WASHINGTON -- Ann Romney may believe that focusing exclusively on raising children counts as work, and the majority of Americans may agree with her, but that's not how the federal government sees it.
As far as Uncle Sam is concerned, if you're poor, deciding to stay at home and rear your children is not an option. Thanks to welfare reform, recipients of federal benefits must prove to a caseworker that they have performed, over the course of a week, a certain number of hours of "work activity." That number changes from state to state, and each state has discretion as to how narrowly work is defined, but federal law lists 12 broad categories that are covered.
Raising children is not among them.
According to a 2006 Congressional Research Service report, the dozen activities that fulfill the work requirement are:
(1) unsubsidized employment
(2) subsidized private sector employment
(3) subsidized public sector employment
(4) work experience
(5) on-the-job training
(6) job search and job readiness assistance
(7) community services programs
(8) vocational educational training
(9) job skills training directly related to employment
(10) education directly related to employment (for those without a high school degree or equivalent)
(11) satisfactory attendance at a secondary school
(12) provision of child care to a participant of a community service program
The only child-care related activity on the list is the last one, which would allow someone to care for someone else's child if that person were off volunteering. But lest beneficiaries get carried away with their charitable activity, it does not apply to married couples in some states. Connecticut, for instance, specifically prevents counting as "work" an instance in which one parent watches a child while the other parent volunteers.
The federal government does at least implicitly acknowledge the value of childcare, though not for married couples. According to a 2012 Urban Institute study, a single mother is required to work 30 hours a week, but the requirement drops to 20 hours if she has a child under six. A married woman, such as Romney, would not be entitled to such a reduction in the requirement. If a married couple receives federally funded child care, the work requirement increases by 20 hours, from 35 hours to 55 hours between the two of them, another implicit acknowledgment of the value of stay-at-home work.
The nation -- or at the political observers and journalists who obsessively use Twitter -- was momentarily fixated on the question of what defines work when Democratic strategist (and former HuffPost editor-at-large) Hilary Rosen said Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life." Rosen has since said that she believes staying at home with children counts as work, but that most women must both raise their children and earn money.
Politicians across the spectrum slammed Hilary Rosen for taking the same standard as the federal government. "Disappointed in @hilaryr 's comments. As a mother of 3 there's no doubt that raising children is work," tweeted Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).
Many in President Barack Obama's inner circle expressed similar sentiments on Twitter, including Chief Strategist David Axelrod, Campaign Manager Jim Messina, Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter and First Lady Michelle Obama.
The Romney campaign did not return a request for comment about whether it believes the federal definition of work should change to reflect the effort put in by stay-at-home mothers.
View tweets of Obama officials distancing themselves from Hilary Rosen's comments: