Bryce Covert | The Nation

Bryce Covert

Bryce Covert

Lady business with equal parts lady and business.

Universal Preschool Push Will Test Cuomo’s Commitment to New York Women

Governor Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during a 2011 news conference. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

In his State of the State address yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made a passing reference to preschool, saying that it is “time to fulfill the state’s goal” of providing all-day pre-K to all children in the state. He failed to mention of how to do it or how to pay for it. There had been rumors that he would propose a universal preschool program funded through the state’s budget, but he quashed those hopes well before the speech. The question of how to fund a preschool program is likely to put him at odds with newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned on a promise to make high-quality preschool available to the city’s children by raising taxes on the wealthiest earners.

This fight could be thorny for Cuomo, who has painted himself as a social progressive at the same time as he tacks hard right on economic issues. In his time in office, he has made big news for pushing through the legalization of gay marriage in the state, pushing a Women’s Equality Act that brought together legislation to close the gender wage gap, help the victims of domestic violence and protect the right to an abortion, and recently for proposing to legalize small amounts of medical marijuana, among other things.

These are all great. But none of them costs the state money. Universal pre-K would. So here’s a test: Cuomo says he is a staunch supporter of women’s equality. But would he spend money on it? Because sometimes it takes money to achieve social goals. He has long tried to keep economic and social issues separate, but they can’t be so neatly divided. Preschool, and childcare more broadly, is one of those issues that expose the way they overlap and interact.

High-quality preschool has certainly been proven to have many benefits for children. What gets less airtime is the benefit it would have for working parents, and specifically mothers. The United States lags far behind other countries in how many children are enrolled in preschool, and the cost of childcare in a center or someone’s home is huge, clocking in at more than median rent in every state and more than the cost of public college in many. In many heterosexual families, couples look at the cost of care and compare it to their incomes—and usually match it dollar for dollar with what the woman makes. Many women look at that equation and end up dropping out of the workforce. One study has found that mothers with regular childcare arrangements are twice as likely to stay in their jobs as those without. Their wages often drop if and when they head back to work, thanks to skill stagnation or their returning to a lower position than they would have had. About 10 percent of the gender wage gap can be explained by differing time spent working.

Preschool would help to halt and even reverse this trend: a fully funded, national early childhood education program would boost women’s employment rate by up to 10 percent. So if Cuomo really does care about the gender wage gap, as he says he does, this is an important piece of the puzzle.

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But one way or another, you have to spend money to create a high-quality, universal preschool program. One group estimated that it could cost $4 billion to create one in New York. De Blasio is willing to put his money where his campaign promise is with his tax on the wealthy, which is expected to bring in about $530 million a year, enough to cover the $340 million price tag for the city. Cuomo, on the other hand, made his quick preschool reference in the State of the State amid a big, concrete plan to lower taxes. He just unveiled a $2 billion package of reduced taxes for businesses, renters, property owners and upstate manufacturers. In his address, “He mentioned the word tax or taxes about 40 times, mostly to make the assertion that he had managed to drive them down,” The New York Times reports. That $2 billion means $2 billion less in revenues that the state could use on early childhood education.

Some women’s rights issues come at no cost. Enshrining a woman’s right to an abortion in New York State is revenue-neutral, even if it might require reserves of political capital. But if you want to address the gender wage gap or the work/family dilemma, it will take something more.

Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on how de Blasio can craft a progressive school policy for New York.

Twitter’s Blocking Flub Might Have Been Prevented If the Company Weren’t Dominated by Men


(Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

Last night, Twitter made a change to what happens when a user blocks another user. Originally, when users were blocked they could no longer see the other’s account and visa versa. But while the new policy still kept the feature that hid a blocked user’s tweets from the person who blocked them, it allowed the blocked user to see the other’s account if it was public. “If your account is public, blocking a user does not prevent that user from following you, interacting with your Tweets, or receiving your updates in their timeline,” the company stated. That meant that potential stalkers or harassers could retweet their victims’ tweets into their own stream, opening up the victims to potential blowback from a harasser’s followers.

After a wave of outrage against the policy change, Twitter later reversed course, saying, “We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users,” adding, “we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe.”

When it made the original change, the company explained that it was to fix the fact that users can tell when they’ve been blocked, which it said meant there was “antagonistic behavior where people would see they were locked and be mad.” As Ashe Dryden pointed out, “This is dictating an abuse victim’s safety based on how upset their abuser feels.” As Zerlina Maxwell explained in her petition to get Twitter to reverse its decision, “I am very concerned because stalkers and abusers will now be able to keep tabs on their victims, and while there was no way to prevent it 100% before, Twitter should not be in the business of making it easier to stalk someone.”

It’s not necessarily a coincidence Ashe and Zerlina are women. Women are more likely than men to experience stalking and harassment, and women on the Internet experience a high volume of this abuse. There’s plenty of tales of personal experience, but also hard evidence, like a study that found that chat users with female-sounding usernames were 25 percent more likely to get threatening or sexually explicit messages. As Zerlina noted, she is often the victim of online rape and death threats. Women know what they need to be better protected from its effects.

And this might help explain why Twitter didn’t see the backlash coming. It, like many other tech companies, is a male-dominated company. Just two of its twelve executive team members are women, and they were not likely involved in the decision: they are its vice president of human resources and the general counsel. It just added its first female board member last week, a sign of its recognition that diversity is important but that there is so much father to go. This maleness is counter to its user base: the majority are women, which is true for social media in general.

