Families as They Really Are

Bethany Hill Place, Framingham, MA

Home is where social justice is: and affordable housing programs are capable of offering residents with basic needs, as well as empowering social services. Housing is a family issue. As I follow new policy circumstances surrounding the prohibition of federal funds creating access to affordable housing and President-elect Trump’s impact on homelessness, it is time to look at how housing support programs can work. I volunteer at Bethany Hill Place, located in South Framingham, Massachusetts. On a campus owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, Bethany Hill Place is a public housing residence that has been in existence since 1994. Today it is sponsored by the sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. At Framingham State University’s Center of Academic Success and Achievement, I am part of a reading buddy program in partnership with Bethany Hill Place.

As a volunteer, I read to children who are at risk—these are children who have a higher probability of failing academically or dropping out of school. The kids I work with are considered more vulnerable because they have experienced situations such as homelessness, violence, addiction, and loss. Bethany Hill provides them with safe and affordable housing.

Bethany Hill Place serves about 150 individuals and families each year, with 41 units in a mix of studios ranging in 1-4 bedroom apartments—including some that are wheelchair accessible. They provide parking and laundry facilities; they have a community room, computer center, playroom, as well as an on-site management office, wheelchair-accessible units, playground, basketball court and community gardens: all of these things are essential for a family to support themselves, get back on their feet, and thrive.

Bethany Hill offers a place people can call home, and that is definitely a start. But the rest of what they do means that people can move forward: They focus on education, teaching skills, and providing the tools necessary to acquire a job. This kind of affordable housing program can lead to something more because of the community focus.

The focus underlines their values: Bethany Hill works with families trying to achieve academic success and educational goals to obtain housing. Within the housing unit, they offer learning opportunities for both the children and the parents that reinforce the idea of achieving and pursuing a successful future. The Bethany Hill model guides residents to set individualized learning goals and encourages residents to get involved in their own education so they can move their life forward by taking advantage of the multitude of programs offered by the community.

How does this work? Each resident works with a member of the Bethany Hill staff to explore, set, and work towards their educational goals. They understand that education is a broad category: Bethany Hill offers workshops on life skills, financial literacy, wellness and job preparation, and a Parent Café for parenting support and education. The resources closely related to traditional ideas of education include individual college and career counseling, tutoring on GED and ESOL. In addition to these resources, they provide training on basic skills, access to scholarship programs, computer instruction with open access to a computer lab, and youth programs such as summer camp and one on one tutoring. They also offer social and recreational activities aimed at community-building, case management, advocacy for HIV/AIDS, and scattered site homelessness prevention programs. Just providing a list of things Bethany Hill does makes it clear how dynamic the idea of affordable housing can be. As valuable as this is, much of this relies on the 74 volunteers who help. Bethany Hill’s paid staff: six people.

This adds up to progress and a fresh start for homeless and low-income families. Residents have questions such as, “Where do I go from here?” and “How do I get to where I need to be?” Without a place to start, without many helping hands, these questions could not be raised, much less answered. So, it’s true: Bethany Hill is a low-income housing arrangement structured around the vision of what education can do for people in the future—and the resources involve much more than a roof and a ride to school.

Tasia Clemons is a Junior sociology major at Framingham State University, a resident assistant, and a CCF Public Affairs Intern.


Re-posted from Harvard Business Review

photo credit: Unsplash via pixabay

We all know by now that despite winning nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton lost three key states — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — by a total of about 80,000 votes. That was just enough to hand Trump the electoral college victory, and the election. Given Trump’s narrow margin of victory in these manufacturing-heavy, traditionally Democratic states, it’s understandable that the post-election conversation has focused on whether his campaign promise to help the working class by generating more manufacturing jobs is feasible. But for many voters in these states — namely, single mothers — other issues, such as tax policy and childcare costs, may be much more instrumental.

Single mothers are falling further behind despite doing more and more to catch up. My in-press research with colleagues Jenifer Bratter and Adrianne Frech found that single mothers were, on average, more educated in 2010 than in 2000, but despite these gains, they were also more likely to be unemployed in 2010. Even when they found full-time jobs, they were at higher risk of poverty — in fact, single mothers are the group of full-time workers most likely to be in poverty. And that’s even though working single mothers log longer weekly hours than breadwinning dads and or working parents in dual earner couples.

