The Affordability Crisis Hits LDS Homes

Natalie Brown recently completed a dissertation in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University that examines the relationship between homesickness and economic instability in nineteenth-century literature. She is currently guest editing an issue on the role of homes and houses in LDS culture for Irreantum, the literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters. She encourages anyone interested in this topic to read the issue-specific guidelines and submit.

My life before the pandemic feels indistinguishable sometimes from the quarantine that followed. The pandemic exposed more than it created the preexisting cracks in my support network. I was already lonely and inadequately supported as an LDS mother of young children living in Colorado. Like many other families, we’d followed a job and found opportunity. That opportunity, however, came with the costs of living away from extended family and expensive housing that guaranteed my parents and siblings would not follow us.

Living away from family was not a wholly new situation to me. I’m a product of the Midwest, and my own parents raised me hundreds of miles from their families. My current situation, however, feels different from the one in which I grew up. While it’s easy to let nostalgia gloss the past, my parents had a ward with many families they could draw on for support and who actively mentored younger members. My parents could eventually afford luxuries like babysitters, lessons, and gym memberships that allowed them breaks from caretaking that today seem out of reach on any regular basis. In contrast, I find myself struggling with isolation as I stay home with children, as LDS women have long been encouraged to do. I’ve lost most of my local friends with young children in the last five years as families move in and out in search of cheaper housing and struggle to pay for things like preschool. The thing is, we are educated, middle-aged, and far from poor. Housing and childcare, however, are expensive. Which is another way of saying that affording a family today is tough.

LDS families in the United States are not immune from the general economic conditions that have driven many Americans toward cities and raised housing and childcare prices to unsustainable levels in many parts of the country. In an examination of the Bay Area housing crisis, Conor Dougherty locates the problem in the creation of high-opportunity jobs in metro areas combined with policies that have resulted in too little housing to accommodate the influx of labor.[1] While cities like San Francisco are notorious for their housing shortages, even less expensive job centers are seeing alarming trends. Deseret News, for example, recently reported on the housing crisis along the Wasatch Front. Childcare costs have also risen dramatically, with childcare now costing more than in-state college tuition in many states. While not all families have two parents in the workforce, these costs impact unpaid caregivers and paid workers alike as even part-time preschool can be prohibitively expensive.

LDS families are caught in a problem faced by all Americans, but it is also a problem with deep implications for a religion that has strongly encouraged women to stay home and men to provide. For several decades, a great deal of the financial support and labor needed to run the Church has implicitly relied on this family structure. This model was never available to everyone, but what feels new is that it is also increasingly unavailable to the privileged, white, heteronormative Americans who’ve formed much of the Church’s American base. While the most wrenching consequences of the affordability crisis usually fall on individuals and disrupted local communities, I want to suggest that this crisis (and the associated changes to family life that it is causing) is one of the most pressing long-term challenges to the future of the LDS Church and its growth. It’s time now to adjust to a reality in which members are living and working differently than they did when many of the Church’s core programs were formed.

In my own ward, the impact of higher costs, especially housing costs, is visible in declining numbers of youth and middle-aged families. While there are benefits to tight wards, there is also a struggle to maintain the critical mass of children needed to sustain activities as well as the adults needed to run the ward and provide support to elderly members, who often find themselves living alone without local family support. While women have been historically relied on to provide compassionate service, offer informal parenting support, and perform time-consuming callings, they are less available once they are compelled to reenter the workforce or find themselves less assisted by spouses working increasing hours. The fact that many are now forced to remote school their children because of the pandemic may be the ask that finally breaks their willingness to volunteer again and again.

For families that still adhere to the two-parent, one-earner model, the loss of local families increases the challenges and loneliness of parenting—further accelerating the demise of this model. This past year, I personally experienced intense loneliness and delayed reentry into the paid workforce while I struggled to finish a degree remotely, support my kindergartener through online school, and care for my preschooler with limited help from my spouse, who is now working even longer hours thanks to the pandemic. The burnout I feel today, however, feels strikingly similar to the depression I experienced before the pandemic when trying to care for young kids in a community destabilized by housing prices. As it turns out, there aren’t many supports like neighborhood playdates when families are busy working to afford shelter or moving out entirely. Furthermore, the affordability crisis is a challenge not just for parenting. Recently, I’ve also grappled with how to care for older family members whom I do not live near while also doing my best to serve ward members who are living alone and isolated due to the pandemic. Living without a local support network is difficult the moment something in your world goes wrong, which is partly why the affordability crisis is catastrophic for everyone.

Clearly, the Church is aware of the economic changes impacting its members. It responded to the time constraints faced by today’s members and other factors through changes like the two-hour block and the Come Follow Me program. However, these innovations can reinforce rather than resolve the isolation and overwork many feel as formal church activities and member fellowship become less present in their daily lives. As a mom of young kids, it was hard not to feel that Come Follow Me was simply one more job the Church was asking me to do without support when I was longing for adult interaction and a break from my kids.

Less visible than the shifting demographics of wards caught in the affordability crisis is the long-term impact the crisis may have on Church operations in metro regions. As Mormon fiction writer and cultural critic William Morris pointed out to me, some metro-area stakes have historically relied on wealthy, suburban families to help provide leadership and financial support to less established urban wards that would not otherwise have enough members to fill callings or sufficient resources like transportation or space to operate. At its best, this model has helped facilitate both spreading the gospel and sometimes social mobility as members shared their cultural and financial capital. It is threatened, however, when the families historically relied on are themselves priced out of a region and have no extra time or resources to spare. Time and money spent on housing, childcare, and commuting is time and money not spent on church activity. While LDS families would often follow the general American pattern of moving from city to suburb as they grew—and to some extent still do—there are simply no sufficiently affordable suburbs left in many metro regions to which they might decamp. This is bad news for families, and for a family-oriented church’s growth in those influential hotspots.

