What the U.S. Economy Owes to Contraception

Feb 28, 2012Bryce Covert

This isn't about "moral" objections. Women's access to contraception has been a huge driver of America's economic dominance.

This isn't about "moral" objections. Women's access to contraception has been a huge driver of America's economic dominance.

It's no secret that women's reproductive rights have become a big news item lately, from this to this to this. Contraception in particular is now a campaign issue. George Stephanopoulos was heckled for bringing it up in the New Hampshire Republican debate (to which Romney said we should leave it alone), yet it's since become clear that Rick Santorum, if not the others, has some very... interesting views. In his mind, contraception is "not okay," and he warns of "the dangers of contraception in this country." Meanwhile, a vote is likely this week on an amendment that would allow all employers -- religiously affiliated or otherwise -- to object to insurance coverage of health care services that they feel are out of line with their moral beliefs, targeted at undoing a requirement that contraception be covered for free.

Santorum may see birth control as somehow inflicting harm on the United States, but that papers over the benefits we've all experienced from women's access to contraception. Far from being a simple issue of morality, I've previously argued that it's an economic issue, particularly for low-income women. Yet there's another big reason this is an economic argument. Contraception has had an enormous positive impact on our economy. By freeing women up from unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, women are able to complete education and stay in the workforce -- plus they usually have less work waiting for them at home.

The pill was first cleared for contraceptive purposes in the 1960s. Just five years later, 6.5 million women were taking it. By 1973, that number hit 10 million. Unsurprisingly, birth rates fell significantly during the same time period. The birth rate in the 1950s and early 1960s was 118 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44. By 1980, that rate had fallen by almost 75 percent, to 68 births per 1,000 women. With a safe, legal, and accessible drug that helped women plan and space out their pregnancies, births dropped dramatically.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

Research consistently demonstrates a link between decreased fertility thanks to contraception and increased female employment. And right on cue, women, freed up from unwanted child bearing and child rearing, consequently flooded the workforce after the pill became widely accessible. In 1950, 18 million women were in the workforce. By the 1980s, the pill's impact had had such an effect that 60 percent of women of reproductive age were employed. By 2000, the ranks of women in the workforce had more than tripled since the '50s, rising to 66 million. Overall, from 1970 to 2009 women went from holding 37 percent of all jobs to almost half of them.

This change has had a significant impact on women's lives and families, the fallout of which is still reverberating throughout the culture wars. But the impact on our economy is easy to quantify. The private sector has long recognized this fact: consulting giant McKinsey explains that without the huge increase in women's workforce participation since the 1970s, "our economy would be 25% smaller today -- an amount equal to the combined GDP of Illinois, California and New York." As The Economist reports, "In developed economies, women produce just under 40% of official GDP," but if unpaid child rearing work is taken into account, it estimates they account for about half. In fact, its rough estimates suggest that women's entry into the labor market has added more to our GDP growth over recent decades than creating new jobs for men, capital investment, or increased productivity (the other typical drivers).

Contraception also means that women have control over their own reproductive capacities, paving the way for more equal footing with men. And the economic benefits of women's equality have recently been a big topic of conversation from the United Nations to Goldman Sachs.

Conservatives of Santorum and Roy Blunt's ilk may be trying to paint this over as purely about religion and moral objections. But this is a much larger economic issue. Even if women's sexual autonomy makes you queasy, their economic autonomy has impacted everyone. Santorum included. The birth control pill irreversibly revolutionized the American economy.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

Share This

Reducing Abortions: It's the Economy, Stupid

Feb 23, 2012Bryce Covert

If we put women back to work, lifted them out of poverty, and funded social services they rely on, fewer women would turn to abortion.

If we put women back to work, lifted them out of poverty, and funded social services they rely on, fewer women would turn to abortion.

It seems the cat's finally out of the bag these days: conservatives aren't just concerned with saving the babies from abortions when it comes to reproductive rights. They are now outspoken about being against access to contraception -- and some of them have even come out against non-procreative sex. Women's rights activists have long warned that they were coming for our birth control; now it's hard to deny they were right all along.

One big clue this whole time has been a simple fact: if conservatives are so hell-bent on preventing abortions, one of the best things they can do is support family planning services and access to contraception. Yet the last time we saw an openly pro-family planning Republican was the '80s, when George H.W. Bush was in office. Meanwhile, all Republican 2012 candidates have signed personhood pledges that endanger many forms of contraception, Santorum himself has said birth control is bad, and I've lost track of how many times Republicans have tried to defund Planned Parenthood, which supplies contraception to low-income women. But as Irin Carmon laid out, the connection between increasing access to contraception and lowering abortion rates is very clear.

There's another clue that this isn't about saving the babies. It's the blind eye conservatives have turned to the economic factors that are leading more women to turn to abortion. A new report, "Abortionomics: When Choice is a Necessity," shows that "lower incomes and rising unemployment are affecting Americans' choices about pregnancies," and in the recession abortion rates, particularly among poor women, are on the rise. Stephanie Poggi of the National Network of Abortion Funds says, "A lot of women are... telling us, 'I've already put off paying my rent, my electric bill; I'm cutting back on my food.' They've run through all the options." In lean times, a child can seem like an overwhelming expense.