Twitter’s mistake seems like one it could have seen coming. Someone might have been able to put themselves in the shoes of those who experience harassment and stalking and realized that getting their tweets retweeted into an abuser’s stream opens victims up to even more abuse. It has also taken other big public mobilizations to get the company to make changes that could help users who are the targets of threats. Given that women are more likely to these targets, it might take having someone of that gender in the room to come to these realizations ahead of time. This is one of the many benefits of having a more diverse team: you get more diverse opinions, reactions, and ideas.

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Twitter is far from the only company suffering from a lack of women making the decisions; women are a small percentage of the chief executives of the country’s largest companies, for example. Yet there’s a large body of evidence that more women in leadership roles at companies means better financial performance. And Twitter’s experience last night illustrates that it isn’t necessarily just about the dollar figures. A workplace that has employees of all genders, races, sexualities, classes, religions, etc. means a better chance to bring different ideas to the table—and different perspectives that can stop a bad decision before it gets made.

Read Next: Jessica Valenti on Michigan’s anti-choice bill.

Why Women Workers Are Risk-Averse—and That’s Okay

Dice roll

In a recent study, Freakonomics guest writers John List and Uri Gneezy set out to prove what they posit is a big reason women are still paid just seventy-seven cents, on average, for every dollar a man makes. “Personally,” they write, “we think that much of it boils down to this: men and women have different preferences for competitiveness, and at least part of the wage gaps we see are a result of men and women responding differently to incentives.” To demonstrate this, they posted ads for a job opening on Craigslist, and when people applied, they told half of them that the job would be paid a flat rate of $15 an hour but the other half that they would get $12 an hour and then have to compete with a coworker for a $6 per hour bonus. The authors write that “both ads would pay workers and average of $15 per hour,” neglecting to explain what would happen if a worker were to lose out to the other every time and miss that bonus.

The two report that women were 70 percent less likely to want the job with a “competitive pay scale”—and conclude that women just don’t have the same desire to chase reward. But what they would call “competitive” I would call risky: one job offered steady pay, while the other varied depending on a variety of factors. One of those factors may have been how the boss viewed female workers. Women have every reason to be averse to a situation that might pit them against a man, knowing that there is still lots of implicit bias against them. Employees would have been putting part of their paychecks at risk, and women—logically—declined to take that risk.

Setting aside the myriad other causes of the gender wage gap that List and Gneezy don’t address, it’s worth asking: Why don’t women take risks? One half of the answer is that they are socialized not to. It starts very early. Girls are rewarded with higher grades at school for their better ability to follow the rules and not act out. Other research has shown that girls learn to give up on a challenge that stumps them while boys are taught to redouble their efforts and keep trying. Boys, who have a more difficult time paying attention and sitting still, are told that they just need to put in more effort to get it right. Girls, who are better at following instructions, are told they are smart, good, clever—innate, unchangeable traits that don’t improve with trying harder. Girls are given less room to make mistakes.

Room to try things over and over, for forgiveness for behaving badly, has ripples throughout boys’ lives. A study of those who start their own high-risk, high-reward businesses found that they were more likely to engage in “aggressive, illicit, and risky activities” as young people than others. Entrepreneurs are twice as likely as salaried workers to say they took something by force when they were young and 44 percent more likely to have been stopped by the police. They also end up earning about 30 to 50 percent more than others.

Women, on the other hand, aren’t rewarded for being risk-takers in the workplace. The other half of the answer to the question of why women might not go in for risk is that they don’t see the same returns. A study by the research organization Catalyst found that female MBA graduates employed many of the aggressive and ambitious strategies to get ahead in their careers as men did, including asking for higher pay while getting hired and a higher position later, both risky demands. But they still didn’t reap the rewards. “[W]hen women used the same career advancement strategies as men, they advanced less,” it noted.

It seems men get paid more for taking bigger risks. But companies may want to rethink rewarding this behavior. Women’s ingrained nature to be risk-averse is proving to make them a boon for the bottom line.

A new study finds that the presence of women on corporate boards leads companies to pay less for buying other businesses and make fewer acquisitions overall, something that may create more value. Each woman added to a board reduces the final price for acquiring a company by 15.4 percent and lowers the chance that it will make a buy in the first place by 7.6 percent. The researchers posit that this shows that women have less appetite for risky deals and are focused instead on higher returns on investment. In another study that took place over seven years, female investors were found to outperform male ones thanks to the fact that they were more level-headed and avoided making a lot of trades, which lowers returns. They are also more loss-averse and let go of losing stocks more quickly. These line up with a host of other studies that show that having more women on corporate boards improves firm performance.

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If women were rewarded for going off-script as children, it’s highly possible that they would have similar appetites for risk as men do. But they are discouraged from disobeying the rules and given less room to screw up than boys, and when they take risks later in life they don’t get the glory. Blaming the gender wage gap on this difference blames girls for the way society has shaped them.

But we also may not want to turn women into daredevils. Instead, we could reward an eye for the long term and a more even head the same way that we currently reward impulsive and risky behavior in men. Stealing as a teen may correlate well with starting a new business later in life, but playing it safe can get you a better return.

New York airport workers are fighting for a living wage, Allegra Kirkland reports.

Paid Sick Days Have Momentum—but the Opposition Might Have More

Sick woman

Among the fifteen most competitive countries, the United States is the only one that doesn’t guarantee that all workers have access to paid time off when they or their family members fall sick. So some states and cities have addressed the problem on their own by passing laws that require employers to offer paid sick days to all employees. There are seven such laws on the books right now: in Jersey City; New York City; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; Seattle; Washington, DC; and the state of Connecticut. Three of those laws—Portland, New York and Jersey City—happened this year.

The movement is experiencing a good deal of momentum, with current fights for these policies being waged in Newark, New Jersey; Tacoma, Washington; Massachusetts; New Jersey; and Vermont. Advocates are also pushing for an expansion of DC’s law to cover tipped workers, and Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio may look to expand New York City’s law to cover more workers.

But what some progressive fans of this movement might not realize is that there is a well-funded wave of opposition that, by the raw numbers, has experienced more success. So-called “pre-emption” state laws that block cities and counties from passing paid sick leave bills have now been enacted in ten states, with seven this year alone, according to analysis from the Economic Policy Institute:

As the report notes, this effort is fueled with support, and money, from enormous business interest groups. “In each of the ten states, the bills’ sponsors included members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),” it notes. “And in each case, the bills were adopted following vigorous advocacy by corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and Restaurant Association.” For instance, Florida’s bill was pushed forcefully by Disney World, Darden Restaurants (owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster), and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. ALEC handed out model pre-emption legislation to conservative legislators at a national meeting in 2011.

More may be on the way. A lawmaker has just introduced such a bill in the Pennsylvania state legislature and have been introduced in at least fourteen other states.

But these numbers don’t mean that advocates of paid sick days are feeling beat. While Vicki Shabo, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, told me legislative fixes in the states with pre-emption laws may be difficult, one possibility—which would take serious resources—would be to take the issue to the voters through ballot initiatives. Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, said her organization is also reaching out to local officials to have them speak with their colleagues about “the principle of democracy and local control,” since these laws take power away from local governments. “Coalition members find allies who are experts in good government and circulate commentaries from conservatives who say, we may not like paid sick days, but you can’t support the concept of local control only when you agree with the outcome,” Bravo said. And both said they are shining a light on the big business interests behind these laws that “would rather deal with lowest common denominator,” as Shabo put it.

But even the targeted action against the paid sick days movement may have a silver lining. The pre-emption approach has been deployed by business interests to combat issues from smoking ordinances to gun laws to domestic violence protections to environmental protection. “It’s a testament to the success of the paid sick days movement that we’re now being targeted,” Shabo said. Not to mention the success of paid sick days, usually pushed by organizations that are staffed by volunteers and can’t hire lobbyists, has been in the face of vast sums of money on the other side.

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And with each victory comes a new opportunity to prove that these laws are actually beneficial to businesses. The expansion of DC’s law alone is estimated to net employers $2 million in savings even with any costs taken into account. Seattle’s job growth and business growth have been strong under its law, and job growth has actually been stronger. San Francisco has also seen strong job growth and the law enjoys business support. The policies in DC and Connecticut have proven to come with few costs for businesses.

On the other hand, the average employer loses $225 per worker each year due to lost productivity when employees get sick and don’t have access to paid leave. Perhaps with time more businesses will champion the cause.

There’s another “cliff” at the end of the year, George Zornick writes. Going over would devastate America’s long-term unemployed.

Don’t Be Fooled: Flexible Scheduling Is No Cure for the Workplace Gender Divide

Credit: Shutterstock

The city of San Francisco just passed a little-noticed policy in an attempt to address the work and family conflict increasingly experienced by today’s workers: a “right-to-request” law that requires all employers to set up a process so that workers can negotiate flexible schedules. That means that starting January 1, city residents will be able to ask their employers about whether they can change their start and end times, telecommute or go part-time and the boss will have to prove “undue hardship” if he refuses. Vermont passed a similar statewide policy in May. These are the only places in the United States to take up such a law, although the UK, New Zealand and Australia have countrywide ones.

Supporters tout such laws as a way to help resolve the conflict of work and family for all. And for those who feel torn between these two worlds, this streamlined path to changing schedules will likely come as a relief. But if the goal of resolving the work/family conflict with policy is to level the playing field for mothers who work and to allow women to catch up to men, flexible scheduling, at least for now, falls short. It cures a symptom without touching the disease.

A big problem is that women tend to be the ones using flexible work options, doing nothing to change workplaces that otherwise remain rigid against attempts to truly transform them to better integrate women workers. One paper found that while married men use them more than married women, once they have children working mothers use them more than fathers. The Families and Work Institute found that women and parents are more likely to use them, with nearly 80 percent of both groups taking advantage of flextime, although 68 percent of men and 70 percent of non-parents use it when they have access. Other evidence suggests that women, and in particular mothers, are more likely to ask for flexibility, and perhaps the similar usage rates stem from the fact that men are just more likely to get it when they ask.