These challenges are faced by all Americans and not just LDS members. They will require creative—and most likely governmental—solutions, like the childcare plan recently proposed by LDS Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), and, for the LDS community, a rethinking of our assumptions about how members are living or should live. In the meantime, the affordability crisis presents the LDS Church with a compelled opportunity to innovate different lifestyle and organizational choices than those we’ve come to associate with LDS culture in the United States. While these adaptions require much future discussion, it seems clear, for example, that we need to think differently about the gendered division of labor that occurs within families in order to help members meet the demands of today’s economy. We need more generous interpretations of the potential of each gender, and of those who don’t fit neatly into a binary, as we face the challenge of adapting. We may need to rethink the mechanisms through which we ask members to engage in activities like food storage that have often assumed the storage space of a single-family house. We should ask if ward buildings that sit unused most of the week can serve additional purposes in communities that are out of land. We need to plan for a reality in which members have less time to volunteer but still crave interaction. We may even need to reevaluate what kinds of programs we subsidize, for example by expanding the Church’s support of higher education to include support for preschools and childcare. Whatever the future of Mormonism looks like, the affordability crisis guarantees that it cannot look the same as it does now.

[1] Conor Dougherty, Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America (New York: Penguin Press, 2020), xi–xiii.

Cover photo by Blake Wheeler on Unsplash


  1. John Mansfield says:

    The above are profoundly important matters for the future of the Latter-day Saints. On isolation, when the church’s 2019 changes to gatherings and the youth program were rolled out, I thought “You’re on your own. Say it one more time: You’re on your own.”

    I find interest in what Mrs. Brown wrote above as one person’s answer to a question I asked my relatives 17 years ago, in 2004: “Riding in trains across Pennsylvania these past months, I became interested in learning a little more about the Amish. An interesting point for what follows is that at the beginning of the 20th Century their agricultural practices and lack of financial opulence were not nearly as distinctive as they are now. They stayed as they were and the surrounding world changed.

    “In many American communities, it is the common practice for husband and wives to both be employed. It wasn’t that way forty years ago, but it is now. Among Latter-day Saints, though, generally only the husband is employed, in keeping with the guide of church leaders. This will have the result of Latter-day Saint families having less money than they would otherwise and being overall a poorer people.

    “It may be objected that there are costs associated with having both spouses work that take away from the gains. True, but the offsets only offset a portion of the gains generally. The women and men in question are rational actors able to figure out what is in their own best interest financially.

    “It may also be said that those choosing to have both spouses employed may be better off financially, but worse off in other ways. This seems like the Amish attitude that there is peace found in plowing with a horse that is worth the loss of productivity. I agree with this concept as it applies to the Latter-day Saints. I think there is a financial sacrifice involved that “pays off” in ways that don’t mean that we get back that which we have sacrificed.

    “Supposing that the ideas above are correct, what do you think of the losses involved? If as with the Amish, the financial lives of Latter-day Saints and other Americans are separating, how do you feel about being part of a poorer people? Poorer in terms of smaller, older houses on less desirable streets, cheaper cars, fewer luxuries compared with your peers. Peers are those who have the same earning capacity that you do. This will even carry over to the opportunities to ‘obtain as much education as possible,’ and result in your children’s financial peers being a poorer class than your own.:”

  2. Very interesting article. Thank you.

  3. John, it’s Dr. Brown.

  4. John Mansfield makes excellent points, too, but what Natalie Brown’s essay compels me examine is what possible changes could be made to help support the traditional family structure of the church to thrive in this changing new reality. As a person with advanced degrees, we decided to be a stay at home mom, I recognize the value in that. However, the economic stresses on today’s families, has weakened the traditional extended family support and extended long-term member ward relationships simply because of one’s families need to travel or relocate for work. There is opportunity here for the church leadership to examine how the family is being supported. I believe they are doing that in so many ways. Working together to shed light on the problem faced by many families and individuals, while recognizing the loving counsel, wisdom and inspiration of the Lord and our leaders during this challenging time, can be of great benefit to all of us.

  5. Please forgive auto corrects, typos above. Auwe!! Old eyes!!

  6. Well-thought-out and well said. Thank you for sharing.

  7. @ John Mansfield. Those are really interesting points / comparisons, and I certainly do feel poorer than many dual-income, high-earning couples around me who are able to provide more for their kids. In fact, someone mentioned to me yesterday that they are only seeing a decline of LDS families in their area and not of families generally, possibly because the non-LDS families tend to be high-earning, dual-income parents. That said, I don’t think the answer can just be for everyone in America to return to work. We actually dropped from a two-income household to a one-income household in part because we found it so stressful for both parents to be constantly working insane hours. It was not a good situation for our family. However, jobs that would entail less often don’t pay enough to cover the costs of childcare. For me, the pandemic emphasized the need to pay and support caregivers as part of the solution, because caregiving work does not go away and is vital important to families and the community. All so complicated.

  8. Ward boundaries in Utah are interesting because everyone is tradtionally within the same general range of household income. I would assume this is not the same for members in Vermont or even Texas.

  9. My husband and I can enjoy retirement because we both worked. Living on one income while raising our 2 children would have been extremely difficult, but living on only one retirement income now would be impossible.
    I appreciate your essay and will be thinking about it for a long while.

  10. It is very interesting to drive around the Wasatch front and observe the changes over the past 10-15 years. Towns such as Lehi, American Fork, Sandy, and Taylorsville have lost all identity as Greater Mormonville has sprawled from Ogden all the way to Spanish Fork, filling in nearly all available space with drastically oversized, energy-costly McMansions. Fields, greenspaces, hillsides, and in many cases neighborhoods of modest-sized, modest-priced single-family homes have been plowed under by the onslaught of shiny new look-alike subdivisions. And somehow, newlyweds and young families just out of college seem to have the money to buy these “starter homes,” perhaps thanks to rich parents or to a sizeable starting salary from a career whose only real goal is making money.

    I doubt that Church leaders think of it this way, but the Church is actually facilitating this rush to convert Utah to a smoggy suburbanite mecca. On a recent trip, we drove through the formerly sparsely populated territory west of Utah Lake. Now, it’s home to dozens of brand-new subdivisions, with each treeless cluster of polygamy-sized homes surrounding a brand new LDS chapel. By happily building chapels (and temples!) to support each new area overdeveloped by wealthy members, the Church lends both the appearance of approval and actual financial support to this trend.

  11. Thank you for this thoughtful, comprehensive take on a multifaceted problem via the perspective of the Mormon home, Natalie. Your sentence about feeling that “Come Follow Me was simply one more job the Church was asking me to do without support when I was longing for adult interaction and a break from my kids” expresses so well the costs of this transition the church is (perhaps intentionally, but also perhaps unknowingly) going through. It’s a transition with, I think at least, many potential upsides, but just as many downsides given how the prior structure of the church was profoundly parasitic upon a post-WWII American suburban capitalism that has been slowly collapsing for years. As several say above, there is a lot to ponder here; I hope it will lead at least a few more members of our community in more critical direction regarding the social reality of the church in America, and elsewhere.

  12. One of my sons attended a local Lutheran preschool and we loved it. I have often thought that our Church is poised for a fabulous preschool program. We should pay Church members who want to work there (instead of running side gig MLMs they could work at the Church preschool for 10 hours a week), use it as a form of missionary outreach (as the Lutherans did), and provide subsidies for members who are working. Dreamy.

  13. Circumstances will leave us poorer for not having general and mission leadership coming from the ranks of the middle class. The Church is about to undergo some more social and organizational upheaval, chiefly brought about by economics, disease and politics.

  14. @Rachel: I think exploring how we could use our buildings to facilitate preschools would be an extremely valuable asset to LDS families and the community. I know people often raise liability concerns, but *many* other churches have figured out how to make it work. It may be that our need for childcare is now so high that the benefits would outweigh the risks. I also think we should consider returning to a model where we pay members for services like custodial work, and maybe even consider if there are other callings that would make more sense as jobs.

  15. This is really thought-provoking and well-written, Natalie. Thank you for writing it. I’m going to be thinking about it a lot.

  16. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I feel differently, jc. I think the Church will benefit from general and mission leadership that has undergone personal economic upheaval during this time, that has experienced some degree of poverty or economic struggle, and that is able to better understand and empathize with the bulk of Church membership for whom such things are routine parts of everyday life. Housing affordability has been a very real concern for most members of our Ward for decades, but Ward and Stake leaders have been exclusively selected from the ranks of the more “stable” members (actual term used when considering callings). This narrows the pool of potential Bishops and Stake leaders to those who have college degrees, white-collar jobs, a spouse who is able to stay home and care for children, and a car (or two). These are families who may make decisions about childcare, but do so in order to balance income and professional advancement, not to make ends meet and care for extended family members. They can work remotely, and attend/conduct Church meetings through online channels. They remain connected to other Church members like them, virtually. For them, the pandemic has been inconvenient. This has been the middle-class experience of the pandemic, but it has not been the typical experience. The disconnect between those who make decisions in the Church and those who are impacted by those decisions will continue to widen. The Church will be left poorer for that.

  17. Great article. You might consider adding examining expectations around tithing. It may not be the main focus of the post, but affordability seems central to the issue, and it doesn’t seem reasonable to amass a fortune at the church level when so many people are struggling financially.

    I’m a temple recommend holder and don’t pay tithing in the traditionally accepted way (in the USA at least) of 10% of gross income. I am a former bishop and hold stake callings currently and consider time more important than money at this point in my life so I count my time as tithing. I don’t feel any guilt about this.

    As far as other points in the post, I wish a Q15 would get up in general conference and say we need women to play a bigger role in the church and in the community. Develop yourselves, go to school, get jobs. Your self worth is not defined by bearing children.

  18. Toad, Should I count my church administrative and teaching time at my lawyer billing rate and my organ playing time at one of the rates other churches pay me for substituting as organist? Or is it a question of 10% of your otherwise workweek or 10% of all the living hours God grants you? Just curious how you do it.

  19. Natalie, thank you for writing this. Rachel, I think your idea has great merit.

    There is a socioeconomic tidal wave smacking the LDS community and we never discuss it. Preschool and daycare should be church-sponsored with paid employees. In today’s economy, both parents must gain educations and work. So many lack the education and training to earn adequate salaries, even with both parents working.

    My wife is an RN. She makes more in one day than some working mothers do in a week as school lunch ladies, fast food employees and janitors. She worked weekends when I was home with the kids. I learned to handle a curling iron to get my young daughter ready for church. Only scorched her once! However, the serious heat came from local church leaders for her working over the years. My manhood was questioned, as was her religious devotion. The Stake President questioned our worthiness in a recommend interview when we turned down callings in Scouting for Wednesday evenings. Wednesday was when she worked her night shift. I would not want to go down that path again. It has gotten tougher.

  20. Family, its about... time. says:

    The church is sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars and making more in interest than is needed to sustain the books outside of tithing. Its insane that they do not have full time janitors/caretaker as a job with benefits while asking our 70 year old parents to skip time with grandkids on the weekend to scrub church toilets.
    The correlation and movement of the church away from a family and friendly community church into a business marches on. Members are tasked with meaningless and time consuming tasks, then piled on with a bunch of “homework” on top of it. It ruins and destroys family time. There is no getting around that. I look at my own life, around the age of 10 my father was called into bishoprics and has spend the last 30 years in stake and ward leadership positions that have him gone minimum of 2 days per week extra on top of the 45 hours of work he was putting in. The result? The 3 youngest children had no relationship with their father other than a man who put a church in front of them and their needs. Its no wonders they resent the church and have removed it from their lives. It took something very valuable and needed from them. Now we are pointing to the moms being so bogged down in a world that requires them to either contribute to bills and do everything else that we see burn out at all levels and the church is asking more of them? Want to know how that turns out? Answer, not how the Q12 think it will.
    And here we are in a pandemic realizing that the community we so desperately need and crave is flat gone. We don’t have the adult interactions, the neighbor interactions. Church buildings are banned from cooking food and having community gatherings of most kinds. And you think the church will allow preschools or child care into the buildings? The pandemic opened a lot of eyes, including mine. To be honest, I haven’t missed the church, I found needed adult interactions in other communities to be much more full filling. I found greater time spend with children and strengthend family bonds. Bonds the church said they were building and helping but took a pandemic to show me that was not the case. I have been back to in person church looking for uplifting and inspiring messages to get through the week and instead I get dull platitudes and plate full of garbage about why people are leaving the church and how we can prevent it. Im sitting here waiting for the church to change, to lead, to be what we need it to be, this article proves, I am not alone. Sadly, I don’t think help is coming anytime soon.

  21. Jack Hughes says:

    The Church could be doing so much more to address the housing crisis. I would love to see the Church use their vast assets to set up a lending “institution” to help first-time homebuyers get their foothold into life-long homeownership. They could provide zero-interest loans, with monthly payments set at 10% of the homebuyer’s net income, and at the same time call it their “tithing”. There could be conditions for loan forgiveness, and other nuts and bolts to be worked out later. But so many of my generation in the Church are interminably renting with no hope of ever being stable enough to buy. Many of these people served missions, then obediently got married and started having kids in their early 20s all while trying to get their careers started during the last recession. The Church has been contributing to this crisis for a long time, but they can be part of the solution if they so choose.