It's not terribly shocking that when incomes are strapped, millions are out of a job, and many are falling into poverty, women are thinking twice about having a child. Raising a kid in this country is not a cheap undertaking. For a two-parent couple making under $57,600, the USDA estimates the costs of raising a young child to be $10,950 a year. The total cost of taking care of that child until he or she turns 18 averaged $226,920 in 2010, up nearly 40 percent over the last decade. As one woman in the report puts it, "I totally cannot afford another child. I knew immediately [upon learning about her pregnancy] what I had to do."

Those without a job don't have the income to cover these kinds of expenses. Over 12 million people are unemployed right now; almost 6 million of those are women. One unemployed woman in the report who chose abortion says, "At this time I am not working and neither is my partner... We are unable to support a child under our present circumstances." If Republicans are concerned about reversing the rise in abortion rates, they need to focus on putting people back to work making decent pay. Putting women to work in large part means spending money at the state level to keep them on public payrolls.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

But even after women are back at work, we still have to wrestle with a big factor: the high number of women living in poverty who seek abortions. One study found that 69 percent of women having abortions in 2008 made incomes lower than 200 percent of the poverty line, while women in that income category make up only 35 percent of the overall population. In fact, the report says, "while abortion rates generally have declined over the last 20 years...rates have increased among low-income women." And a lot of women have been falling into that category lately. Recent Census numbers show that women's poverty rate rose to 14.5 percent in 2010, the highest since 1993. Their "extreme poverty rate" -- those whose income is less than half of the federal poverty line -- is at 6.3 percent, the highest on record.

The link between addressing poverty and lowering the abortion rate may be uncomfortable for conservatives like Mitt "I don't care about the very poor" Romney, but it's one of the most important factors. As the report notes, "low income women often have difficulty affording preventive contraception and sometimes address this problem by reducing frequency or dosage use, thereby increasing the risk of unintended pregnancy in the group most likely to decide they are unable to afford to support an additional dependent."

And lastly, the point conservatives may enjoy the least: we need to increase spending on social services. As the report puts it, "As funding for social services declines, more women may be expected to determine that economic constraints make abortion the only viable option." The report is mostly talking about services that provide access to contraception. But there are other services that we're cutting back on that will impact the decision to have a child. For example, 37 states pulled back on child care support in 2010 due to tight budgets. Yet the average cost of full-time care ranges from $3,600 to $18,200 annually. That's a huge part of the cost of raising a child, but we're giving parents less support to pay for it.

Women choose to terminate pregnancies for all sorts of reasons and should be able to access abortion care when they do. Tight budgets aren't the only reason to choose not to have a child. But economic factors that prevent families from having children should be high on conservatives' list. If we ease those families' financial situations, they may not have to turn to terminating a pregnancy. But instead conservatives are fighting access to contraceptives, cutting off funding for services that would make life easier for women living in poverty, and blocking job creation policies.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

Share This

Honoring Black History by Fighting for Today's Second-Class Citizens

Feb 21, 2012May Mgbolu

prison-wall-150Ex-felons -- who are disproportionately African American -- still struggle to find jobs and obtain equal justice.

prison-wall-150Ex-felons -- who are disproportionately African American -- still struggle to find jobs and obtain equal justice.

Every year, Black History Month celebrates the contributions of African Americans that have broken down barriers and made great strides. The civil rights movement in particular has become a large focus, with people reminiscing about civil disobedience, acts of non-violence, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But many have a distorted image of the progression of African Americans, assuming that civil rights struggles are a thing of the past. Though African Americans have struggled to gain access to full rights as American citizens, a new generation of second-class citizenship has developed. What was once a category based on race has now transformed into a classification associated with those who hold criminal records. And the biggest barrier they face is the ability to get a job after being released.

In the 1960s, the civil rights movement was the largest full-scale response to decades of Jim Crow laws that limited African American participation as citizens. This system of segregation was designed to ensure that black people would continue to be oppressed after the end of slavery and was reinforced through fear, skewed policies, and force. Although these archaic laws have been removed from the books, today's policies have resulted in a new system of mass incarceration that is replicating the second-class citizenry of the Jim Crow era.

Just as Jim Crow once directly targeted African Americans, mass incarceration continues to fall disproportionately on communities of color. Those arrested and incarcerated due to drug offenses are overwhelming African American. As a result, Africans Americans and other minorities are sentenced to incarceration at rates significantly disproportionate to whites. However, this system doesn't just focus on ethnic background -- it also affects low-income communities across the nation at a similar rate.

Although white-only signs and lynch mobs may no longer strike fear into black communities, these Americans with criminal records are faced with the daily fear of being stopped and frisked by officers and the anxiety that the prison door can re-open repeatedly -- not for committing a crime, but for simply missing an appointment with a parole officer or the failure to pay a court fee. While Jim Crow deliberately disenfranchised blacks through literacy tests, today we openly deny ex-felons the right to participate in the democratic process. Voting rights have yet to be formerly restored for all second-class citizens in America.

But the greatest struggle this oppressed community continues to face is the inability to obtain legitimate work due to the negative stigma of criminal records.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

With our prison population nearly 2.3 million, the number of Americans with criminal records is large and on the rise. A criminal record eliminates someone's access to jobs, housing, education, social services, and voting rights. Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, explains that mass incarceration operates as the Jim Crow South once did, creating tightly networked systems of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that reinforce a subordinate status. The civil rights movement and the passage of the Civil Rights Act were once signifiers of the advancement of equal opportunity for everyone, no matter race or national origin. Yet today individuals with criminal records continue to live in a state of segregation from the rest of society.

I spoke with a friend of mine who falls into this category and has been turned away from job after job after serving seven months in prison for a drug-related felony. He participated in one of Arizona's rehabilitation programs that help inmates prepare to find a job after being released from prison. Yet he struggles daily with looking for a job, being unable to qualify for basic necessities such as food stamps, and the constant fear of harassment from officers, all due to his drug felony.

He explained that after applying to six jobs last week, he was hired as a chef. He was ecstatic to have finally found a job. But the next day the company told him that corporate said they could not hire him.

Our policies suppress all individuals with criminal records through one application question: Have you ever been arrested or convicted? While most Americans have the privilege of overlooking this question, it creates barriers for all individuals with criminal histories, particularly with no federal law prohibiting employers for discriminating against individuals with criminal records. Instead, the question allows employers to immediately disregard an application for merely answering yes. KG explained that employers "try to tell you that this won't affect you, but I know it does." Therefore the "first thing I look at on an application is if it asks for a felony or something. If yes, I won't bother because I don't get called back." Experiences like KG's have become normalized, promoting unequal social standards.

This month, Americans across the nation will celebrate the progress of African Americans in the United States. But we can't neglect the caste system that continues to disproportionately affect this community. Mass incarceration has diminished the gains accomplished during the civil rights movement and expanded second-class citizenship to 2.3 million people confined in prisons and millions labeled as criminals, ex-offenders, and convicts. As we remain certain about the great strides of the civil rights movement, we must understand that a new subordinate group has been constructed. Policies and social standards once explicitly targeted African Americans on the basis of skin color; today they creates barriers to employment, education, social services, and voting due to criminal histories.

May Mgbolu is the Senior Fellow for Equal Justice at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at the University of Arizona.

Share This

The Census Perpetuates Leave It to Beaver Gender Roles

Feb 16, 2012Bryce Covert

By assuming women are default child caretakers, the Census devalues care work, puts pressure on women, and ignores fathers completely.

By assuming women are default child caretakers, the Census devalues care work, puts pressure on women, and ignores fathers completely.

Anyone who knows me will be shocked to hear that I may agree with Rick Santorum on something. But while he was in the midst of ranting against radical feminists back in 2005, Santorum said this: "We need to value mothers and fathers spending time with their children much more than we do in America." He even makes a point of saying this "goes for men and women." In my twisted reading of what he was actually trying to say, Santorum may be more progressive on this point than our own government. Because when it comes to the Census Bureau's data collection efforts on child care, its definitions are based on long-held, yet unhelpful, ideas of who does the care work at home. (Hint: it doesn't go for men and women.)

The Census regularly reports who cares for children when parents work in its report "Who's Minding the Kids?" A trove of data on child care arrangements in the U.S., given the lack of support for families with working parents and the dearth of affordable options, is exciting. But it goes about classifying things all wrong. On page one of the most recent report, it lays out some basic terms. And, I quote, "In households where both parents are present, the mother is the designated parent." What is couched in the dressing of scientific term is really a judgment: that women are the default caretakers. Minding Johnny and Susie is only dad's concern if mom's not around. Otherwise it's something that she just does. But then it does away with even this term to say, "In this report, unless otherwise noted, the term parent is used to refer to the designated parent." Dad gets booted from even counting as a parent, not just the designated one. So what is dad then? Just some guy who lives in the same house who sometimes stands in as a child care arrangement.

But it gets worse. If mom's not around to talk to the Census, dad isn't even empowered to know anything about how his kids are cared for. "If the mother is not available for an interview, the father of the child can give proxy responses for her." But he will never be a real source of information on child care duties. Because he's rarely ever going to be doing it: "The survey only asked about child care provided by the father for the time the designated parent was working." What dad would deign to care for his kids if mom's around to do it for him?

The Census claims it is simply trying to collect data based on "gender norms," as Lynda Laughlin of the Fertility and Family Statistics Branch told the New York Times' KJ Dell'Antonia. "Regardless of how much families have changed over the last 50 years women are still primarily responsible for work in the home," she points out. A mother is "not only caring for the child only while Dad works. She's probably caring for the child 24 hours and so Dad is able to go to work regardless."

Laughlin is probably correct in her estimation of the gender norms women face. But why replicate these pernicious ideas? This misconception that women are default caretakers reverberates throughout the entire workforce.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

In a controversial article riffing off the "opt-out revolution" trend of a few years ago, Linda Hirshman talks about the fact that many college-educated women who hold jobs choose to stay home -- sometimes even before kids arrive on the scene. Whether you may quibble with her data-mining methods, she makes a vital point as to why this might happen: women are still responsible for child care and homemaking, a fact that hasn't really changed even as women have flooded the workforce. The fact that women are thought of as default caretakers -- by their husbands, their workplaces, their society, and even themselves -- plays out in very specific ways. Hirshman writes:

The economic temptation is to assign the cost of child care to the woman's income. If a woman making $50,000 per year whose husband makes $100,000 decides to have a baby, and the cost of a full-time nanny is $30,000, the couple reason that, after paying 40 percent in taxes, she makes $30,000, just enough to pay the nanny. So she might as well stay home. This totally ignores that both adults are in the enterprise together and the demonstrable future loss of income, power, and security for the woman who quits.

Hirsman postulates that this is due to a lack of transformation in the home. But it's also a lack of transformation at work. If by and large women are still being paid less than men for the same work, then it will be easier to think of her lower salary as the most expendable. And her family wouldn't be faced with such stark economic choices if we supported parents who work. There's no such thing as guaranteed maternal leave -- the Census itself recently found that half of mothers don't get any leave at all. We have some family leave policies in place but many workers fall through the cracks. And not to mention that there are few quality, affordable, and accessible child care options for parents who don't rely on family members. We're still making it difficult to be a working parent, let alone a working mother.

The fallout from assuming that one gender just naturally "does" care work goes beyond the family. It devalues care work itself. This is a large part of why domestic workers are still fighting to be protected by national labor laws after having been excluded on the grounds that what they do is "babysitting" or offering "companionship." Because of these exclusions, our 1.7 million home care workers have been excluded from minimum wage and overtime protections. That means employers aren't required to pay them for all of their work hours, reimburse them for costs incurred as part of work, or pay them time-and-a-half for working over 40 hours a week. All of this adds up to pathetic pay: in 2009 the median wage of $9.34 an hour added up to just $20,283 a year. President Obama just nixed this exclusion for home health aides, but child care workers are still working outside labor laws.

It also impacts working women by assuming that they will interrupt or leave their careers to care for children without asking whether men should share that burden. A UC Berkeley study on California's child care system puts it this way: "Workers' careers are disrupted because of child care failure -- care that is unreliable, unaffordable, or just unavailable -- and these workers are usually women." This leads to lower pay and benefits, getting us back into the Catch-22 of the gender wage gap.

The opt-out trend wouldn't be that bad, however, if it weren't weighted to one gender. If a parent wants to stay home with the children, fine by me. But it shouldn't be assumed that women will be the ones to do it. We should see just as many stay-at-home dads as moms. The stereotypes that the Census relied on, however, simply add weight to the pressure on women to be the ones to leave their careers. And this obviously harms fathers as well. Why disqualify the care work they do while mom is at home? Why can't we assume that they would want to stay home?

Parroting outdated notions of the workforce, women's roles, and care work makes these problems worse. All it would take is to change a few words and ask slightly different questions for the Census to stop being part of the problem. Shouldn't be so much to ask given what's at stake.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

Share This

A More Progressive Budget, a More Progressive President?

Feb 15, 2012Richard Kirsch

It doesn't matter what the president's motives are for proposing better policies. What's important is that progressives hold him to it.

A time-honored but largely useless exercise is trying to divine whether the actions of politicians are motivated by their core beliefs or by "politics." For most successful politicians, the line between the two is murky. In fact, it has to be. Politics being the art of the possible, elected officials who try to exercise their power will always be navigating a circuitous course within a broad set of values.

It doesn't matter what the president's motives are for proposing better policies. What's important is that progressives hold him to it.

A time-honored but largely useless exercise is trying to divine whether the actions of politicians are motivated by their core beliefs or by "politics." For most successful politicians, the line between the two is murky. In fact, it has to be. Politics being the art of the possible, elected officials who try to exercise their power will always be navigating a circuitous course within a broad set of values.

So it is that some wonder whether the budget proposal put forth by President Obama is driven by the president's belief that we need to take a more progressive direction to address the nation's deep problems. Or is the president just deciding he needs to tack left in order to rally his base behind him for the upcoming election?

What matters is not the president's motivation; what matters is what he does and how his actions are received. Having failed to reach a "grand compromise" with Republicans in the summer of 2011, including damaging cuts to core social insurance programs, Obama had no place to go but to his left. He was pushed there by finally realizing that his faith in his own ability to be an ideological bridge between left and right had been wrecked by the capture of the Republican Party by the extreme right. He was left looking weak to independents and a disappointment -- if not a traitor -- to his core supporters.

In many of his speeches since the summer's debacle, and in many of the substantive proposals in the American Jobs Act and his new budget, President Obama has embraced a progressive view of the economy and put forth proposals that would revitalize the economy by creating middle-class jobs paid for by taxing the rich. The proposals are good policy -- the only available course that offers hope to address our long-term economic problems -- and good politics, popular with wide swaths of the public.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

The real challenge for progressives is to use 2012 to increase the likelihood that a reelected President Obama will keep to the new course in 2013. To do that, we will need to do four things. The most important task is to demonstrate that progressive views on the economy are winners with the public and at the ballot box. That will require running aggressive issue campaigns on core economic issues -- such as job creation, reining in Wall Street and the banks, taxing the rich and corporations, and ending corporate control of our democracy. The actions, message, and spirit of the Occupy movement need to be carried on across the country, including in battleground states and congressional districts, connected to voter registration, persuasion, and get-out-the-vote efforts.

The second key is to applaud and support the president and his allies in Congress when they do the right thing. When politicians perceive they are taking a risk, they need to hear cheers. There's no point in asking "what took you so long?" or "do you really mean it?" Instead, we should welcome and encourage words and actions that are in line with our values. If we don't, the president and other Democrats will believe those who say that you can never satisfy the left and seek more comfortable shelter with the advocates for the status quo.

However, applauding the good doesn't mean giving up on the better. The third ingredient is to keep pushing for more. For example, we can applaud the president for wanting to change the corporate tax code to punish companies that take jobs overseas, but that doesn't mean we should accept his proposal that there be no net increase in corporate tax collection. At a time when corporate taxes are at a historic low in terms of their share of federal revenues, and corporations are sitting on $2 trillion in cash, we should be raising more money from corporate income taxes, not treading water. We need to push for more progressive policies now to set the table for 2013, when Obama will again be attempting to enact legislation in the face of an onslaught from corporations and the right.

The last step is to do all of the above in a way that creates stronger coalitions, involves more activists, develops new leaders, and builds a real sense of momentum among progressives, from the large well-established infrastructure to the netroots and grassroots movements to the Occupiers. The more that we work together, both intentionally and by respecting the roles we all play, the greater our ability to actually move the nation in a progressive direction in 2013 and beyond.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

Share This

The Marrying Kind: How Class Shapes Our Search for a Soul Mate

Feb 14, 2012June CarboneNaomi Cahn

family-150While women on the low end of the economic ladder give up on marriage, the middle class seek partners that have both compatible values and compatible job prospects.

family-150While women on the low end of the economic ladder give up on marriage, the middle class seek partners that have both compatible values and compatible job prospects.

As we celebrate Valentine's Day, we should be aware that underlying the many stories on the changing nature of marriage and relationships is a central irony: the college-educated middle class that embraced the sexual revolution is now leading the way back into marriage. And this group has more stable families because of the combination of two qualities hard for everyone else to find. The first is a flexible approach to family roles. Men who help with the children and women with six-figure incomes are very much in demand. The second is good jobs: over the last 30 years, the number of men with stable employment has stayed even with women only at the top. The result is remaking the definition of domestic success.

Sociologists call the new marriage patterns "soul mate" marriage. They observe that Americans used to marry at younger ages (in 1960, the averages were 22 for men and 20 for women) and the young couples fully entered adulthood only after they married. The secrets to making those marriages work were well-defined gender roles and lots of coercion. The couple was likely to have one child immediately and a second not too long afterwards. With two young children, even a desperately unhappy wife would have difficulty leaving a man who brought home a regular paycheck, and he was likely to be readily employed in a job with benefits, promotions, and raises. The two would be embedded in a network of friends, families, and co-workers that revolved around marriage and stigmatized divorce.

Today, a much higher percentage of the population is single and almost 40 percent of Americans believe that marriage is outdated. Yet the vast majority will marry eventually. Before they do, however, they will spend their twenties unmarried, often on their own, experimenting with different relationships and engaged in what may be a decade-long search for the right partner. This generation will grow up before they get married and in the process they will reach more informed and (hopefully) mature decisions on what kind of partner allows them to realize the family life they wish to create. These patterns are more individualistic than the old institutional model, but while they do vary more than the breadwinner/homemaker model of the fifties, it is a mistake to think that they are based only on dewy-eyed romance.

Instead, today's marital partners select for a mate with shared values -- and they are likely to be drawn to partners who can truly share their lives and their successes. The college educated, for example, marry and bear children later than the less educated, while those with less education have become increasingly likely to bear children first. The non-marital birth rate has stayed at two percent for white college graduates over the last 25 years and risen only slightly for college-educated racial minorities. During the same period, the non-marital birth rate has reached 40 percent for the country as a whole. College graduates enter into any kind of family life significantly later than their less-educated peers and have become even more likely to marry only each other.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

When they do marry, today's romantic partners seek those who share compatible values and complementary employment. The new elite devotes more parental time to their children than their parents did and the ability to do so requires either one high-earning partner or two wage earners with compatible schedules. In commenting on Obama's plans to increase taxes on those with income above $250,000, a University of Chicago law professor complained that it took he and his wife that much income to raise a family in Chicago in accordance with a professional standard of living. What he emphasized less is that it also took a spouse with a six-figure income to afford the nannies, private schools, and college and graduate education that would allow their children to realize opportunities comparable to their own.

Marriage on these terms cannot work, however, for couples who do not trust their partners or who feel that their partners contribute so little that they threaten the resources necessary to provide for children. For the approximately two-thirds of the population that does not have a college degree, an increasing number of men don't have the steady, adequate-paying jobs that allow them to provide the foundation for a successful family life. Nor are working class men who feel like failures in the job market prepared to play roles backing up their wives and children. College-educated artists or faculty spouses may be willing to dote on their children while their wives take on the "breadwinning" role, but less secure men are more likely to chafe at the domestic tasks. Financially independent women who both earn the bulk of the family income and assume the majority of the domestic tasks don't want -- or need -- men who are unable to support their families, emotionally or financially. While divorce rates plummeted in the '90s for college graduates, they continued to rise among the hard-pressed working class.

