobs.
Live-in help is, of course, not the answer for everyone. But for those who want it and can afford it, should Uncle Sam be able to say "Buy American or Do Without?"
The last time I advertised for a housekeeper, I had one American respondent. Her first question: "How old do you have to be for the job?" I replied with an inquiry of my own, "How old are you?" Her answer: "I'm 12."
I rest my case.