  22. Our international church has great leaders who more and more possess a world-wide set of values. They want to serve and build up the poorest families on earth. That’s makes sense. They want to alleviate and prevent the most extreme problems.

    Local American members do not seem to have the same values. Local members don’t hate funding international initiatives, but the asymmetry of knowledge does become a problem for them. What knowledge is lacking? Local American members have little idea about how tithing funds are used around the world. Back in the day of Joseph Smith, the law of consecration involved cooperation that was much more local. The members could see how the decisions were made and could probably make good guesses about why. I believe that all families, LDS or not, should cultivate desire to support local cooperative initiatives. Although many people are busy, many members want to cooperate ensure that we help people begging at stop-lights, people randomly yelling on sidewalks, people that recently lost family members suddenly to death, etc. These are tough problems that require skills and infrastructure that we LDS folks just don’t always have or know how to access within our institution. But we may know of non-LDS organizations that try to address these types of crises; and in many ways, such local efforts are superior for local contributors because they more directly witness the effects of those acts of charity.

    As a local church leader (but still fairly low-level), I’m interested in finding the balance between these types of service: 1) service that meets the most extreme needs (international needs) and 2) service that meets the psychological need to more directly witness the effects of charity (local needs). Have you seen an increase in discussion around these ideas? Should we keep some resources (like tithing) local for supporting local initiatives (addressing local needs)?

  23. We were warned says:

    There but for my spouse’s high-earning career go I. I was an adult convert who obediently started popping out the babies in my 20s, even though I had a degree. We were impoverished for years getting the necessary education for him. During the 2007-08 financial crisis, I told my spouse the LDS family model was not sustainable in this economy and the future economy, and that I could not teach it in good conscience to the young women of the church. I focused on education and personal goals as worthy pursuits in and of themselves.

    Yes, the pandemic has laid us bare, but I think most will keep pretending all is well in Zion.

  24. Anecdotal stat – here in SLC my (currently virtual) office is 25% female and none of them are active Church members as far as I know.

  25. Random thoughts here….

    1. I’m pushing 50 now. Biggest 2 changes I have seen last 25 years is the cost of houses and a lot of crazy student loan balances. Those 2 put together do not mix well. Do everything you can to avoid SLs.

    2. Homes are getting more and more expensive and extravagant. My first home in Texas was 650 a month 20 years ago. That home would now have a 1500 a month payment attached to it.

    3. Pick your region of the country you live. Avoid high tax states.
    4. Do not try and keep up with the Jones. They are broke and only appear wealthy. Often it’s a mirage.
    5. Don’t be afraid to be the richest family in a regular middle class area. Being housebroke isca real thing. Bishops offices are full of people looking for help cause they spent to much on houses
    6. Owning blue collar type companies that run well typically makes families far more wealthy than the fancy jobs with expensive degrees. Our LDS culture seems unaware of this secret in the economy.

  26. I’m curious and concerned about all of this. But also cautious about drawing conclusions from small and not systematic data sets. For one particular, I suspect the feeling of crisis or change in the LDS community in the present is related to dramatic increases in housing costs in the intermountain West. A phenomenon that has been noted elsewhere, regarding the Wasatch front, and Boise, Idaho, in recent memory. (But I note that Dr. Brown is writing from Colorado and I don’t have a sense of what’s happening in Colorado.)

    Some almost random reflections:

    The concerns noted have been a factor in our lives from the 1970s. My parents hoped and expected their children would settle nearby and form a mutually supportive extended family group. We did not. My wife and I, and our children, have chosen schools in the Eastern half of the country, and housing in expensive cities, and all these concerns seem like old hat to me.

    Case in point–in the late 1980s we lived in a modest suburban area outside Chicago. When our Relief Society President surveyed the Ward, she determined that there were only two adult women in the Ward who did not have a full time job outside the home that was a material and necessary contributor to the family income. She was not one of the two.

    On the other hand, in this century I have observed a noticeable number of young families and older couples moving for family reasons. Anecdotally, it looks to me like the desire was always there and changes in the economy have made us collectively more mobile rather than less.

    Regarding mobility, it is worthy of note that academics are relatively less mobile and salaries are generally low enough to make one-income families challenging. When I was in the business I wondered how people made ends meet on one professor’s salary. I discovered that everyone else was single, or a dual-income couple, and in most cases the academic salary was the smaller of the two. At the same time, however important academia, it is a relatively small part of the economy and we should caution ourselves against academics making their own situations the basis for a generalized prescription.

    All to say most of these dynamics have been going on for a long time, and there are some (few) counter-trends. I think it will be important to tease out the effect of recent jumps in housing prices, and a regional bias where changes that affect the Wasatch front get noticed far more quickly and dramatically than changes that affect Church members all over the rest of the world.

  27. Why is your husband working more bc of covid? It seems like most people work less bc of decline in commuting, decline in frivolous errands, etc. Is he avoiding you?

  28. Another perspective.
    If you can get into the housing market by building cheaply, or buying a fixer upper, there is money to be made. We helped our children get into their first home, by helping them build homes of less expensive materials, (cool room panels) and reduced labor, can build house to lock up in 2 weeks.
    The house is then valued, and the equity used to buy a second home. All daughters have at least 2 homes, one has 4. You must only buy if the rent will cover the repayments.

    I have just sold an investment property that cost $165,000 in 1993, for $800,000. It is predicted property values will rise by 12%+ this year here. We still own one investment property worth about $700,000, plus our home worth $800,000. So our wealth should increase by $180,000 this year.
    The $700,000 house we bought in 2003 because it was on half an acre of land for $400,000. We then subdivided of 2 extra blocks, (costing 80,000). Each block was worth $200,000, and we built a house for ourselves at a cost of $300,000, now valued at $800,000, and sold the other block to a daughter, and helped her build a house on it.
    You can use the increasing property prices to your advantage. Do property prices generally increase where you are? And is rent enough to cover the costs of owning the property. Perhaps student housing, or house with potential for 2 tennants? a0995001503

  29. I especially agree with the line in your first paragraph that the pandemic “exposed more than it created the preexsisting cracks”. So many problems were already there – economic instability, lack of childcare, access to technology, low wages, etc. – the light on them just got brighter. I hate the news stories that spin them like they are new.

