Emma Dunmire is one of those people the president has described as selfish.
She fits his description -- selfish member of special-interest group -- because she has the egocentric nerve to oppose the budget cuts he has outlined. b
The 48-year-old mother has the gall to come to the defense of that group of human beings known as displaced homemakers. These are women who made one terrible economic "mistake." They stayed home to take care of their children.
Here in Ft. Myers, Dunmire has run "Rediscovery," one of the 31 nascent programs across the nation for caretakers who have been left in the lurch by death, divorce, desertion, disease. Once a displaced homemaker with four children of her own, Dunmire has seen 300 women come into the program with little work experience and less self-esteem. She has seen them leave with a decent resume, a prop of self-worth and a job prospect.
"We're talking here about really getting people back on their feet," she says.
It took four years for people like her to make the term "displaced homemaker" a respectable one, years to set up legislation, year to get programs operating.
Now they see it all going down the drain. The freezing of funds for the Comprehensive Education and Training Act means half of these programs will simply end March 31. It means the "lucky" ones, like Rediscovery, will find their budgets amputated so that they can barely limp along.
So Emma Dunmire, selfish special-interest groupie that she is, now knows what the rest of us had better understand: This administration, which lauds the traditional role for women, is making this choice riskier and riskier every day. There is no single job in America more economically perilous today than that of full-time motherhood.
The proposed budget cuts are aimed dead-eye at women who are now, or have been for most of their lives, mothers at home.
Who will be hurt by cuts in food stamps? Women with children.
Who will be hurt by cuts in Aid to Families with Dependent Children? Women with children.
Who will be hurt by cuts in Medicaid, cuts in day care, cuts in child nutrition? Women with children.
This mother is threatened now with the specter of workfare -- forced labor at dead-end subsistence-level jobs -- if she wants to stay at home. She is threatened with slashes in child-care deductions and training programs if she wants to go to work.
The cuts in programs to the poor affect mothers most, because they and their children are the poor. Two-thirds of the households headed by women with children receive welfare benefits. One-third of today's generation of children are likely to live in homes headed by women receiving welfare benefits before they are 18.
An enormous number of the mothers in this country are one man away from welfare.
But the Reagan proposals may have an even more devastating effect on the older women who have spent most of their adult lives taking care of others.
"Our safety net of programs," insists Reagan, "is intact." But the safety net never caught these women.
There are 4 million to 6 million displaced homemakers in the country; many are caught between AFDC and Social Security. For many of them, displaced-homemaker programs were a road to economic independence. This road is now virtually closed.
At the same time, the subsistence rut of economic dependence is pitted with new, treacherous holes. The proposed cuts in Medicaid, the proposed cuts in benefits to veterans' dependents and the possibility of raising the age of eligibility for Social Security are all directed at older women hanging on by their fingernails. There is no net over this abyss.
The older a woman is, the worse the story gets. One out of every two women can expect to be widowed by 65. One-third of all widows live below the poverty line. In 1979, the average income for a woman over 65 was $59 a week. p
The plan to cut minimum Social Security will hurt these older, unemployed women alone the most. Only 15 percvent of those who receive benefits are "double-dippers," living off two pension plans. The bulk of them are women who spent a bare minimum time in the work force and now live off those payments.
There are the true stories, these are the true prospects for the traditional woman's role the Reagan administration so praises. These are the risks for a young woman who wants to be a full-time mother in the brave new world of fiscal responsibility.
Once again protection turns out to be a sham, and the caretakers of our society end up at the bottom of the heap. There, if they sift among the proposed budget cuts, they can find a pretty clear message: Any woman selfish enough to want to take care of her own children had better find a husband who will never leave her, and never get sick -- and never, ever, die.