Lady business with equal parts lady and business.
A new meme has cropped up lately: yeah, sure, maybe there’s a gender wage gap, but it’s really just because ladies make different choices. (See it appear on the left and the right.) The wage gap does, in fact, balloon over a woman’s career, particularly post-children. But don’t those women make less because they decided to leave work early to take the kids to soccer practice? Didn’t they decide to hop on the mommy track and take a less ambitious job so they could focus more energy on family?
Despite the inherent sexism behind these scenarios—why do women feel an intense pressure to mommy track that men avoid?—they imply that women who don’t have such worries shouldn’t experience the wage gap. Under this logic, women who have just graduated college and who don’t yet have a husband or children should be making the same “choices” as their male peers and earn as much as they do. This would also bolster the argument that women’s dominance in getting higher degrees foretells, if not the end of men, at least the beginning of the end of women being at the bottom of the economic ladder.
So some researchers at the American Association of University Women (AAUW) put that theory to the test. In a study released today, Christianne Corbett and Catherine Hill looked at data from the Department of Education, in which it interviewed about 15,000 people, to compare the earnings of men and women a year out of college. As the report puts it, this is a perfect group to study:
Analyzing the gender pay gap among college graduates at the beginning of their careers provides valuable insight. Most are young (23 years old, on average), are relatively inexperienced in the workplace, have never been married, and are not raising children. The broad similarities in the lives of men and women at this time set the stage for a solid comparison.
Yet, sadly, the gender wage gap didn’t disappear—but not for lack of trying on the researchers’ part. They looked at a variety of factors that might account for it. Where grads went to school? Nope, the gap “exists within nearly every category of institution and level of selectivity.” The grades they earned? Women actually earned slightly higher grades on average. Number of hours worked at the new job? While women reported lower hours overall, the gap reared its ugly head among men and women working the same number of hours.
Two areas have some bearing on earnings: choice of major and choice of occupation. Women may have stormed the university halls, but they’ve mostly left segregation by field of study untouched. That can hurt earnings. Graduates with degrees in female-dominated majors tend to make less than those with male-dominated majors. Yet among those who choose the same major, men and women don’t make the same money. Among business majors, for example, women earned just over $38,000, while men earned just over $45,000. The same is true for occupational segregation. Men and women tend to hold very different types of jobs, yet within those jobs women make less. Female teachers earned 89 percent of what their male peers did. Female managers earned 86 percent. Female salespeople earned 77 percent. And on.
After looking at all of these factors, the researchers still found a stubborn 7 percent gap between what women were making and what men were making. That left them with few ways to explain the gap. They offered two possible explanations: one is that women are just bad at negotiating better pay. Yet studies have shown that women do ask for more—they just aren’t rewarded. The only other option is straight-up gender discrimination.
This discrimination clearly starts at an early age—the second women nab their first job. But it follows them no matter where they go or what they do. Not only do grads with newly minted BAs make less, but they keep making less than men with each subsequent degree, and the gap actually widens as they progress. They make less than men no matter what industry or occupation they enter.
And new data also shows that the gap follows them around no matter where they live:
In no state in our nation do women breach the 90 percent mark. Some are definitely worse than others: the gap in Utah, Louisiana and Wyoming doesn’t break 60 percent. But even the best place for women to live, Washington, DC, clocks in at 87 percent.
We can differ on how to address the gap. Romney’s plan seems to be crossing his fingers that the private sector will decide to pay women more on its own. Others have pushed for tougher legislation to crack down on companies that discriminate against their female employees. But any woman anywhere can tell you: we earn less than men no matter what we “choose” to do.
For more on the gender gap in this election, check out Ben Adler on “What Obama Should Have Said in the Debate About Pay Equity.” And sign up for the weekly Feminist Roundup e-mail newsletter for the latest from Bryce Covert and other Nation writers.
Women watching the debate last night let out a collective “hallelujah”: issues of direct importance to our lives finally merited a mention. We got equal pay, contraception, Planned Parenthood, poverty and bizarre discussions of single mothers.
Mitt Romney tried hard to pretend he’ll come down on women’s side in these issues. But as is classic Mitt, his positions send mixed messages. What does Mitt Romney really want for women? What would he do to improve their economic outlook? It depends on which talking point you listen to.
Romney took a few opportunities last night to discuss the ways in which he wants more women in the workforce. When asked a direct question about equal pay, he sidestepped to talk about how few women tend to be represented in top political posts, bringing out his now infamous “binders full of women” story to describe how he asked aides to find qualified women to fill his cabinet as governor. He also talked about wanting women to have more flexible work hours and brought up the fact that women have lost a huge number of jobs in the recovery. All signs point to: Mitt wants to help women get to work.
But does he? First, there’s the debunk now being widely circulated claiming that the binders Mitt asked for were actually put together before he even asked for them—not to mention that a study found the percentage of senior-level positions he appointed to women actually declined during his administration. But these statements clash heavily with some other comments he’s made. When discussing early childhood education recently, he commented, “It’s an advantage to have two parents, but to have one parent to stay closely connected and at home during those early years of education can be very, very important.” Which gender tends to be that “parent” who stay out of the workforce to be home? It is overwhelmingly mothers.
There’s also a big question as to how much he really wants to help unemployed women get back to work. He may cite the statistic that 580,000 women lost their jobs in the last four years, but he rarely makes mention of why. I’ll fill in that blank: mostly because of public sector layoffs. Women have lost 383,000 government jobs since the beginning of the recovery, wiping out more than a third of their private sector job gains. Yet Romney has repeatedly said he wants to see fewer workers on the government payrolls, including teachers, who are overwhelmingly women. He’s yet to explain how those two viewpoints can coexist.
Mitt would also have you believe he wants fewer women living in poverty. When talking about rising poverty rates, he rightly pointed out that the majority are women. “There are three and a half million more women living in poverty today than when the president took office,” he said. “We don’t have to live like this.”
It’s true, Mitt, we don’t. Because we could be doing far more to support people who fall below the poverty line, particularly women, by shoring up programs that are failing them such as TANF (formally known as welfare) and child care assistance. Yet that’s not what he would do once in office. His running mate’s budget, which Romney has said he’d sign if it made it to his desk, would focus 62 percent of its spending cuts on programs that support the poor, such as food stamps, Medicaid and Pell Grants. There’s reason to believe Romney would go even further: he’s calling for about $2 trillion more spending on defense over the next decade that Ryan is, which would mean drastic cuts—about 40 percent across the board—in all other programs.
And then there are his feelings about single mothers. When asked a question about gun control, he inexplicably ended up talking about single mothers and how they are apparently at fault for gun violence. (Never mind studies that show no correlation between the two.) In his wandering response, he said, “We need moms and dads helping raise kids. Wherever possible, the—the benefit of having two parents in the home—and that’s not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone—that’s a great idea because if there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically.” (Emphasis mine.) That sounds quite a lot like family planning to me. How does one plan a family? By using contraception to control fertility and have children when and with whom one wants.
And contraception did come up. Romney decided that last night to be on the pro side, stating unequivocally, “Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.” Unfortunately that’s not always his position. First, there are those around him who don’t share this view. The GOP platform, for example, calls for a personhood amendment, which would endanger some forms of contraception. Then there’s Paul Ryan’s statement that he and Romney would do away with co-pay-free birth control access as provided by the Affordable Care Act on “day one.” And, oh yeah, Romney has previously condemned that very provision himself, even supporting Senator Roy Blunt’s bizarre proposal to allow employers to refuse birth control coverage in their insurance policies if they feel icky about it.
For his part, President Obama pointed out that contraception is an economic issue for the women who need and want access to it. He also made a case for the Lilly Ledbetter Act, a bill that takes a step toward closing the gender wage gap (even though there is much more that needs to be done) while Romney offered up no policy solutions. Obama has previously proposed spending money to hire back some of the teachers who have been laid off in the crisis. He would expand Medicaid to cover more people living in poverty and has expanded Pell Grants and job training programs to help those living in poverty. Clearly there are ways Obama can be pushed to do more for women. But it’s not even clear which side Romney is on.
For more rundown on Romney’s gender issue flip-flops, check out Ben Adler on Obama’s missed opportunity to skewer Romney on pay equity.
Not only did we get sparks at the vice-presidential debate last week, we got a good deal of substance. The social safety net inevitably came up, and Biden and Ryan sparred over Social Security (the one drawing a hard line on making changes to benefits, the other refloating the idea of privatization) and how to reform Medicare, with the word “voucher” tossed back and forth.
One major program that didn’t get much airtime, though, was Medicaid. Perhaps it gets less play because it’s targeted at those living in poverty, not necessarily the middle class politicians so love to love. The program provides healthcare for low-income people through both federal and state financing. Currently, the federal government gives states money with requirements attached for maintaining a certain level of benefits and eligibility. While Social Security and Medicare get the spotlight, this program is in serious danger, as past experience with Romney and Ryan’s preferred “reforms” shows.
Both Ryan and Romney are in favor of changes to Medicaid that would do it real damage. First, they would spend a lot less money on it. Romney and Obama basically agree on how much to spend on Medicare, but they differ sharply in the case of Medicaid. Obama’s healthcare law will expand the program. Romney, on the other hand, has said he’d support the spending levels in Ryan’s budget plan, which would eventually cut spending on the program in half.
But it doesn’t stop at starving the program of funds. Romney and Ryan would “reform” the program in such a way that could destroy it. They would block-grant it, which means giving the states lump sums of money and then basically handing over control. States would have far more freedom to do what they want with that money.
Sounds great, right? In theory, states could choose to get creative with how they spend the money to find ways to ensure more care at a lower cost. But past experiences with block grants don’t paint an optimistic picture.
The most obvious case study is TANF, the program formally known as welfare. After welfare reform passed in the ’90s, it became a block grant to states. What it did do: put a hard cap on federal spending on the program. What it didn’t do: help the families who rely on welfare. Every year, the federal government gives states $16.5 billion and requires that they maintain a certain level of their own spending depending on certain factors. But both of those pots of money can be put to a pretty wide variety of uses. Some states have put it toward the original purposes of welfare, such as childcare support and welfare-to-work programs. But as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports, “over time, states [have] redirected a substantial portion of their TANF…funds to other purposes.” Those include plugging budget holes and freeing up money for other needs—wandering pretty far from the original program.
When the recession hit and an influx of people found themselves in need of TANF benefits, the program failed to expand in proportion. That’s because states were largely unable to get back the money that they’d moved around elsewhere and had to slash benefit amounts or shrink rolls. Less than 30 percent of the families living in poverty in 2010 received benefits, a major failing. Meanwhile, SNAP, or food stamps, which isn’t block-granted and wasn’t under such pressures, was successful in meeting demand: the number of beneficiaries shot up from 26 million pre-crash to 45 million in 2011, reflecting widespread economic pain.
But there are other examples of how block grants have done more harm than good. A new report from the National Women’s Law Center exposes another program that’s failing to meet Americans’ needs: childcare support. The primary source of childcare funding comes from a block grant from the federal government to the states called the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
Just as with TANF, states have a lot of flexibility in making changes to the program that deeply affect those who rely on it. And sure enough, this year was the second in a row in which more states pulled back support than improved it. Families living in twenty-seven states were worse off in February of 2012 than in the previous year under one or more childcare policies, including lowered income eligibility limits, increased waiting lists or freezes on accepting more families, increased copayments, lowered eligibility for parents who are job hunting and others. But it’s not just the past two years that have been bad. Families were worse off this year as compared to over a decade ago in more states than they were better off.
This is despite the fact that childcare costs continue to explode—they can reach as much as $11,700 a year to put a four-year-old in full-time center care and they exceed annual median rent payments in all fifty states—while incomes have been on the decline. That cost gives low-income parents an often impossible dilemma: go to work and make barely enough to cover the cost of care, or stay home to care for a child and forgo the income and skill building. And for the unemployed who are looking for work, it’s nearly impossible to get to job interviews, let alone a new position, if you can’t afford childcare. Yet most states are pulling back support in the face of this increased need, something they are free to do under the block grant system.
There are, of course, some states that have improved policies—all seventeen of them. But state budgets are under huge financial pressures, as they are required to balance their budgets even in hard times, which makes cutting back support and/or shifting money around very attractive. Block grants may sound like a great way to unleash the innovation lurking in our laboratories of democracy, but it so often doesn’t end up that way. They don’t even end up being a very good deal for the states themselves. As the CBPP puts it, “Block grants may initially entice states with offers of flexibility but ultimately leave them worse off over time.” The only winner when a program is block granted is the federal government, which gets the ability to put a firm limit on how much it will spend. Everyone else—states and the citizens they serve—seems to end up worse off.
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As Josh Eidelson reported last week in Salon, retail workers at Walmart walked off the job in a strike for the first time in the company’s fifty-year existence. And he reports today that the strikes have spread: workers in Dallas, Texas, and Laurel, Maryland, have joined the original strikers in Southern California stores, and workers in other cities are expected to join in. Walmart is famous (or infamous) for successfully warding off unionization at its stores during its entire history, and these strikes were, as Eidelson reports, “in protest of alleged retaliation against their attempts to organize,” as well as a call for improved benefits and staffing.
While not a union making formal demands, the group behind the strikes, OUR Walmart, presented a “Declaration of Respect” to the company in June. It called for, among other things, a minimum of $13 per hour, full-time jobs for those who want them, predictable work schedules, affordable healthcare and wages and benefits that don’t mean employees have to turn to government assistance to fill in the holes. Walmart says the average hourly wage for its full-time workers across the country is $12.40, but an IBISWorld report put that figure at $8.81, barely above the minimum wage. And studies have shown that Walmart workers are more likely than others in the industry to rely on government benefits. In California, for instance, where the strike started, employees’ families use 40 percent more publicly funded healthcare and 38 percent more public assistance programs than the average employee at a large retail company. Walmart, for its part, has told Eidelson that the company “has some of the best jobs in the retail industry—good pay, affordable benefits and the chance for advancement.”
Yet these are clearly low-wage jobs, particularly if the pay is so little that many families turn to other sources to get them through. This category of work is the fastest growing post-recession. In a recent report, the National Employment Law Project classified jobs that pay a median hourly wage of $7.69 to $13.83—easily Walmart territory, no matter whose average wage figure you listen to—as low-wage jobs. The report found that it’s these very jobs that are seeing the most robust rebound: they grew nearly three times as fast as mid-wage and high-wage work. The low-wage occupation with the highest growth was, you guessed it, retail.
Meanwhile, mid-wage jobs have taken a beating. They accounted for 60 percent of the job losses during the recession but have only made up 22 percent of those added during the recovery. (The numbers are basically flipped for low-wage jobs—they were 21 percent of recession losses and have amounted to 58 percent of the gains in the recovery—while high-wage jobs have basically recovered evenly.) This means that we’re trading mid-wage, middle-class jobs for low-wage ones. Given that Walmart employs 1.4 million people out of our 140 million strong workforce, a huge chunk of those will be with the company, making this strike, and its outcome, relevant to more people than ever before.
And these jobs in retail don’t just come with low pay. The Retail Action Project interviewed over 400 workers in New York City and found that few had access to benefits. Less than a third got healthcare through their jobs and less than half had paid time off or sick days. Meanwhile, the work is incredibly unreliable: almost 60 percent are part-time or temporary and less than 20 percent have a set schedule. That meant 70 percent of respondents only found out their schedules a week ahead of time. That can make arranging childcare, for instance, nearly impossible.
This is all part of our long-term trend of trading in blue-collar manufacturing jobs for unstable service sector work, but in many ways it’s gender neutral. In NELP’s list of the mid-wage jobs with the weakest recovery growth, truck drivers come in at number one and carpenters and maintenance workers at numbers four and five. But at numbers two and three are the pink collar jobs of administrative assistant and secretary. Manufacturing and factory work have been on a long decline that was accelerated by the recession and the collapse of the housing market. Administrative work, on the other hand, has been hit by the “speed up” of the American workforce, in which fewer employees are asked to take on more work, and new businesses that can no longer afford to hire back office support when they start up.
It’s not just the workers who walked off the job that have something at stake in taking on Walmart. As these sorts of jobs increasingly dominate our workforce, we’ll be forced more and more to ask not just how many jobs the economy is adding, but what kind of jobs. If Walmart and its ilk supply most of them, families will have little money to rely on, few benefits and chaotic work schedules. All eyes should be on this historic strike and what gains Walmart’s workers are able to make in negotiating higher pay and better benefits.
Check out Nation blogger Allison Kilkenny's coverage of peaceful Walmart strikers' arrest in Illinois.
The media verdict is in: Romney won, Obama lost and no one likes Jim Lehrer anymore. But for a debate that was abysmally moderated, it covered a lot of territory. Obama and Romney sparred over taxes, oil subsidies, Dodd-Frank, Medicare, education, Solyndra, Social Security, and how much they lurve the middle class.
Given all the unfettered candidate talking points and potpourri of disconnected issues, you’d think someone would have uttered the word “women.” But, alas, it went unsaid. In an election cycle where women’s hearts and votes are being fiercely battled over while our rights and needs are getting hammered by Republican vote after Republican vote, you’d think we might come up once. Nope.
There were a few allusions to some of the issues facing women today. Both Romney and Obama agreed on the importance of teachers, yet Obama was the only one to discuss a concrete plan to hire 100,000 of them. Romney, on the other hand, reupped his feelings that we need fewer government employees. This despite the fact that we’ve lost 670,000 government workers since the recession ended in June 2009.
And while Romney may not make the connection, many of those public sector workers are women—as are the vast majority of teachers. We’ve lost 301,000 jobs in “local government education” in the recovery—read elementary school teachers. This is a huge clue to the reason that women have been failing to catch up in job gains during the recovery. Women have lost 450,000 public sector jobs during the recovery, which has offset the private sector gains they made by 45 percent. When Obama talks about putting teachers back to work, or Romney discusses his penchant for thinning the government ranks through attrition, they’re both talking about women, even if they shied away from making that explicit.
When talking about the social safety net, Obama also invoked women through his grandmother, who he described as “fiercely independent.” She outlived her husband by many years but was able to live on her own “because of Social Security and Medicare,” Obama said. He illustrated an important point: women rely heavily on these programs when they age because they live longer, make less over their lives and therefore are more likely to end up in poverty—twice as many women over the age of 65 live in poverty as compared to men. Social Security is basically the only source of income for about a third of women over the age of 65, compared to less than a quarter of men. Without it, half of female beneficiaries would live in poverty. Same story with Medicare: the majority of beneficiaries are women.
But what of the other issues that have become hot battlegrounds in this election season that directly impact women? Romney talked up his plan to overturn the Affordable Care Act as fast as he can. That includes the mandate that insurance cover contraception as a preventative care service without a co-pay, a provision that Ryan has said his team would undo on “day one.” That means women will go back to shelling out nearly $12,000 over their lifetimes for hormonal birth control. But the ACA also undoes gender rating, saving women $1 billion a year in paying more for the same services. Obama could have easily brought up either to demonstrate how anti-woman the pledge to repeal the ACA really is.
He could have also mentioned the first bill he signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which Romney has struggled with. Remember that awkward five-second silence when his advisers were asked whether Romney supports the bill? And how Paul Ryan voted against it when it came to the House floor? That’s an easy way to draw a distinction between himself and the GOP ticket: Obama supports measures to help close the gender wage gap. Romney/Ryan may talk about women in the economy, but have no plans to ensure women make the same as their male peers.
“Women’s issues” often get lumped into “social issues” and then sidelined as not being “core issues” like the deficit or jobs. Perhaps that’s why Lehrer didn’t see fit to interrupt the candidates with questions about women. It could even explain why Obama failed to make any mention of them last night. But issues like contraception, abortion and equality have huge economic ramifications in women’s lives. They should have had their place in a discussion of the economy last night.
For more on last night's debate, read Ben Adler on how each campaign team will spin the event.
Hanna Rosin’s new neon-covered book, The End of Men, just hit bookshelves and has already led to a slew of interviews and excerpt placements. The title may sound familiar: the book grew out of her Atlantic article of the same name. That piece came out at the height of the recession, when men were suffering historic levels of unemployment. Rosin’s thesis is that the recession exaggerated a broader trend already well underway, in which American men are ceding economic dominance to women, who are better suited to a new economy that values communication, collaboration and service work. Her story’s moment may have faded: since the recession officially ended, women have gotten less than 20 percent of the jobs added to the economy, regaining just a quarter of the jobs they lost during the crisis. Men have recovered 42 percent of lost jobs.
But perhaps the biggest challenge in grappling with Rosin’s book is her tendency to use key concepts over and over without stopping to consider what they actually mean. “Matriarchy,” “success,” even “feminism” all play major roles in the End of Men, but they’re sketchily defined at best. Women have what it takes to be successful in the economy, she tells us, and calls this a matriarchy, suggesting that thousands of years of ruling patriarchy are coming to an end.
Let’s do some defining, then, starting with patriarchy. What does it mean to live in a patriarchal society? It is not just men’s ability to earn more income and control the TV remote. In Stephanie Coontz’s fantastic Sunday New York Times op-ed, she describes a
“patriarchal dividend”—a lifelong affirmative-action program for men. The size of that dividend varied according to race and class, but all men could count on women’s being excluded from the most desirable jobs and promotions in their line of work.… At home, the patriarchal dividend gave husbands the right to decide where the family would live and to make unilateral financial decisions. Male privilege even trumped female consent to sex, so marital rape was not a crime.
Patriarchy is not just a system that rewards (mostly white, straight, upper-class) men with the jobs and the money. In a highly patriarchal system, men are endowed with almost complete social control over women, not just economically but in sexual, political and reproductive realms. But, of course, having access to all the jobs—highly paid and low—and therefore all of the money is a great way to reinforce this system. Rosin acknowledges this system, saying, “For nearly as long as civilization has existed, patriarchy—enforced through the rights of the firstborn son—has been the organizing principle, with few exceptions.” Men took over “social and political institutions and [kept] women under their control,” allowing them to have “the power and resources.”
As Coontz points out, these “entitlements” for men have been losing strength for a while now, but began to erode more quickly in the past half century, as women flooded the workforce. Does this mean that we’ve ended the patriarchy? According to Rosin, the end is nigh, if not here yet.
If patriarchy is on its way out, then “matriarchy,” as Rosin puts it, is on the way in. The term figures prominently in the book, showing up on page five of Rosin’s introduction and even in one of her chapter titles—“The New American Matriarchy.”
It’s worth pausing to consider what a matriarchy would really mean. Here are some of the ways Rosin defines it:
an American matriarchy, where the younger men especially are unmoored, and closer than at any other time in history to being obsolete—at least by most traditional measures of social utility. And the women are left picking up the pieces.… a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the workforce and from home, and women making all the decisions.
So a “matriarchy” means women are the Deciders. But what decisions do they get to make? This is best put by someone Rosin interviews: women “‘make every important decision’—whether to have a baby, how to raise it, where to live.” In other words: all decisions about matters inside of the home.
The idea is not new. Fear of matriarchal rule in the home first arose with a group Rosin references: low-income black women in the 1970s and ’80s. After the release of the infamous Moynihan Report in 1965, which attributed black poverty to a “deviant” family structure with a focus on “momism,” black women as all-powerful matriarchs who demoralize the men around them became a national preoccupation. Rosin copies that language, saying black society “has turned into a virtual matriarchy.” Yet even back when this idea was sweeping the nation, these women’s supposed decision-making power within the home didn’t hold up to scrutiny—they still shared decision-making with the fathers of their children. And then as now, some have raised the question, in the words of sociologist Robert Staples: “Over whom do these women have control?” It matters where and over what women make decisions.
Domestic decision-making does not a matriarchy make. In a true matriarchy, women would sit at the head of more than a kitchen table. As Coontz mentions in her op-ed, women currently make up only 17 percent of the seats in Congress. This trend holds across all levels of governing: women are a quarter of officials and legislators at the state and local level, hold only 12 percent of governorships and are 8 percent of the country’s mayors. (And we’ve never once had a female commander-in-chief.) Few women are in charge of the decisions that affect the lives of Americans who don’t live in their own households. So to start, a matriarchy would entail not just equal political representation but political domination, putting women at the helm of nearly all policymaking.
And despite the fact that it was economic power that sparked Rosin’s original thesis, women don’t hold the decision-making roles there either. Less than 4 percent—that’s right, not even four out of 100 people—of the CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women. Women would not only be the majority of high-powered executives in a matriarchy, but they would also bring in the big bucks. Yet less than 8 percent of the top earners at these companies are women.
They also wouldn’t have to contort themselves in the extreme ways that the high-powered women Rosin interviews do. To be taken seriously, as Rosin herself reports, these women have to be “girlish enough not to trigger a backlash,” yet also “aggressive enough”; “polite, but firm”; “a self-starter and a team player.” This “tightrope specificity” and need to “play by the rules” are hardly the characteristics of a matriarch drunk on unchecked power. They are merely attempts to find a way to fit into the existing patriarchy’s guidelines.
It’s hard to claim that women have so reversed the roles that they now hold the social and economic reins in American society after looking at those numbers. But even Rosin’s narrower claim—that women are going to edge men out of the jobs and earning picture— doesn’t play out either. She suggests over and over that women have met and will continue to meet with far more success than men in our new economy. But it’s hard to say how we should define “success.”
Here are some of the trends that form the bedrock of her thesis: women made up half the workforce in 2009 (even though that percentage has again slipped), they dominate twelve of the fifteen job categories predicted to grow the most of the next decade, the average wife contributes just over 40 percent of family income and women are the majority of college students and are earning more degrees.
I’ve already looked in depth at why dominating these jobs may not be all it’s cracked up to be and why women are still not the richer sex. But do college degrees now spell economic power in the future? It’s not likely. After they move beyond high school, women make less than their male peers at every level of education. They make an average $800 a month less, but it gets worse the more education they get. In fact, women have to get a PhD to make as much as a man who has a bachelor’s. This seems a poor way to measure success—a degree that merely catches you up to the men on the educational rungs below you.
Rosin’s final confusion is about the term “feminism” and what the movement’s goals are. In a passage about a small town in Auburn, Alabama, in which women earn more than men at the median, she calls it a “feminist paradise.” It’s “a town dominated by women,” where they make up over half the workforce. And while no unemployment numbers are cited, Rosin paints a picture in which men are virtually all put out of work by the decline in manufacturing.
The purpose of feminism was never to win a battle of us versus them. Remember the slogan “A world that is good for women is good for everyone”? The point is equality—which is not the same as trying to flip the world upside down so that women rule over men.
Rosin moves fluidly between declaring this a fait acompli and a future event. She calls ours the “age of female power” and says of women that they “have…dominated the workforce.” Yet she also says “the transition to a new era is not yet complete” and that some of the trends she describes offer only “a glimpse of the…future.” It seems she believes this is “the way the world is inevitably moving,” but even she asks, “Why hasn’t it arrived yet?” It may never arrive. Women still have a huge amount of territory to gain before they can be called equal peers with men. And there’s no reason to assume or hope that they will leapfrog over men and institute another 5,000 years of rule by one gender. We’re still working on the rise of women. Let’s hope it never leads to an end of men.
For more feminist Nation coverage, check out Katrina vanden Heuvel’s latest on the GOP’s War on Women.
This Sunday, I attended a panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival in which moderator Ta-Nehisi Coates started out with a question for the panelists: Does this campaign season matter? Are we learning anything about the candidates? I was in the audience, but my response would be: Yes, it matters, and we’re learning a great deal. But it’s mostly about what the Republican Party really thinks.
While this election season may appear gaffe-tastic, the most viral moments weren’t misspoken words. Rather, they reveal what’s deep in the conservative heart—opinions that many had warned existed for a long time (and had even appeared in real-life legislation) but have now been put into stark relief for the general public. This election season has been highly instructional about deep-seated beliefs on the right.
The latest and perhaps most viral—nabbing Mother Jones, which broke the story, over 8 million visitors—was Romney’s now-infamous hidden camera 47 percent comment. Here’s what he said:
There are 47 percent of the people…. who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what... These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax…. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Romney has stood by his comments, with his economic adviser swearing to “triple down” on them. And in fact the ideas he expresses are nothing new to the party. Worse, given the candidness of the moment, Romney expressed what can only be characterized as unabashed disdain for half of the country. It’s not just that he’s worried, as the conservatives who cling to the 47 percent figure explain, that this constituency won’t vote for tax cuts and instead will vote for higher social safety net payouts. He dismisses them entirely because he can “never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
What that sentiment leaves out, of course, is that while these Americans didn’t pay income taxes (thanks to many policies pushed into law by Republicans themselves), it doesn’t mean they don’t pay any taxes. Over 60 percent of them paid payroll taxes, which means that they also held jobs. Nearly everyone pays sales tax. Another 22 percent of this group was elderly. Add that up, and what he’s mostly talking about are the working poor and low-income older Americans. These are the people that Romney dismisses as taking no responsibility for their lives.
Far from an outlier, Romney’s statement has a long, long history. As my colleague at the Roosevelt Institute Mark Schmitt pointed out last week, this narrative around the 47 percent was hatched in the lab of the American Enterprise Institute. It’s been spouted by the likes of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Republican VP pick Paul Ryan himself. But Romney’s remarks revealed an even more deep-seated disdain for the working poor than is normally expressed. It’s not just about taxes; it’s a belief that those at the bottom are worth less of his attention and care than the rest of the country. So much for compassionate conservatism. Romney’s remarks revealed once and for all that there is a deep disrespect for working-class and low-income people struggling to get by thriving at the heart of the Republican Party.
And it sheds light on another comment of his that blew up not so long ago: “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” At the time, the quote seemed a bit out of context, because Romney continued, “We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it.” Yet in his hidden-camera moment, he makes it clear just how much he despises the safety net he says should catch the poor. He scoffs at those who require assistance for healthcare, food and housing, some of the most basic provisions that this country is supposed to ensure those who are at the bottom of the income scale. Yet another moment of clarity, made even clearer by his recent comments.
We’ve seen some other very telling moments from the Republican nominee this cycle. There was “Corporations are people, my friend,” an unabashed and straightforward articulation of the conservative ethos that fueled the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. Then there was the telling, fully five-second silence from Romney aides when asked whether he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Act, exposing discomfort with equal pay legislation.
But it’s not just the presidential candidate who has haphazardly revealed truths. Just last month, before we were talking about the 47 percent, we were talking about “legitimate” rape. Remember Todd Akin? Who could forget? On a random Sunday in the middle of August, Akin told a TV interviewer, “[F]rom what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Just like Romney, Akin refused to apologize for the meaning behind his words, explaining he merely meant to say “forcible rape,” not “legitimate rape.”
But this wasn’t the first time he—or the Republican Party—used the word “forcible” to categorize rapes that count and those that don’t. Akin co-sponsored the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act in early 2011, which would have tightened the definition of rape for abortions that are covered by the federal exception to only “forcible” ones. While some noticed this at the time, Akin’s remarks made it crystal clear to anyone half tuned in that the Republican Party thinks some rapes count and others don’t. In particular, if you weren’t roughed up when you were raped—if you were drugged, or date raped, or the victim of incest—you weren’t “really” raped.
There are other truths that surfaced about the conservative view of reproductive health. Primaries are often a process of learning, as more marginal candidates push the mainstream ones to address issues they normally wouldn’t. And right on cue, Rick Santorum made birth control, an issue many thought was settled, a debate point. Perhaps his views were made clearest by an interview with the Christian site Caffeinated Thoughts, in which he warned of “the dangers of contraception,” calling it “not okay.”
Shortly after, Irin Carmon summed up his position thus: “Rick Santorum is coming for your birth control.” In fact, conservative opposition to not just abortion, which continues to be a polarizing topic, but birth control, which does not, has been building for quite some time. But many have been in denial—Carmon herself got a wave of pushback for the title of her piece. And yet months later, contraception was once again in the news as the Catholic bishops came out swinging against the Obama administration’s decision to mandate co-pay-free coverage of contraception as part of the ACA. And we all remember what happened next—the fight devolved into Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut for talking about (her friend’s) contraception needs. The cat is out of the bag: the GOP thinks using contraception, which virtually every woman will do in her lifetime, makes you a dirty whore and doesn’t support increased access.
These awkwardly worded statements and admissions of belief in what candidates assumed were safe spaces are hugely important. It may seem ridiculous that a hidden camera video can fuel three weeks of the news cycle. But what Romney revealed was more than an ability to keep putting his foot in his mouth. Republicans, perhaps more than ever, have exposed long-held beliefs this campaign season. They’re just finally going viral.
For more on the Republican sprint to the right, check out Ben Adler's take on crazy conservative memes.
Welfare has been on the forefront of the GOP’s brain lately, as the Romney/Ryan team has been relentlessly (and falsely) accusing President Obama of “gutting” welfare reform. So it’s unsurprising that it might came up in President Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC last night. After all, Clinton was the one to sign the 1996 welfare reform bill, transforming the program into what it is today. It made sense for him to defend President Obama from the Republican attacks saying he was undoing his own legislation.
In the midst of his defense of Obama, not one to miss a chance to give himself a little back-pat, Clinton said of the ’90s reforms: “This is personal to me. We moved millions of people off welfare. It was one of the reasons that in the eight years I was president, we had a hundred times as many people move out of poverty into the middle class than happened under the previous twelve years, a hundred times as many. It’s a big deal.”
But while welfare reform may have initially reduced poverty, it left those still living at that income level worse off than they were before, reaching fewer of them and giving those it did reach less. And our poverty rates didn’t stay low. When they began to rise again, the program couldn’t offer them the support it used to. The recession has been a crystal clear, and incredibly painful, demonstration of this fact.
Dylan Matthews has already taken a look at the claim that millions moved off of welfare’s rolls and poverty was reduced. As he writes, the program’s numbers have steadily fallen since 1996: “Since reform, the rolls have shrunk from 12.6 million to 4.6 million.” The number of people in poverty “fell by 6.4 million people under Clinton, whereas the number of people in poverty increased by 7.4 million between 1981 and 1993 (and the rate went from 14 percent to 15.1 percent).” There is a catch, though. “But it’s worth noting that welfare reform led to a huge spike in extreme poverty, as defined as the number of households making under $2 a day,” Matthews adds.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has done excellent work to track TANF’s failures. “While the official poverty rate among families declined in the early years of welfare reform, when the economy was booming and unemployment was extremely low, it started increasing in 2000 and now exceeds its 1996 level,” it reports. “Over the last 16 years, the national TANF caseload has declined by 60 percent, even as poverty and deep poverty have worsened.” In fact, nearly 70 percent of poor families with children received cash assistance in 1996; in 2009, less than 30 percent did. And the families who are able to access benefits aren’t getting much. Their purchasing power is below 1996 levels, adjusting for inflation, in every state but two. They fall below 50 percent of the poverty line in every state.
The rolls may be going down, but the need is not. The early employment gains among welfare recipients were tied to the strong economy. As the CBPP puts it, “The data suggest that a strong labor market is central to the success of a work-based assistance system.” When the labor market went into free fall, those gains were lost. But rather than low-income individuals finding themselves cushioned by TANF’s safety net, there was nothing to stop the fall.
As the recession hit, jobs evaporated and the unemployed needed support. TANF’s caseload should have shot up, offering assistance to those living in poverty who were no longer working. But the opposite happened. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of unemployed people doubled, yet TANF’s rolls increased by only 13 percent nationwide—in some states, the numbers actually fell. Contrast that with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, which was able to grow by 45 percent to meet increased need.
To figure out why the program is no longer elastic enough to grow and shrink with demand, take a look at what happened when Clinton signed that bill. Those reforms changed the program from a cost-sharing model to a block grant, in which the federal government gives states a fixed amount of money and requires them to maintain a certain level of their own spending (“maintenance of effort,” or MOE). That federal number stays the same no matter what happens to the economy, unlike the pre-reform program, under which the federal government automatically shared the cost if caseloads shot up. Not to mention that the amount given out in the block grant has been frozen since it was created fifteen years ago, losing nearly 30 percent of its value to inflation.
Meanwhile, the MOE requirements have also fallen in value by the same amount. And as soon as states got the block grants, they started moving the money around. As the CBPP reports, “Over time, states redirected a substantial portion of their TANF and MOE funds to other purposes,” such as using the money to plug holes in their budgets or free up money for other projects. But when the recession hit and they needed to put those funds back toward helping low-income people, “many states were unable—for fiscal or political reasons—to reclaim those dollars.” That’s why they weren’t able to expand the rolls to accommodate such a high need for financial assistance. SNAP, the food stamp program, on the other hand, has funding that rises automatically to deal with increased demand.
Those who opposed welfare reform in the first place saw a lot of this coming. And funnily enough, one of the bill’s critics will be stepping onto the very same stage tonight that Clinton spoke from yesterday. As Ryan Lizza reports this week in his profile of the relationship between Clinton and President Obama, “Obama came to share an ambivalence toward Clinton’s policies that was common on the left” in his early career. Obama called Clinton’s signing of the final bill “disturbing” and later said he wouldn’t have supported it. He even worked to pass a state law while serving as an Illinois state senator that restored benefits to legal immigrants.
This makes for some strange bedfellows. But it’s clear that Obama’s grant of the request for work requirement waivers from a handful of governors is merely allowing them a bit more wiggle room in meeting the law’s requirements. The real tragedy is not Obama’s waivers. It’s welfare’s failure to give some of the most vulnerable among us the support they so desperately need in this economy.
While watching Elizabeth Warren address the DNC last night, I was struck by a small piece of her personal story that I’ve heard her tell many times: “Like a lot of you, I grew up in a family on the ragged edge of the middle class,” she said. “My daddy sold carpeting and ended up as a maintenance man. After he had a heart attack, my mom worked the phones at Sears so we could hang on to our house.” Warren would go on to write The Two-Income Trap with her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, in which she described how this model, of stay-at-home wife as economic safety net, has since evaporated. But when she was growing up, one paycheck was enough to support a family. And that meant that middle-class women, who in the 1950s and ’60s were expected to stay out of the labor force and tend to the home, could jump into the workforce if something happened to the husband breadwinner and still support their families until he was back on his feet.
This stood out to me because I just read Hanna Rosin’s excerpt of her new book in the New York Times Magazine. Rosin presages the rise of “a nascent middle-class matriarchy” in which men’s traditional middle-class jobs dry up and women become the breadwinners. While American manufacturing has been on a steady decline for a while, Rosin picked up on an intensified trend during the recession: men were facing historic unemployment levels, while “women’s work” remained steady. Leaving aside for a moment the reversal of those trends in the recovery—which I will pick up more thoroughly when I review her full book—what if that’s our economy’s long-term trajectory? What will it mean if women take the place as head of household? Unlike Warren’s childhood experience, today’s families will have a hard time hanging on to the middle class.
Rosin, at least in this excerpt, focuses mostly on what it means for family structures and the awkward relationship between husbands and wives living in the “traditional values” swaths of America when roles reverse. But perhaps even more troubling are the effects on families that used to represent our middle class.
Rosin admits that while traditionally female sectors jobs like nursing, home healthcare and child care are among the few projected to grow over the next ten years, “These are not necessarily the most desirable or highest-paying jobs.” She even makes clear with her anecdotes that the women of her story who jump into the workplace when their husbands are laid off take far lower paychecks. When the plant that employed the town’s men began laying them all off, Rosin writes, “Many [of the wives] were willing to take low-paying jobs because they hadn’t spent their lives expecting to be the primary breadwinner.”