The secret underlying these patterns has been the growing divergence in male job opportunities and a change in the gendered wage gap. In 1990, all women, irrespective of education, made about the same percentage of the median hourly wage of the men, with college graduate women making a slightly higher percentage of the male wage than those who did not graduate from college. Today, those figures have changed appreciably. College graduate women are now paid a smaller percentage of the median hourly wage the men earn, while all other women are earning a higher percentage of male income. During the same period, male employment stability, which remained largely unchanged for college graduate men, and improved for most women, became notably worse for working class men.

What these figures mean is that for women who graduate college, there are still lots of choices. Even though women are graduating from college in larger numbers than men, there is still a substantial number of men at the top of the income ladder. Moreover, as the wages of college graduates have stagnated over the last decade, they have done so even more for women than for men. Today's college graduates recognize that they need each other to realize the good life and they are very careful in the search for the right partner.

Women at the losing end of the economic spectrum, however, are increasingly giving up on men and marriage. Men with stable jobs are harder to find and recently laid off or semi-employed men help out less around the house than those who work full time. The mismatch between men and women has had a bigger impact on marriage than the change in values that inspired the sex revolution. It is time to recognize that the best Valentine's Day present out there is a more promising future.

June Carbone is the Edward A. Smith/Missouri Chair of Law, the Constitution and Society at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Naomi Cahn is the John Theodore Fey Research Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School. She is the author of numerous books and law review articles on gender and family law.

Cahn and Carbone are the co-authors of Red Families v. Blue Families.

Share This

R.I.P. Mancession

Feb 9, 2012Bryce Covert

Now that the gender gap in unemployment has disappeared and male-heavy industries are seeing signs of life, we can finally put the buzzword to rest.

If you were one of the unfortunate few who watched ABC's failed wannabe-Tootsie comedy Work It, you wouldn't have known that the mancession has actually ended. But in fact last Friday's jobs report marked the end of the trend (and hopefully the persistent portmanteau).

Now that the gender gap in unemployment has disappeared and male-heavy industries are seeing signs of life, we can finally put the buzzword to rest.

If you were one of the unfortunate few who watched ABC's failed wannabe-Tootsie comedy Work It, you wouldn't have known that the mancession has actually ended. But in fact last Friday's jobs report marked the end of the trend (and hopefully the persistent portmanteau).

Before we can declare it over, let's review what it actually was. The term itself was coined by AEI scholar Mark Perry. He was the first to give a name to a striking phenomenon during the recession (officially from 2007-2009): not only did employment tank in male-heavy industries, and not only did they therefore have elevated unemployment rates, but the gap between their unemployment rate and women's was the largest in post-War record-keeping. This was particularly striking because before the recession -- in the months from 2004 to 2007 -- unemployment rates were about equal for the two sexes, and women's even rose higher than men's for some months. This gap between the two rates hit a peak in August of 2009 at 2.7 percent -- men at that point had an 11 percent jobless rate, and women had 8.3. (The gap started closing after that point even as male unemployment rose -- women just started catching up with them in the unemployment department.) To sum up, as Perry puts it, "the impact of job losses was considerably greater for men, since almost 6 million men lost their jobs, compared to only 2.64 million job losses for women. More than two out of every three jobs lost in 2008 and 2009 were held by men (68.5%), or alternatively it was also the case that 217 men lost their jobs for every 100 women who became unemployed in 2008 and 2009."

He points out that much of this was related to the industries most affected by the recession. Construction and manufacturing went into freefall. He calculates that the largest job losses during the recession were in manufacturing -- down by 14 percent -- and construction -- down by 20.2 percent. Men make up 71.2 and 87.5 percent of those industries, respectively. On the other hand, some industries where women dominate were doing well. Education and health services was up 4 percent, 74 percent female, and government jobs were up 2.25 percent, 57 percent female.

Click here to buy Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch’s new book on the epic health care reform battle, Fighting for Our Health.

So that's what Work It was trying to channel: this notion that the economy had so changed that the only job prospects are in female-dominated industries. Where are we now? It turns out the recovery period, officially from 2009 until now (even if it hasn't really felt like one), has created a very different world. While recovery should mean a good bump in jobs for men if they lost so many in the recession, women have surprisingly lost ground. Their unemployment rate has been rising as men's has been falling, in many ways because government jobs are now the ones to suffer overwhelmingly.

But there was still a gender gap in unemployment -- that is, until Friday. Analysis by the National Women's Law Center shows that men and women are now on par for unemployment rates, both standing at 7.7 percent. Mark it: the gender gap that had Perry, the media, and manhood so worried has completely evaporated.

On top of that, the supposedly recession proof, female-dominated industries are not faring as well. And the male dominated ones are starting to show signs of life. Construction is up 2.1 percent; manufacturing is up 2. Yet government jobs are down 1.2 percent, and that's across the board -- 1.5 percent at the federal level, 1.4 at state level, and 1.1 at the local level. Those government job losses are driving our current womancession. Job losses, which skewed male, have now turned into skewed job gains. Men had lost 6 million jobs to women's 2.64 million during the recession, but now women have gained just eight percent of the 1.9 million jobs added in the recovery.

This painful economic period, even if it's showing signs of improvement, is likely far from over. Men and women are both still hurting in huge numbers. But at least one thing has changed: we can stop calling this a mancession.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

Share This

The Economy Sucks for Those Who Have Jobs, Too

Feb 7, 2012Mike Konczal

New JOLTS data show that people are quitting their jobs less and less and getting hired at a similarly slow rate.

Last week's job numbers were generally positive. Now if those numbers pick up steam, if the housing market begins to recover, if Europe doesn't sink the U.S. economy, if the situation in the Middle East and especially Iran doesn't cause oil prices to spike, and if we don't immediately disrupt government spending through premature austerity, we could see some major job growth in 2012.

New JOLTS data show that people are quitting their jobs less and less and getting hired at a similarly slow rate.

Last week's job numbers were generally positive. Now if those numbers pick up steam, if the housing market begins to recover, if Europe doesn't sink the U.S. economy, if the situation in the Middle East and especially Iran doesn't cause oil prices to spike, and if we don't immediately disrupt government spending through premature austerity, we could see some major job growth in 2012.

What about those who still have a job? We focus on the unemployed for many good reasons. Economists do this because of it is so miserable to be unemployed in this country and because they function as a good barometer for the health of the economy. We "see" changes in unemployed in the data much quicker than movements in GDP and other aggregates.

But the economy also has major problems for those with jobs. Be honest: how many of you spent the past two months thinking, "I'm going to quit this job I have now"? Personally, many friends of mine have discussed how they want to move on and quit their current jobs and were putting in the energy to find new ones. They've mostly failed and are taking it as a personal failure.

Except it's less a personal failure than a macroeconomic one.

Click here to buy Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch’s new book on the epic health care reform battle, Fighting for Our Health.

This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics put out their Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data for December 2010. The "quit rate" -- how many people are walking out of their jobs -- was flat for the month at the very low 1.5 percent rate, and still significantly lower than it's been over the past decade. The quit rate for those with jobs plummeted during the the recession and it's never recovered. And it's remained stagnant even as there's been some encouraging signs for the unemployed. Here is how the rate looks historically:

I also have a few friends -- both employed and unemployed -- who have been strung along by potential new jobs, and I imagine this is happening to many people. They hear a lot of "we'll let you know soon" over the course of several months with no actual offer or hiring on the horizon. Again, think macroeconomics -- the job hire rate also plummeted and has stayed flat recently.

The problem isn't just that there are so many people who have been unemployed for over 99 weeks -- the problems exist for everyone, even those with jobs.

Mike Konczal is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

Share This

What $100 Million Could Do for Out of Work, Underpaid Teachers

Feb 7, 2012Bryce Covert

Instead of spending the money to train new teachers, we could focus on putting laid off teachers back to work and keeping them there by paying them better.

Instead of spending the money to train new teachers, we could focus on putting laid off teachers back to work and keeping them there by paying them better.

News came out today that President Obama is announcing a new plan to spend $100 million on training 100,000 new teachers over the next decade. Responding to a call from American businesses to provide more high-skilled workers, Obama's plan will focus on training more STEM teachers -- aka those teaching science, technology, engineering, and math.

Spending more money on education is a healthy priority, but is this the right tactic? The plan seems to presuppose that there is a dearth of teachers right now. Yet the opposite is true -- we've been laying them off in droves in response to tight state and local budgets. So there is a whole pool of people that we could put back to work doing what they already want to do. The number of jobs in "local government education" -- in other words, elementary school teachers -- has been falling steadily since February 2008, according to the BLS. We've lost 217,900 of those jobs since then, and things aren't getting much better, even with seemingly good signs in the latest jobs report. Those education jobs were down 9.6 percent since December.

So rather than enticing and training a new army of teachers, perhaps we could start by putting the ones we've already got back to work. It would likely be a lighter lift to retrain them. And it would help ease the ongoing womancession.

Click here to buy Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch’s new book on the epic health care reform battle, Fighting for Our Health.

But this plan also misses a larger problem: that we lose teaching talent because we don't value the profession enough. If you're educated in STEM, which some report pays 87 percent higher than the average private sector job, why would you go into teaching, an under-paid and under-appreciated field?

This is a serious problem for our education system. A report from McGraw-Hill lays out some recommendations on how the U.S. can take on the fact that its butt is being kicked on global test scores. The numbers are pretty embarrassing: on average, American students came in 15th in reading, 19th in science, and 27th in math. So what was the report's number one recommendation for changing those figures? Raise the status of the teaching profession. The report notes that the countries with the top scores are also those that typically pay teachers better. In fact, our high school teachers work longer than other countries, yet we spend less on teacher salaries than the average OECD country. This is a big reason that nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, according to a 2005 NEA report. Their reasons for leaving were poor pay and poor working conditions.