    I also agree that caregiving needs more value in society. I am in that sandwich period where I am raising a child while my parents and in-laws all need more care and time. I feel like the world only cares about my earning or working potential, but then what happens to my family? I have tried to do both (working and caregiving) and caregiving usually suffers more. I wish I had more solutions, but I like the ideas being shared.

  30. Thomas Parkin says:

    Thanks so much for these perspectives Natalie.
    Such important stuff.

  31. @christiankimball: There is substantial reporting and data on how the costs of items like housing, childcare and higher education have dramatically increased compared to income. I encourage you to seek that out if you are interested in understanding the experiences younger LDS members. While it’s true that costs have always been a concern, there’s now a dramatic difference in degree. Indeed, the very first article I googled provides a good discussion of historical housing to income ratios:

    I do wish that the LDS Church was more transparent with data so that we were less required to rely on anecdotal experience, but I suspect it would not be very accurate in any event given how many people listed in my ward directory do not in fact live here anymore.

  32. brookeshelf says:

    ChicagoLDS — Natalie’s husband is a college professor whose work hours have indeed turned crazy because of the pandemic (ask any educator doing virtual schooling right now and they will say the same thing).

  33. I’ve also wondered if we could mobilize the full-time missionaries to assist with some high-intensive callings in US wards, too. During the pandemic, the missionaries in our ward have been seeking things to do and ways to serve members. The thought keeps going through my head that they’d be perfect at doing things like leading a (virtual) Primary singing time now and taking over some of the burden from stressed out members going forward.

  34. Random, anecdotal thought that reading through this triggered. It is a good illustration of the gap in understanding between rich leadership and struggling membership.

    In my last ward, the bishop was a very wealthy individual who had moved to the rural area and ended up marrying a mormon widow from the ward (who was also pretty well off). He was baptized and in less than a year they made him the bishop. FTR, there were plenty of qualified men in the ward to do the job–but they weren’t particularly well-heeled. (The practice of moving rich new-move-ins straight into high leadership positions is a practice that is a whole other discussion and that has caused a lot of people in our stake to become victims of some really audacious affinity fraud.)

    There was a family in the ward with six kids and a stay-at-home mom. The dad worked for the forest service. Suddenly it goes around that this stay-at-home mom was getting a full time job. The bishop calls her in and says, “Are you doing this just to have ?

    And she said, indignant, “No, bishop, I am doing it so my kids won’t starve!”

  35. I want to amend my reply above. I did not mean to imply that the church is hiding its membership data — just that the data I’ve seen tends to be combined at higher levels that makes it difficult to parse out these kinds of metro-level trends. It would be great if anyone could point us to where more local-level data might be publicly available or already analyzed from a combination of sources.

  36. As someone who came of age at the height of President Hinckley’s tenure, I often think about the “triangle of prophetic mandates” that were (and I think still are) in effect. 1) Temple marriage and family, 2) Get all the education you can, and 3) Avoid debt. What I have observed for myself and others is that the best most of us can realistically manage is two out of three (with all of the moral failings that we hauntingly ascribe to ourselves and each other when the messiness of life intervenes. I chose to fail category 3! Thanks, student loans!) I know exceptions are easy to find, but they only serve to prove the rule.

    Housing affordability is pulling at the vertices of this triangle in ways that make it harder to achieve these goals. I think you have done a great job articulating many of the challenges that comes for those of us who make it to the other side with some level of stability.

  37. Natalie, thanks for the important and thought-provoking words.

    @Rachel, I love the idea of church sponsored preschool.

    @Chet, I don’t know. I’ve lived in a number of places in Utah with wards that crossed economic lines. Some places the differences were more pronounced than others, and some places people gave them more importance than in others (in both positive and negative ways), but I personally believe there’s less economic homogeneity within Utah wards than people might be inclined to think. However, there’s probably more similarity Utah than in a lot of other places, just by virtue of wards covering less geographic area.

  38. This isn’t a Church thing to me. It’s a flattening of the worlds economies, as other nations move up, other nations will move down. Bringing more nations in alignment. The economics dictate that goods will go up and scarcity will increase. Especially in the coming decades with climate change making migration, water, and food scarcity a grave concern.

    I think you’re right, two income households will be needed to fight this change in world dynamics and scarcity. Only so much lumber and construction workers to build housing. And as long world governments have no problem printing money and borrowing at near 0% interest. Why not spend the big bucks and get a house all can admire.

    As this pandemic has shown, the Church isn’t special enough to get through World events unscathed. As the sun sets for the Church in the West, it will rise in East (Africa and Southeast Asia).

  39. your food allergy is real says:

    Somewhere in all this housing affordability problem has to be the recent trend for ever larger houses. The median new house size is clearly increasing in the US while family sizes are decreasing. I read that from the 1970’s to now the median square foot per person has doubled. It’s kind of getting ridiculous.

  40. Natalie Brown says:

    People keep asking if I think younger people are really facing more cost of living difficulties than their Boomer parents. There’s a lot of data that says yes. I encourage you to read the many, many studies out there. However, I wish I had included this personal anecdote that I think helps illustrate the problem:

    My spouse’s parents lived in the same neighborhood as we do now when they had a single postdoc salary and 3-4 kids (they went on to have 6). When we moved into a very similar house in the neighborhood ~5 years ago, my spouse was tenured, I had worked in Big Law and we had one child. And it stretched our budget so thin. Today, a mere few years later, we would not be able to buy our own house because prices have increased so much again. I suspect this story is not unusual.

  41. That said, the cost of living issues today impact Boomers, too. I have already seen the caregiving problems that arise when older family members cannot live in the same area as their children, or their children can’t afford to move back to where they were raised. It’s a big problem.

  42. One solution might be building multi generation houses. I know of several families that bought houses with mother-in-law apartments so that the family could help take care of aging parents, and then after the parents passed, the children had a cheap apartment to live in to save to build/buy their own family homes.