Women and men may also be using the flexibility for different reasons. Researchers at Cornell University interviewed thirty-six couples in upstate New York in 2005 with young infants and found that the mothers made more changes to their work schedules to meet family needs, thus “diminishing the necessity of work-family policies for their full-time employed husbands.” The authors note, “[T]his appeared to be driven by the women’s views of what was required of them personally as mothers and as workers.” Women are much more likely to take advantage of changes in work schedules if they have preschool-aged children, whereas that factor doesn’t make a difference for men. Fathers are much less likely to tell their employers that they need flexibility for family reasons.

In fact, when men ask for flexibility, it’s likely they’re doing so to take time to develop their careers, not devote energy to raising their children. If that’s the case, they’re in luck. Managers are most likely to grant men’s requests for flexible schedules, particularly if they are doing it for personal development reasons, than for women asking for any reason at all. Flexibility, then, gives men a leg up on their careers while simply giving women more time to be caretakers, something they will likely still be penalized for professionally. The evidence says as much: one study found that women with a flexible schedule are perceived to have “less job-career dedication and less advancement motivation.”

Women, then, are using these programs to reinforce their roles as mothers, while men use them to advance as workers. Flexible scheduling, it seems, will just further reinforce the Leave It To Beaver split.

Other data has shown that the types of flexibility they make use of are different and men may not risk their careers with the kinds they choose. Women use “formal” flexibility, such as shifting to part-time schedules, while men just change their start and end times while putting in the same hours. The research organization Catalyst found that high-powered men and women make equal use of flexible work arrangements, but women are more likely to telecommute, use flex time and reduce their work hours or go part-time. Men are nearly twice as likely to say they have never telecommuted during the entire span of their careers. Flexible scheduling may just be another way of dropping out of the workforce when women have children. If women go part-time or telecommute, they will have trouble getting promoted into management, which typically requires putting in full, in-person hours. And they may just make themselves out of sight, out of mind. “Research shows that employees who work remotely are likely to receive poorer performance evaluations, smaller raises, and fewer promotions than their in-office colleagues,” Nannette Fondas wrote at The Atlantic. Not to mention that fewer hours means less pay.

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That’s not to say that right-to-request laws shouldn’t be passed. There’s clearly a big demand for flexibility, and given our current work culture, many working moms will likely pounce at whatever they can get to make their lives easier. But these policies are worse than just a stopgap—they may move women backward if they are perceived as even more likely to leave to care for children or less dedicated to their jobs. To truly transform the workplace so that all parents can go to work and raise children, we need guaranteed time off in the form of vacations, family leave (required for both genders) and sick days. Even more than that, we need to simply work less. Americans put in more hours than in nineteen other developed countries. Reducing everyone’s workday would free both genders up to spend time with their children—or their aging parents, or their friends or their cats.

A Texas voter ID law discriminates against women, students and minorities.

What Should Democrats Demand in the Budget Showdown?

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Republicans entered the fights over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling with a list of demands. Here are some of the modest concessions they sought in return for not shutting down the government (and, now, re-opening it after they shut it down) and/or not tanking the global economy by forcing the United States to default on its debt: approving the Keystone XL pipeline, eliminating all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, or privatizing Medicaid. Democrats, for their part, have mostly just tried to pass “clean” bills on both instances, and in the case of a continuing resolution to keep the government funded, have even accepted sequestration spending levels.

Playing with either—threatening to shut (and keep shut) the government or, worse, failing to raise the debt limit and forcing the United States to default on its obligations—is irresponsible politics. But if this is going to be a negotiation, Democrats should play offense with a list of their own demands. Even better, there are plenty of things they can put forward in negotiations that would actually have the added benefit of helping boost the economy beyond just keeping lawmakers from damaging it!

1. A public option for healthcare. Many progressives pushed hard for a system that would ensure universal access to health care, often called a public option and frequently accomplished through making Medicare available to all. That got stripped from the bill that became the Affordable Care Act. If Republicans want to make the fight about healthcare, progressives can suggest tinkering with Obamacare—by instituting a public option. This wouldn’t just make sure that everyone has access to healthcare—including those currently being left out by red states that refuse to expand Medicaid—it would also help control spending on healthcare. Medicare’s administrative costs are 2 percent of its spending, compared to 14 percent in the private industry. Its spending growth increased at a rate about 1 percentage point lower than private insurance from 1970 to 2002.

2. Universal preschool. President Obama has already put forward his plan to expand preschool to all. Democrats could stake out ground by not just demanding preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds but going even further to offer free, quality childcare (that pays workers a decent wage) for all. The benefits of free access to high-quality preschool are already well known. One study found that Chicago’s program will generate $11 for every dollar spent in economic benefits over a child’s lifetime. Another found that society stands to see a $9 return for every dollar spent in increased earnings and employment and reduced crime, need for public benefits and grade repetition. Well-educated Americans help increase the labor supply, which boosts GDP. None of these studies take into account the fact that universal preschool—particularly if it extends down to infants—is a huge benefit for working parents, particularly women, who are the default caretakers.

3. Raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. Democrats have been calling for a raise in the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck as $7.25 an hour for four years. Worse, the tipped minimum wage is just $2.13, which hasn’t been raised since 1991. If the wage had kept up with inflation since its peak in the 1960s, it would be over $10 an hour. Fast food strikers have gone further, demanding a raise to $15 an hour, so as bargaining leverage Democrats can start at least that high and make sure it keeps rising as costs rise. And the good news is a raise would give the economy a much-needed boost. The Chicago Fed found that raising the wage to $9 would increase household spending by $48 billion, and even if the possibility of job losses is taken into consideration—which is pretty unlikely—spending would still go up by $28 billion, or 0.2 percent of GDP. Raising the wage to $10.10 an hour would lift nearly 6 million people out of poverty. Not to mention that it would help close the gender wage gap and the racial wealth gap.

4. Free public college. It may sound far-fetched, but the cost isn’t quite so large as you might think. The Roosevelt Institute’s Mike Konczal has found that the government already spends $22.75 billion on tax breaks and incentives for the cost of higher education. The government also spends about $104 billion on student loans. But the cost of providing free public higher education has been estimated at about $127 billion, lining up close with the figure the government already spends on subsidizing college. Konczal points to evidence that a “public option” for higher education could do a lot to control tuition costs. It would also likely expand access to higher education for many that currently see it as out of reach financially, creating a highly skilled workforce and boosting economic growth.

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5. Guaranteed paid family leave, sick days and vacation. The United States falls far behind other developed countries when it comes to paid time off. We’re the only advanced country that doesn’t have a policy guaranteeing paid vacation time. We’re the only country in the top fifteen most competitive that doesn’t have a paid sick days policy. We’re one of three countries out of 178 that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave, let alone paid paternity leave. Meanwhile, we rank at number fourteen in hours worked. Democrats have been pushing for paid family leave and paid sick days, but they can wrap in paid vacation time to push for more guaranteed time off of work. Paid family leave would help bring more women into the workforce, relieve the cost burden on families and close the gender wage gap. Paid sick days at the state level have been shown to spur job growth and enjoy strong business support. And taking time off of work to decompress makes workers more productive.

At the very least, Democrats should be resisting the Republican push to keep sequestration spending levels in a “clean” CR funding bill. But they should think about playing offense and pushing for some policies that could do a lot for the economy.

What would you include in the list of things Democrats should demand? Leave a suggestion in the comments or with the hashtag #DemDemands!

John Nichols on the federal workers bearing the brunt of the shutdown politics.

Larry Summers Is Out, but the Boys’ Club Is as In as Ever

Larry Summers. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)

On Sunday, Larry Summers sent President Obama a letter withdrawing his name from consideration to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, and progressives did rejoice. The news came after a protracted and heated debate, particularly for a role that doesn’t tend to get a lot of hearts racing, over who should take over when Ben Bernanke leaves in January. The contest was reportedly between Summers and Janet Yellen, who currently serves as vice-chair for the Fed.

The argument in Yellen’s favor was twofold. She would be the first woman to ever lead the central bank, breaking a glass ceiling in economics, a world with many such ceilings. President Obama has long voiced a commitment to diversity, and here was an opportunity to bring some to a place that hasn’t seen much in its leadership (even though nearly half of the Fed’s employees are women). But she is also an easy appointment: she is eminently qualified, with more than a decade of experience at the Fed, an impeccable track record on predictions, and a mind to continue the current policies that many economists say are helping the slow economic recovery along. Summers, on the other hand, is cozy with Wall Street, which could throw a wrench into meaningful financial reform as Dodd-Frank is rolled out, and doesn’t have a great track record on predictions, particularly about the crisis.

There’s also the problem that Summers got in hot water for implying that women are less inherently able to excel at science, making his appointment instead of a historic first female nominee even more of a slap in the face.

Yet President Obama apparently resisted calls for Yellen, backing his man Larry, until it became clear that the fight to confirm Summers would be one he would lose. In his letter, Summers explains that the confirmation would be “acrimonious.” This became clear when at least five Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee said they would vote against even bringing his nomination to the floor, a coalition of progressive groups spearheaded by the National Organization for Women and Ultraviolent pushed hard against Summers’s nomination, and more than 450 economists signed onto a letter to support Yellen’s candidacy. All this to get him to drop a less qualified man for a more qualified woman.

If Yellen was such an obvious choice, then why did Obama support Summers? The argument in his favor, from the Obama camp anyway, was that he is Team Obama, through and through. He’s a familiar person, having been director of the National Economic Council in the administration and acting as a close adviser during the crisis. He’s also been in the elite world of Democratic economic policymakers for a while, having been around for the Clinton administration as well as deputy Treasury secretary. The Obama administration does not like new blood.

Obama seemed less comfortable with a newcomer. The argument against Yellen has been made mostly through whispers by advisers and others that she lacks “gravitas.” Or perhaps it’s that she is too independent of a thinker, pushing her colleagues toward better policies, or is too well prepared. Basically, she appeared to be twice as good but still fall short.

This is why the fight over whether the Fed chairmanship—which Yellen may still not get if the Obama administration wants to prove it can’t be pushed around—became more than the sum of its parts. It is a perfect parable about the enormous gulf between a stated commitment to increasing diversity and actually diversifying. President Obama has touted his record on diversity, pointing to appointments such as Hillary Clinton as secretary of state or Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of health and human services, as well as his strong track record of getting female judges confirmed to the courts. And when some pointed out that his second-term cabinet was shaping up to be just as male as the first, he asked that we “wait until they’ve seen all my appointments…before they rush to judgment.” He told us, “We’re not going backwards” on diversity, “we’re going forward.”