I applaud the idea of spending $100 million on education, particularly in a "recovery" period still taking a heavy toll on those working in that sector. But there may be much better uses for the money, and in all reality we need a much larger sum to make real change in our education system. We do need to recruit more people to the teaching profession. If we help people stay in those jobs by firstly employing them and then paying them what they deserve, we may take care of the problem.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

Share This

How to Fix the Gender Wage Gap: Going Far Beyond an App

Feb 2, 2012Bryce Covert

To change the wage gap, we have to change systemic problems like unionization, work-family policies, and gender segregation.

To change the wage gap, we have to change systemic problems like unionization, work-family policies, and gender segregation.

The first piece of legislation that President Obama signed into law after being elected was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Act expanded the statute of limitations for cases alleging pay discrimination based on gender. Yet three years after the signing, the gender wage gap has barely budged. It remained statistically unchanged, with women earning 77.4 percent of what men make.

Obama mentioned this gap briefly in his State of the Union and followed up with a video message about the necessity of ensuring that women make the same as men for equal work. The White House also has an Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, whose mission is to address loopholes in existing legislation, coordinate the many offices and efforts to enforce current laws, and seek more information on the gap for the public and the government to take more action.

The Task Force announced an Equal Pay App Challenge this week asking for "help in building innovative tools to educate the public about the pay gap and promote equal pay for women." To help with the challenge, Salary.com is releasing its collection of salary data for more than 4,000 jobs for the first time in its history for use in the app. "Knowing what your job pays is an integral part of negotiating a fair wage," said general manager Abby Euler.

According to IWPR, nearly half of all U.S. workers are either contractually forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with coworkers. While there isn't a direct link between pay secrecy and the wage gap, the gap persists despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits employers from paying women less than men (and vice versa). As IWPR writes, this is in many ways because "in practice, employer policies regarding pay secrecy, including threats of retaliation, make it difficult for workers to discover pay discrimination and effectively use these rights."

So an app that better allows employees to find out salary information could have an impact on closing the gap. But unfortunately, solutions like these won't address the entire problem, because its roots are systemic. To seriously take action that changes the wage gap, President Obama and Congress would have to look at a variety of solutions, many of which are politically unpalatable.

For starters, unionization is associated with a lower pay gap. The gap starts to close among men and women who belong to a union compared to those who don't -- unionized women earn 87.8 percent of men's wages versus their non-union counterparts who earn 79.9 percent. IWPR's research shows that unions also help to reduce pay secrecy: half as many unionized workers as nonunion workers are discouraged or prohibited from sharing that information with coworkers. But unionization rates have been flat in recent years and have fallen significantly in recent decades. And more men than women are unionized. That gap has been shrinking since the 1980s, but mostly due to a falloff for men. Increased unionization could be a powerful tool for women to use against employers who discriminate in pay, but the trend in the country is going in the opposite direction.

Click here to buy Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch’s new book on the epic health care reform battle, Fighting for Our Health.

At a more fundamental level, our policies to support mothers in the workforce are pitiful compared to other developed countries, yet they have a huge impact on the wage gap. Three-quarters of the women entering the work force will get pregnant on the job, but family leave and childcare policies barely exist.

For instance, a recent Census Bureau analysis found that about half of working first-time mothers got no paid leave to have their babies. The share of women given time off for pregnancy, birth, and childcare has leveled off. Yet a recent Rutgers study shows, "Paid family leave increases wages for women with children." Women who take leave lasting for a month or more are 54 percent more likely to have wage increases the following year than those who don't take any leave.

Along similar lines, a UC Berkley study of California's childcare support system found that early care and education systems have much to do with the ongoing wage gap. It says:

Better pay and benefits are correlated with a continuous work history. Workers' careers are disrupted because of child care failure -- care that is unreliable, unaffordable, or just unavailable -- and these workers are usually women (Hofferth & Collins 2000). Periods of non-employment lead to lower wages because of "skill depreciation," loss of seniority, and sometimes being less likely to receive further training or mentoring due to questions of commitment (Kimmel 2006, p.79).

In other words, childcare allows mothers to keep showing up at work and not have to leave jobs to care for their children. That means their wages won't be damaged for the theoretical loss of skills during those gaps.

The wage gap is also perpetuated by occupational segregation by gender. IWPR's research shows that "irrespective of the level of qualification, jobs predominantly done by women pay less on average than jobs predominantly done by men." In fact, female-dominated occupations make only 66.9 percent of the wages in male-dominated ones at high-skill level, 79.8 percent at the medium-skilled level, and 73.8 percent at the low-skill level. Yet while there was a steady trend toward better integration of women into men's fields (and vice versa) during the 1970s and 80s, there hasn't been any progress since the mid 1990s.

It would be nice if we could just enforce existing laws, get better informed, and therefore make the gap disappear. But the wage gap is far too entrenched for that. It will take addressing underlying issues women face in the workforce -- like union representation, work-family policies, and gender segregation -- to make progress on the pay gap.

Bryce Covert is Editor of New Deal 2.0.

Share This

Pages