  43. Truckers Atlas says:

    Natalie, your research seems to dialogue with Jennifer Silva’s “Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty” (Oxford UP: 2013). Silva argues (not unlike Christopher Lasch) that in the face of neoliberal transformations, a therapeutic worldview has displaced class consciousness/solidarity among today’s young people. She points to a prevailing “mood economy” in which “legitimacy and self-worth are purchased not with traditional currencies such as work or marriage or class solidarity but instead through the ability to organize their emotions into a narrative of self-transformation.”

    I read your post and wonder, is your research grounded in a “mood economy” paradigm that de-emphasizing class solidarity and concrete, organized efforts for things like a $15 minimum wage in favor of a more therapeutic approach by arguing, say, that more playdates or social functions within a ward unit are the ideal solutions to the economic malaise you discus here?

    On an anecdotal level, I am alarmed at how therapeutic worldview in my socioeconomic sphere masks, in my view, the steady erosion of the basic economic rights that undergirds things like housing affordability. I live in the university-adjacent neighborhood in the American Southwest where the performative nature of Subaru Forresters and Patagonia and RBG paraphernalia is ubiquitous, just like the “In this House We Believe…” yard signs which conspicuously omit any mention of labor rights. I believe this omission from these sign is telling: I keep meeting more and more peers in this “Resist” cadre who own one or more investment properties in their neighborhoods they use as Airbnbs or VRBOs, all while brandishing copies of “White Fragility” at the playground and assertively (and I believe earnestly) striving to help their friends through conversations that emphasize self-care or therapy.

  44. Financially America is the most unequal first world country, both on income, and wealth distribution, and this is increasing. Generally the furthur to the right your right wing party is, the greater the inequality. Because they have a set of beliefs/lies they spread. Rich people have to be incentivised. Trickle down economics, give money to rich (by reducing their tax, or their company tax) and they will employ more people etc. That questioning this situation is the politics of envy.
    Anything other than this is communism, or at least socialism.

    Us gdp per person has been increasing from $10,000 in 1978 to $65,000 in 2018 but the increase has not been shared equally. Gdp is the total income of the country.

    In 1970 the poor got 10%, the middle got 62% and the wealthy got 29%
    Byb2018 the poor got 9%, the middle got 43% and the wealthy got 48%.
    So not only has the pie become bigger, but the rich get a bigger slice, at the expense of the other 95% of Americans.

    The top 1% own 30% of the wealth while the top 5% have 50%, by comparison the bottom 50% have 1.9% of the wealth. So the middle 45% are left with 48% to share.

    Wealth disparities have widened over time. In 1989, the bottom 90 percent of the U.S. population held 33 percent of all wealth. By 2016, the bottom 90 percent of the population held only 23 percent of wealth. The wealth share of the top 1 percent increased from about 30 percent to about 40 percent over the same period

    To compare how out of line with the rest of the first world America is here are comparable figures. figures for 2016.
    Top 1% top5% top 10% bottom 60%
    USA 42% 68% 80% 2.4%
    Canada 17 37 51 13
    UK 20% 38 52 12
    Norway 20 38 51 7
    Germany 24 46 60 7
    Australia 15 33 46 17

    So if you are not in the top 5% income you are being squeezed by that 5% taking your share. The only way you can improve that is to not vote republican, and move America toward the centr ground.

    I am more of an introvert so can’t comment on the emotional.

  45. Truckers Atlas I am interested in your view which I have not heard articulated before, can this be enlarged either here or in another post?
    As a psychotherapist I am very interested in critiquing what I may have contributed to over my career, I do wonder if we have been unwittingly recruited into a world view that makes everything our own responsibility, rather than focus on our duty to make it possible for all to have enough, which I think is the thrust of your argument.
    Please educate further.

  46. Natalie Brown says:

    @TruckersAtlas: I am not familiar with her work but it sounds very compelling. I will check it out. Thank you.

  47. I just finished watching the Primary’s excellent Friend-to-Friend video event. Could the Church produce something like this as a recurring TV show to help parents supplement Come Follow Me and the now shortened Primary lessons and/or help kids who cannot attend church regularly? It’s a bandage to the economic problems, for sure, but I think it could do real good at this moment.

  48. Truckers Atlas, hear hear!

  49. Great article! I’ve been advocating for Rachel’s comment (Church run daycares!) for years! It would be an incredible missionary opportunity founded in community building. There is a huge expectation on women to provide free childcare and other forms of compassionate service. Once, within the first month of moving to a new area, I was asked to watch a 3 year old boy for 48 hours, who did not speak the same language as me, and I later learned had extreme food allergies. I declined but have had other outrageous asks from different wards.

    On a different note, I’m now facing the consequences of growing up being told that women needed to stay home. I luckily went to BYU and graduated, but with a degree in family studies. I’ve worked part-time since having my first son but have been out of work since the pandemic began. I need to go back to work to help support our family financially but do not feel prepared and am overwhelmed with guilt about it, even though I know that it’s normal, necessary, and will help my family. Obviously, there are many female BYU grads who’ve gone on to great things, but the overall story is that I’m not alone.

    A personal mantras is a quote by Ghandi “live simply so others may simply live.” The expectations of what is “normal” is so gross and vulgar in the Mormon community. We need to get ahead of this and really talk about what it means to live modestly. I’m grateful to live in Chicago and be out of the mess that is housing in Utah, but it’s tough watching friends and family try to find a way to live close to family. Shame on long time residents for blocking zoning of affordable housing and small homes.

  50. alishagale says:

    I really enjoyed this article, and it tracks with my experience raising children in expensive US cities. It also dovetails with with a piece I read in The Atlantic years ago (and can’t stop thinking about) discussing the effect of women’s employment on the community organizations that formerly depended on their free labor.
    The upshot, for me, is that the issue is very nuanced and our church isn’t alone in having an outdated structure that relies on women being at home.

  51. @alishagale: That’s a great article. Thank you. I’ve noticed so much this year how my child’s school was making up for budget shortfalls by relying on parents to volunteer — something I think parents will be less and less willing to do after this pandemic year.

  52. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I think you raise some important issues, Natalie. LDS homes haven’t been spared from the recent crisis (not so recent, actually) of affordability, but they may have been affected in unique ways, resulting from typical familial arrangements and limitations that are the result of teachings and preferences among members. At the same time, I think this only highlights the limitations of those teachings and preferences. I really want to push back on the idea of church-sponsored, or the provision of childcare through the Church. I understand the temptation to see the Church as having the physical resources for this, and perhaps even the human resources to pull it off. This just isn’t what we should be turning to the Church for, or what we should be turning the Church into. Definitely try to organize an informal group of members to provide childcare, or even non-members who have similar needs. Childcare is a significant issue for so many families (nearly all families, really), and is only exacerbated by the increased need for dual incomes, relocation away from extended family, gaps in workplace policies that preclude feasible childcare arrangements, and increasing single-parent households. The Church just isn’t the organization to address these problems.