We waited, and now it’s time to judge. As Annie Lowrey reported for the Times in August, Obama is barely keeping up with Bill Clinton’s record. Women hold about 35 percent of cabinet-level posts in Obama’s administration, compared to 41 for Clinton. As of June 2012, 43 percent of his appointees were women, about the same as under Clinton. Male appointees outnumbered women at eleven of fifteen federal departments, and in some, such as the Departments of Justice, Defense, Veterans Affairs and Energy, they outnumbered them by about two to one.

Obama has also missed some previous opportunities to make important female appointments. Many had hoped he would replace Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner with a woman such as current Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs Lael Brainard, former adviser Christina Romer, or even Yellen, but instead he picked Jack Lew. There was hope he would also name Michèle Flournoy to head the Pentagon (instead we got Chuck Hagel) or Alyssa Mastromonaco or Nancy-Ann M. DeParle to be chief of staff (instead we got Denis McDonough).

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The thing is, increasing diversity isn’t easy, and it’s not just because the pipeline of talented women pushing for the top sometimes runs dry. It’s because men have dominated the upper echelons of society, be it policymaking or otherwise, for centuries, and therefore bringing in more women means reaching outside the close at hand, the people you already know, those who you might already be friends with.

Obama has a boys’ club problem. Larry Summers was reportedly playing golf with the president while the debate raged about who would get the pick. We can be sure that Yellen didn’t get such access—of the sixteen people who most frequently play golf with the president, not a single one is a woman. Every journalist has given off-the-record access to is a man. And then there’s the famous photo of a nearly all-male group of senior advisers briefing the president, except for the leg of Valerie Jarrett. In some ways it’s understandable that most of the people who surround the president are men. Many of the already powerful and successful in this country are. But a commitment to diversity has to be proactive, going beyond the boundaries of the in club to find those who haven’t been invited yet.

Yellen, in many ways, isn’t even the best example of that. After all, she is a nearly perfect candidate. She’s been in influential roles for at least a decade and was in the mix of the Clinton administration. Many supported her just on the merits, not even because she would break down a barrier for women. Often the choice isn’t so clear. Sometimes a consideration for diversity, for bringing in outside voices to lead our institutions, tips more balanced scales in the favor of the woman or the person of color instead of the white man. President Obama tells us that he’s committed to diversity. But he, and others who say they want more women involved, has take the opportunities that arise to follow through. We just saw how that that still can be.

Take Action: Tell President Obama to Break Up the Old Boys’ Club and Appoint Janet Yellen

John Nichols applauds the populist rebellion that derailed Larry Summers.

The Patriarchy Lives On

Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Hanna Rosin, declarer of the end of men, has now declared the end of the patriarchy. In an article on Slate that is adapted from a new epilogue to her book about the demise of the male gender, she reflects on the fact that “elite feminists…cling to the dreaded patriarchy” and have an “irrational attachment to the concept of unfair,” unable to admit that women have won and society’s sexist barriers are obliterated.

The problem, though, is that it doesn’t seem like Rosin has a solid working concept of what feminists mean when they talk about the patriarchy. In her own piece she brings up examples of the patriarchy but declares them to be something else.

Patriarchy is a lack of options for working parents. Rosin should know this herself. She recounts her own struggle to balance work and family. “[A]fter the birth of my first child, I decided to work four days a week, a capitulation that sank me into a terrible depression,” she writes.

I suppose the patriarchy was lurking somewhere in my subconscious, tricking me into believing that it was more my duty to stay home with our new baby than my husband’s. But I didn’t see it as a “duty.” I wanted to stay home with her, and I also wanted to work like a fiend. It was complicated and confusing, a combination of my personal choices, the realities of a deadline-driven newsroom, and the lack of a broader infrastructure to support working parents—certainly too complicated to pin on a single enemy.

There really is an identifiable enemy here. The reason the workplace, and our policies that impact the workplace, don’t accommodate parents is because they are still structured around a time when women’s domain was the home and men went off to work with children taken care of by someone else. (This is true even despite the fact that many women, particularly low-income women and women of color, have always worked.) That structure has led to “our appalling lack of paid maternity leave,” as Rosin puts it, because workers are thought to be male and not need time to recuperate from labor or care for an infant. Patriarchy has always said that public space and all that comes with it—money, influence, power—belongs to men. Women may make up nearly half of the workforce, but if you looked at our workplace policies you wouldn’t know it.

And yes, it is in fact the patriarchy that makes you think that it’s more your duty than your husband’s to care for your children. It’s natural for a parent to want to spend time with a child. But there’s a difference between that longing and the disproportionate burden women face to be the ones to make it work. Men are rarely asked to change their career paths to factor in the work of raising a child—to their detriment as well as women’s!—because, again, patriarchy says men are workers and women are caretakers.

Patriarchy is also the devaluing of the work that women do. Rosin refuses to see gender segregation in the workforce as a choice imposed on women but instead “women as agents making intelligent decisions about what jobs are available in this economy.” Accepting that premise for a moment, it’s still true that while women dominate some growing industries, the jobs they hold pay pitiful wages. A lot of them are in low-wage positions such as home health aides. They make up 95 percent of these jobs that pay about $10 an hour at the median. Home health aides aren’t even protected by federal labor laws, because the work has been deemed to consist merely of “companionship services,” not to be a job at all. They also tend to be nurses, not doctors—two of the top five jobs women hold are in nursing—making under $65,000 a year compared to more than $166,400 for physicians and surgeons. Women’s work is still thought to be done out of the goodness of their nurturing hearts and therefore not something to be paid well. Why would rational actors choose to be paid poorly if they had better options available?

