In a recently-publicized video, Mitt Romney criticizes people in the United States who rely on government programs such as Medicaid and argues that they don't "take personal responsibility and care for their lives." This group includes the elderly, the underemployed and 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 percent 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 LDS faithful to "multiply and replenish the earth" is coupled with teachings that, ideally, mothers should not seek employment outside of the home. Mothers 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 having children. We've experienced employers that are not family-friendly, part-time jobs without benefits, student loan debt and high medical expenses. We used WIC to obtain Pediasure when our daughter wasn't thriving. 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 help finance the birth of a second child. But not every young family has those options. I wish that Romney better understood that many of us in the 47 percent he disdains are doing the best we can in a world where our hopes and obligations don't always match up with our opportunities and resources.