  53. Previous comments have mentioned both preschool and daycare, and I’d just like to mention that those can be two very different things. My kids went to church-run preschools in the Midwest (Presbyterian and Lutheran). One was good, the other was great. But they were definitely a perk for the middle class where moms (and some dads) would drop the kids (3-5 years old only!) off at 9am and pick them back up at 11:30 (or whatever the times were) 3 days per week. It was great for my family and provided what we were looking for, but none of the preschools we looked at offered anything close to a solution that would have allowed my wife to work full time.

    Running a daycare means providing 9+ hours of care for children each day. Lunchtime, nap time, diaper changes, infants, toddlers, elementary school ages, and all those other things. And that is what needs to be addressed for families that have two working parents. I’m sure some churches offer full day childcare for broad ranges of kids but in my experience that not what the churches around us were doing.

    On a practical level, LDS churches are absolutely not set up to provide either preschool or daycare. They don’t have classrooms that are appropriate, playgrounds, grass, office space for administration, or storage spaces. Our nursery and primary rooms are meant to entertain and contain kids for 1 or 2 hours once a week, not for painting projects and desks and tables and posters on the walls and bookshelves and all that. Churches that run preschools have a whole wing of the building dedicated to the preschool. That said, there is a church I used to play basketball at with my friends in the SL valley that was for sale the last time I drove past it, so maybe where there are too many church buildings in Utah some of them can be recommissioned as preschools and daycares?

  54. In my experience people do expect “the church” to provide childcare. It’s just that they expect young mothers to provide it for their own children and others for free. After the fourth ward member called me asking me to provide full time childcare for their children after my first child was born I discovered that the RS president was directing them to me. One offered to pay me. $2/hour minus the food I was supposed to feed her two children. I think the RS president was having them call me because she knew I could say no. Other women in the ward were being taken advantage of because they didn’t feel they could.

    I spent many years thinking that mothers aren’t built to do this work alone, but in the expensive cities in which I’ve raised my children, 1000’s of miles from family, and with only a handful of young families around that seems like the only option.

  55. alishagale says:

    100% agree @Michinita. “The Church” absolutely expects mothers to provide (free!) childcare for others. I have never been a fan of this model.
    And I think the idea that the church “isn’t set up” to provide a preschool or daycare is disingenuous. We certainly have the resources to become set up, should we choose. We find basketball enough of a priority that we put a court in every chapel. Is a dedicated kid space really hard to fathom?
    While I think full time daycare in our church buildings would be a stretch, I don’t think a functioning part time program that is open to the community and most importantly doesn’t rely on the unpaid labor of the young mothers in the ward could be a boon.

  56. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I agree that it probably wouldn’t take much to outfit a Church building to accommodate a preschool or daycare. If that’s what the Church wanted to do. I don’t think we should want the Church to do that. We should also do away with the basketball courts, as well (I mean, Cultural Halls!).
    The reliance on unpaid labor from young mothers is a real problem. There is the expectation that they are available to watch the children of others, even if there’s an understanding that they will swap duties with other families. And let’s not forget the young women who are viewed as a reservoir of babysitters for evenings and weekends. In our transient Ward with no more than 1-3 young women at any given time, it’s maddening to have couples expect that the YM will babysit. We’ve had new members actually call the YM President to ask for the babysitting schedule and to make someone available to watch their little one on the weekends. Our daughter simply isn’t interested, but that’s met with frustration. People actually think they’re doing her a favor by giving her the chance to earn a little money and are shocked when she declines. Then we start hearing the grumbling about how unaccommodating the youth are and that the Ward doesn’t meet the needs of young parents. Those simply aren’t the the needs a Church is supposed to meet.

  57. Well, if we’re not going to ask the Church to meet those needs, maybe we could at least ask members not to constantly vote against child-friendly government policies?

  58. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    That’s basically what I’m thinking, Kristine. These are situations that arise from big social problems that require big solutions. I know too many members who oppose child and family-friendly policies that would improve things for millions of people, but then turn to the Church to fill in the gaps for their individual problems. That’s not what I’m accusing Natalie or others here of doing. I don’t think that’s the case. Just worried that if the Church starts meeting those needs, members may be even less worried about how these changes affect the rest of society and less willing to support policies that can make a real difference (even for themselves). The housing issues being discussed here aren’t new, just new to a lot of people who were, until recently, able to look the other way.

  59. @A Turtle: That’s a good point — do we risk doubling-down on community reliance in lieu of rather than alongside the government interventions that are probably needed to address challenges of this scale? I’m pessimistic enough that I doubt either the government or the Church will be providing support sufficient to make a difference anytime soon, so I see the solutions / adaptations being brainstormed here mainly as useful bandages to help us limp along for the near future.

    @clark: I was shocked to discover that almost all church-based preschools in my area offer a full-time option now. I think they have to because it’s what so many families demand.

    @kristine: 100%.

  60. heathermickey says:

    I’m super curious about the tithing comments. I am an active member of the church (released as RSP last month) and have recently been thinking a lot about tithing; is it necessary anymore? We’ve always paid on gross but we are considering changing to net. It makes me sick to know the insane wealth of the church. I know they do a lot of humanitarian aid, but it is an extremely small % of the overall wealth. I want so baldy to give the money we pay in tithing to local charities that I could see a direct impact from. But I’m scared to; I’m scared what god will think; I’m scared to not have a temple recommend, yet I also know that if Christ came here he’d be using that wealth for good. I wish I had excess to give away each month, but we live on a tight budget. I want to start giving to charities and people I know who are struggling. It’s real hard to hit the “donate now” button on LDS. Org and have no idea how it’s used or if it’s just being used to amass more and more staggering wealth.