Patriarchy is the fact that when men enter jobs crowded with women, they can command higher wages. In the twenty jobs most commonly held by women, men earn more in all but two. Women are more than 80 percent of the country’s elementary and middle school teachers, for example, but make just $933 a week at the median, while a male teacher will make $1,022. Women also hold a majority of the growing low-wage service sector jobs in retail and fast food that offer little pay, few benefits, and erratic schedules. Yet even so men make more as cashiers or waiters.

And patriarchy is the lack of women in positions of power. Even if women were funneling themselves into a select few industries out of a spidey sense for growing industries, we should still expect them to at least be able to rise in those industries. Yet they make up 15.5 percent of executive officers in food services, 15.8 percent in healthcare and 17.9 percent in retail. Women’s representation among the highest-ranking jobs, in fact, hasn’t been on an upward trajectory, as Rosin implies. Last year was the seventh in a row that didn’t see the numbers budge for women on corporate boards—they hold just 16.6 percent of seats at Fortune 500 companies—and the third year of stagnation in which women were just fourteen of the top CEOs. It’s no secret that women still hold less than a quarter of all the political offices across the country even though we’ve had the vote for ninety-three years.

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Patriarchy greedily holds onto power and only bestows it on (almost always white) men. It hoards the most respected and best-paid jobs for men. It pays men more—even when they do “women’s work.” It refuses to change the structures of our workplace and our society to accommodate the fact that women are no longer kept at home to tend hearth and home. Women have made remarkable progress over the past half-century and feminists have celebrated some important victories. But that can’t diminish from the incredible load of unfinished work to truly change the patriarchal system we live in.

An Unfulfilled Dream From the March on Washington: Labor Rights for Domestic Work

Maria, a former domestic worker, talks about her experiences in San Francisco, Monday, May 5, 2008. Maria came to San Francisco to be a caregiver for a family from her hometown in southern Mexico. The family paid her way here, then kept her in a house for a year, where she cared for a 78-year-old wheelchair-bound woman. They paid her $300 a month but sent her check directly to her family, so she never had any money. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Fifty years ago on August 28, thousands of protesters descended on Washington, DC. The protest is colloquially known as the March on Washington, but it’s worth remembering its full name: “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” In fact, the economic repression people of color experienced played a central role in galvanizing the march and in the demands the marchers made.

The protesters laid out ten concrete demands, half of which had economic implications: legislation barring discrimination in public housing, a federal jobs training and employment program, an increase in the minimum wage, an act barring discrimination by governments and contractors, and an expansion of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) “to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.”

Progress on these economic demands has been slow and bumpy. But that last bullet-point is a very concrete dream that has been denied. While the FLSA has been expanded since then, a whole category of workers—who are also disproportionately people of color—are still left out.

The Fair Labor Standards Act created a floor for wages and a ceiling on hours with overtime pay for extra work. But when it was crafted in the 1930s, certain workers were deliberately edged out of its protections. As Suzanne Mettler writes in Dividing Citizens, it was the first such bill to be written in gender-neutral terms, but it still defined which occupations fell under its purview in such a way that “the majority of low-paid women workers and non-white men, those who could have benefited most from national labor standards, were exempted from coverage.” Women’s retail and service jobs were mostly left out, as were agricultural jobs often held by people of color. Excluding the latter meant that “50 percent of southern African American employees, men and women,” were omitted. “The combined exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers also omitted near majorities of ‘Mexican American and American Indian women and men, as well as substantial numbers of Filipino-Americans and other Asian Americans’ from coverage,” Mettler writes.

These exclusions were driven by political considerations—Southern Democrats were staunchly against regulating agriculture—and constitutional considerations about the reach of the government’s ability to regulate commerce and the assumption that much of women’s domestic work was a different category altogether. President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself stated, “No law ever suggested intended a minimum wages and hours bill to apply to domestic help.” They weren’t considered to be workers but simply “help.”

Forty years later, Congress expanded the FLSA to cover domestic workers. But a carve-out was again included that still left many out. Those who provide “care and fellowship” to the elderly and disabled were omitted. This has since been dubbed the companionship exemption. While in theory this should only exclude those who simply provide some company to the homebound, it has been so widely interpreted that homecare workers who bathe, feed and intensively care for the elderly and disabled find themselves without minimum wage and overtime protections. In 2007, the Supreme Court told Evelyn Coke, a black homecare worker, that her employer was acting legally when it refused to pay her overtime despite her long hours.

Coke is the typical face of a homecare worker: women of color predominantly hold these jobs. More than 90 percent are female and half are people of color. And while they are a rapidly growing part of the workforce—nearly 2.5 million people are homecare workers, making up one of the largest occupations, and the number of jobs is expected to grow by 70 percent over the next decade—and the work can be incredibly physical and happen at any hour, they make just $9.70 per hour at the median, or $20,170 a year. Nearly 40 percent make so little that they have to rely on public benefits like food stamps and Medicaid to survive. Many report working extremely long hours yet being denied any overtime pay—and thanks to the companionship exemption, they have no legal recourse.