This is particularly true of any women who had previously adhered to the traditional family model, staying home and caring for their children. “Patsy had little experience in the work force and did not think of herself as a professional or a manager,” Rosin says of one woman she interviews, “but [her] friend told her she could possibly make as much as $20 an hour, which sounded better than the $5.50 she made at day care. It might not have been enough for [her husband] Reuben, but to Patsy, who never had a steady paycheck, it sounded incredible.”
It’s clear that occupational segregation is alive and well in these families’ lives. And that means the women will bring in smaller paychecks than their husbands once did when they head into the workforce. “Women’s work” just doesn’t pay as well as men’s. At the low end of the skill level, male-dominated fields pay nearly $150 more a week than female-dominated ones. At the high end of the skill level, that number balloons to $471 less a week. Those are devastating numbers for any family relying on a mother’s paycheck.
But even more troubling may be that while men’s middle-class jobs have been eroded by the recession, the same has held true for women’s work. As I wrote earlier this week, a new report from the National Employment Law Project shows that mid-wage jobs have been decimated by the economic downturn, only to be replaced by low-wage ones. This phenomenon is happening to both genders. For women, it manifests most pointedly in the hemorrhaging of secretary and administrative assistant jobs as employees are asked to take on more duties at work. When they lose these solidly middle-class jobs, they tend to take work as home health aides, cashiers and waitresses. So if women are now becoming the breadwinners, as Rosin claims, they’re far more likely to enter minimum-wage jobs.
As Warren said in her speech last night, “I grew up in an America that invested in its kids and built a strong middle class… But for many years now, our middle class has been chipped, squeezed, and hammered.” Women may take over the breadwinning. But if they do so in minimum-wage jobs, it will be one more nail in the coffin of the American middle class. The role reversal, if it really is happening (and I have my own doubts, to be explored in the aforementioned review), is unlikely to bring about Rosin’s middle-class matriarchy. It is far more likely to be a minimum-wage one, which will mean that even more families will slip from the ranks of the middle class we so pride ourselves on.
The recession seemed to mark the dying gasp of blue-collar jobs: as construction and manufacturing tanked, it sped along the decline of solid factory work for middle-class American men. That intensification of a long-term trend inspired such hard hand-wringing that there was a crisis of raw knuckles. Less noticed, however, has been a similar hollowing out in the middle for pink-collar work. Beyond the decent-paying public sector jobs that women have been kicked out of thanks to budget cuts in the recovery period, there’s another reason women are losing middle-class jobs and taking new ones as clerks and waitresses: job losses among secretaries and administrative assistants.
Back in 2011, a question perplexed many, even the likes of the Pew Research Center: why were women losing jobs in the private sector? Teachers were being fired because state budgets were so crunched, but that couldn’t explain why private sector women were falling behind men. My Roosevelt Institute colleague Mike Konczal and I took a look at the job losses by occupation and found a stunning trend: women had lost a total of 925,000 jobs in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s “office and administrative support occupations” category.
Checking in a year later, a new report from the National Employment Law Project shows this trend is continuing. It finds that mid-wage jobs—those making $13.84 an hour to $21.13 an hour—have been decimated during the recovery, while job gains have happened mostly in low-wage jobs that make between $7.69 and $13.83 an hour. When the report stacks up the mid-wage jobs with the weakest recovery growth, secretaries and administrative assistants clock in at number two, having lost 345,101 jobs. Third are first-line supervisors and managers of office and administrative workers—those just above the secretaries but in similar roles—who have lost 327,559 jobs. That’s a grand total of 672,660 administrative jobs lost since 2009.
This spells bad news for female workers, who hold three-quarters of these jobs. And the driving force behind the losses is just as troubling. Given that the ability to find a new job is almost nil in the miserable job market, workers are feeling trapped. (For example, the quit rate has hovered at a very low rate since the recovery began.) That gives employers huge leverage in pushing their employees to take on heavier loads without higher pay. This is what Mother Jones calls “the great speed-up”: all work and no pay makes American workers stressed out. In a Spherion Staffing survey, over half of workers had taken on new roles, but just 7 percent had gotten more money for doing so. This trend means that secretaries and administrative assistants are getting the ax, while their workloads get pushed to their remaining coworkers.
This is all, of course, on top of massive public-sector job losses for women, often stemming from widespread teacher layoffs, which also eat away at mid-wage work. And when these unemployed teachers and secretaries find work again, the NELP report shows that the greatest job gains have come in low-wage service jobs like waitresses, retail store clerks and personal and home care aides. Those occupations have added 1.7 million jobs over the past two years—accounting for nearly half of all employment growth.
This trend is happening alongside the loss of blue-collar work: truck drivers are the number-one mid-wage job-losers, and carpenters are number four. Those laid off men may be even more likely to take some of the low-wage jobs, given that they’re making gains in retail, but women are losing jobs there. And women should be concerned that not only are men entering traditionally female sectors during the recovery but when they do they are paid more and meet with better benefits and promotions.
But this isn’t a timed trial in the Oppression Olympics. It’s clear that the chasm in the middle of the job market is hurting women and men alike. While record unemployment levels can’t be explained away by structural issues—if businesses saw more demand, they’d hire more and a flood of relieved unemployed people would be quick to sign up for jobs—the recession and recovery have sped up some ongoing trends. The basis of our economy is quickly shifting from durable, middle-class careers to temporary service-sector work. And the notion that women can take advantage of men’s loss seems troubled at best. The hollowing out of the middle of our labor force means that men and women alike who used to be able to count on good work in the office or the factory are now seeking employment in Walmart and Applebee’s. Grab some moisturizer, because we should all be wringing our hands.