  61. Billy Possum says:

    heathermickey raises a good point: individual families can’t move the needle on the necessary social policies, but they can decide where their money goes. IMHO, the profound changes in cost-to-wage ratio that Natalie and others have discussed should really force a hard look at the tithing model. Families can do this reinterpretation themselves, at least to some degree. Most charitably, tithing is a postwar-era policy (less charitably, it’s from nineteenth-century frontier colonialism). Regardless, tithing’s regressive nature and ambiguous focus on “increase” invite reinterpretation for the modern economy, which among other things, doesn’t contain anywhere near the sheer surplus that was available to average members in either the postwar or the pioneer periods.

    Personally, my family has started paying on net (i.e., on disposable income), after a decade of being staunch grossers. That’s a start. But the larger question looms: If, as seems likely, I will have a lower standard of living than my parents (despite more prestigious education and employment), and my children yet lower than mine, is there really any “increase?” As an aside, I think tithing’s origin in colonial-era extensive agriculture makes it fit particularly poorly into the context of climate change, where the Earth may begin to bring forth less instead of more.

  62. I appreciate the many comments of sisters who shared their experiences. Many have been taught things that have overshadowed the teaching of listening to that still small voice and principles of decision-making in the scriptures. When we do what our leaders say without praying about it and making our own decision and receiving a confirmation, then later we turn around and blame the institution/God (which are not one and the same) for giving us bad advice. We need to trust in the Lord and in the Holy Ghost. It is tragic when we or our loved ones who have experienced this, because it often results in people throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    I had the misfortune of learning at an early age that leaders in the church can be wrong, mid-guided, and fallible. Not all of them and not all the time. This misfortune was actually a great blessing to me, later in my life, because it caused me to question righteously with faith, even if I had doubts. I knew the reason for my doubts were valid, because of what I knew could happen. I learned that instead of beating myself up for having doubts, they were a symptom that either something outside of me was wrong (leaders) or something inside me was wrong (myself) and I needed course-correcting. Either course-correct by listening to the Holy Ghost more or course-correct by not giving in to my vain imaginings, and explore some flaws in my own personal attitudes.

    At first it was a curse, because when a man would stand at the pulpit I would ask, “Is he’s good man?” Of course I got nothing but me learning to hone in on my intuition. And I learned to give people the benefit of the doubt unless I felt otherwise. After decades this went away, but I definitely had refined my intuition by then.

    I prayed about when to have kids. I had an experience and it helped me to begin my decision of whether to go forward with my career, or stay home, or do both. It has been fluid. First, I still worked and had kids. Then I took a leave of absence for a year to see how that was. Then I resigned. Then about 17 years later, I started up work with kids again, and off and on. For me I have peace for sure with my decisions. I truly felt God’s hand every step of the way.

    Those that have maintained their career the whole time, or those that have “stayed home” the whole time, or those that have done a mixture, my hope is that we can all support each other with our career goals and righteous desires of the heart, which may be one in the same. We are not clones. I have many happy memories of being in pajamas in the mornings teaching my kids in my room all kinds of fun things and how to read. They all love learning. It was still my career, but at home, my kids, my curriculum, my way… and in my favorite outfit…pajamas.

    That worked for me. For others it would not. Listen to the still, small voice and what God is telling you to do. Listen to your leaders…prayerfully, willing to do what God speaks to you.

    There was another time when I was in my late 30’s, I heard a leader say something that was spoken as instruction in a joint Sunday school class. This instruction/information seemed contrary to everything else I had learned up to that point. I met with him individually to make sure that I had heard him correctly. I had. I asked him where he had heard this. He told me from his direct leader, so I decided to test it (since it didn’t have permanent consequences.) I tested “the word” for two years and after deciding for myself that this still did not feel right, I met with him and asked him to ask his source about it again. And I had a copy of the related page from the handbook. There appeared to be a contradiction—at least in my mind. So the night before he was released, he handed me an envelope from the church office building. It was former instruction on this matter. Different than today’s handbook. So I made an appointment with the leader above him. At the interview/meeting I had with him, this leader said he never said that and sometimes somebody can hear things you say in a different way than you intend for them. I asked him about the letter from Salt Lake then and he said I probably never needed to see that and that the current handbook is the guide. After a few weeks of confusion, to put it mildly, I met with him briefly and he said to pray about it.

    I share this experience to illustrate that we should be teaching ourselves and our kids to seek to trust in the Lord —to listen to the Holy Ghost. If something does or doesn’t make sense, we should still pray about it with a willingness to do God’s will. In the example above, instruction was a misunderstanding. If we only do things because of a misunderstanding or other and then later in life, if things get difficult, then we feel anger, resentment, and betrayal. We must find things out through prayer and fasting and be patient. There have been experiences I have had, where a leader’s instruction has been witnessed to me in a very clear way. The Holy Ghost has sanctioned it and clearly taught me.

    If you ladies (and men) feel betrayed or resentment on something you could have changed at some point within a decade by listening to that still small voice and still recovered, how will you feel if you take instruction from a government or church institution that is permanent—once you follow it, you can never undo it? “Wise virgins” prayerfully listen to the Lord. They prayerfully Listen to leaders and go to the Lord to decide if that is God’s will. They listen to the Holy Ghost. Then they can’t blame, they can’t be resentful with anyone but themselves. This is great for accountability. You own it. If you prefer to blame others, then listen without praying, when it goes well, take credit, and when it goes badly, defer blame to another entity. With one scenario we can learn and with the other, we keep falling in the same hole.

    I believe that the church (the scaffold) through which the actual kingdom of God is built and the gospel is taught, is a temporary structure. The church I believe is represented by the “woman“ in the scriptures and will flee into the “wilderness.” (Revelations) When and how, I know not. When out of the wilderness, will no longer be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints but the Church of the Firstborn.

  63. We moved to Canada a few years ago and up here they have the ‘Canada Child Benefit’, for families below a certain income threshold, the federal government gives them approx $500 a month, per child.

    Even though my husband is making less money here in Canada than he was in the states, it’s easier to pay the bills with this, and I feel less guilty about being a stay-at-home mom since with this support we can get by and I can spend the time at home with our very young children.

    That combined with Canadian healthcare made it possible to actually have a family up here. We had a child in the US and postponed having more because our financial situation and the $10,000 bill we got from our insurance company when our first child was born. We couldn’t afford to do that again.

    Now here in Canada, with income support and no hospital bills, we decided to have another child, which would have been financially impossible for us in the US.

    It’s so sad that we americans can’t make things like this happen because a sizable portion of our population thinks support like this is ‘communism’.

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