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The marchers who commemorated the 1963 event this past Saturday have some reason to feel optimistic about progress on this one aspect of the ten original demands: President Obama promised in December 2011 that the Department of Labor would undo this loophole, and he introduced a new rule that would extend the FLSA to homecare workers. Yet action is still stalled. The DOL extended the public comment period twice despite the fact that 80 percent of the comments received were in favor. A report from the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards notes that the change “remains stuck down the regulatory ‘rabbit hole’ with no certainty of when it may emerge.”

Ai-Jen Poo, the head of the National Domestic Workers Alliance who has been working tirelessly on changing this rule, recently told The Nation’s Josh Eidelson that she hopes to see the change come through by the end of this month. Homecare workers can’t wait any longer. They provide a vital service that will increasingly be in demand as the baby-boom generation ages and needs care. Including them in labor protections is one small part of following through on the demands for racial justice made a half-century ago.

Take Action: Tell the Obama Administration to Extend Labor Protections to Home Care Workers.

How the 'Opt-Out Revolution' Changed Men

(Courtesy of Flickr.)

Judith Warner published a fantastic, long look in The New York Times yesterday following up on the so-called “Opt-Out Generation”: the women who got prestigious degrees and high-powered jobs and then left it all behind to be stay-at-home mothers. This meme gripped the country ten years ago with the idea that feminism had really just opened the door for women to choose home life. Warner finds that today they often have regrets, try to re-enter the workplace yet struggle to do so and do not have rosy family lives.

But perhaps the most interesting part of her article is the men. Many tweeted about how terrible the husbands seem. While in the end all three women ended up with husbands who just want them to be home, do the laundry and be happy about it, they didn’t start out that way. It seems that opting out changed their relationships, mostly for the worse.

Warner follows three women and all three found this to be true. Kuae Kelch Mattox had an “egalitarian” marriage in which both partners moved wherever one got a good job offer and both shared household chores and caring for the kids. But after Mattox decided to stay home with their children, her husband started wanting her to “try putting some more time into their home,” Warner writes. He tells Warner he wishes his wife would take on picking up around the house, doing laundry and cleaning. Carrie Chimerine Irvin at first felt she had struck an “unstated bargain” that her husband would earn and she would care for children, but found that he also seemed to think that “the couple’s mutual mess was now seen as her concern.” Even after she reduced her work schedule, Sheilah O’Donnel found herself in nasty fights with her husband over laundry and childcare, and her husband told her, “All this would be easier if you didn’t work.” She dropped out to care for kids, but when she decided to get a job with a nonprofit to boost her self-esteem, it was the final straw in their marriage. “Once she started to work, she started to place more value in herself, and because she put more value in herself, she put herself in front of a lot of things—family, and ultimately, her marriage,” her husband said.

This anecdata is confirmed by larger surveys. Pamela Stone interviewed these opt-outers and found that “the women’s husbands…were often changed by their wives’ years at home,” Warner writes. In the early 2000s, the women reported that their husbands were “studiedly neutral” about whether they should maintain a career or stay at home—nearly every single one. But a decade later, most of the women Sylvia Ann Hewlett interviewed said their husbands landed firmly in the pro-stay-at-home camp. Stone says in her recent interviews, “I’m hearing more, ‘My husband really prefers that I be home.’ ” The women report finding themselves suddenly living in a traditional household.

Warner herself interviewed opt-out women and found creeping traditionalism among their relationships as well. “Once they gave up work,” she says, they went from “being their husbands’ intellectual equals into the one member of their partnership uniquely endowed with gifts for laundry or cooking and cleaning.”

It seems, then, that the actual circumstance of having a wife stay home changes men from being egalitarian to being far more traditional in their expectations of what they should get from their wives. Chimerne Irvin comments, “I think a big issue is that we both want to be taken care of at the end of the day, and neither of us has any energy to take care of the other. It’s the proverbial ‘meet me at the door with a martini and slippers.’ Don’t we all want that?” In fact, we do all want that—and men may get overly used to it when they get it.

This is not the first example of family arrangements heavily influencing men’s views of women. A recent study found that men who have stay-at-home wives also bring a different outlook to the office. Researchers found that compared to men in more equal arrangements, these husbands “are more likely to exhibit attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that are harmful to women in the workplace.” In other words, it makes their views toward female colleagues take a turn for the sexist. They more frequently deny promotions to qualified women, view women in the workplace unfavorably, think that more female workers make things run less smoothly and find organizations with women in charge less attractive.

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Another recent study goes back even further, to childhood. Researchers found that boys who grow up just with sisters are 15 percent more likely to be conservative in their views of women’s roles. Why? They speculate that these boys grow up watching their sisters be assigned more housework, thus learning that chores are women’s work. Boys who just grow up with brothers share the load. Family structure when these boys are young informs how they view women later in life.

We like to endlessly discuss the impact that women’s choices about how they solve the work/family equation has on children, the workplace and even the feminist movement. But rarely do we discuss the way choices at home also mold men. It’s clear that the personal becomes political for men as well. When a couple makes a decision to adopt a traditional model for their family, it changes their expectations of each other. And then it ripples outward. It’s not just that women who opt out of the workforce change the way we think of female employees and women’s choices. The structure of men’s relationships changes the way they treat the women around them and the perameters of those choices. We might want to pay more attention to that, too.

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