And although white single mothers remain less at risk of poverty than their black and Latina peers, their relative economic advantage declined over the decade. By 2010, nearly 34% of white single mothers lived in poverty. This is a shift that may have made Trump’s message more appealing to them — while we don’t have detailed data, the exit polls suggest that Clinton did not fare nearly as well among single women overall as Barack Obama did.

As a result of the obstacles they face, many single mothers often don’t have the money to afford basic needs. In my interviews with those who have recently lost jobs in Pennsylvania, single mothers were the most likely to report being unable to cover things like food. One, Jodi, reported, “I definitely can’t buy as healthy, because the healthier foods are more expensive, so I’ve had to adjust. I’ve had to cut back on our total food and, you know, there’s less money to eat.”

Good federal policy would result in women like Jodi having more cash to spend on their families. And yet President-elect Trump’s tax plan seems designed to financially penalize single mothers by eliminating the head of household filing status. If this proposal becomes reality, it will mean that single mothers will have to pay tax rates and receive deductions at the same levels as single people with no children instead of having rates that are in between singletons and married couples.

Instead, what is needed is to expand and reform sensible existing tax policies that would benefit single mothers. In 2015, the Earned Income Tax Credit kept 3.3 million children out of poverty and decreased the severity of poverty for another 7.7 million children. The EITC has also been shown to be good for our economy, as workers put most of the money back into the economy, buying necessary goods and household items. Yet only 80% of eligible tax-payers claim the EITC, so one positive step the new administration could take would be to increase the number of those participating in the program.

A lack of affordable childcare keeps some single mothers from taking full-time jobs. While Mr. Trump has made much of his plans, created with daughter Ivanka Trump, to expand the childcare tax credit, these changes are likely to benefit wealthier and married families instead of single mothers and their children. A better plan would be to do as the Center for Equitable Growth suggests and expand the Child Tax Credit so that more low-income families are eligible to receive the entire value of $2,000 for each child. Doing so would allow more mothers to be full-time workers who could better support themselves and their children.

The full $2,000 credit may not seem like a lot of money at a time when the cost of daycare for upper middle-class families can come close to college tuition according to sociologist Joya Misra. But Jodi and her family (and families like hers) are unlikely to use expensive formal care options — they are much more likely to rely on informal care, paying friends, kin, or in-home daycare operators. A 2009 report by Joan Williams and Heather Boushey found that, on average, low and middle income families paid between $2,300 to $3,500 annually. For these families, expanding access to the full value of the Child Tax Credit would make a real difference.

The past decade has not been kind to single mothers of any color. Most, like Jodi, just want to find work — and earn enough money to provide food and shelter for their kids. The best tax policies to pull these mothers out of poverty would be those like the EITC and the Child Tax Credit that both promote their ability to work and result in more money in their pocketbooks. Jodi concluded her interview by noting, “Like I said, I’m usually working… I’m not one to want help, but I hope that there is always the government to help me somehow, you know, if I need it.” I hope so, too.

Sarah Damaske is a CCF member and Assistant Professor of Labor and Employment Relations and Sociology at Pennsylvania State University.

kate-and-shawnKatherine Gallagher Robbins is a Director of Family Policy at the Center for American Progress. She focuses her work on economic security, family policy, women’s issues, and poverty. She has had years of experience in these types of research, as she also served as the director of research and policy analysis at the National Women’s Law Center before joining the Center for American Progress. Her work is cited on many media outlets, and she has authored many reports and analyses. More recently, she coauthored a brief titled: “4 Progressive Policies that Make Families Stronger” with Shawn Fremstad. Read the whole thing—and read a short review of it here on The Society Pages.

Shawn Fremstad is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Like Gallagher Robins, he focuses his research on economic security, family policy, and poverty. Before working for the Center for American Progress he was a deputy director of welfare reform and income support at the Center of the Bridging the Gaps project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and before that worked as a legal service attorney.

After reading their 4 Progressive Policies brief, I had questions about their ideas in the new political climate, and Robbins and Shawn Fremstad gave me some sobering answers.

Q: You make it seem so clear that progressive policy agendas offer more support for family stability, so how do you believe families will be impacted now that we have a conservative president-elect who, so far, has selected a team of very conservative individuals to work with him?

A: For a long time, the received wisdom was that conservative policies promote “family values” and liberal ones undermine them. But a growing body of research shows this just isn’t the case. Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, for example, have highlighted how the “blue family model”—which emphasizes birth control, higher education, and egalitarian relationship norms—has contributed to lower divorce rates, higher ages at first birth, and greater economic security. Similarly, our work shows that states with progressive, pro-worker policy agendas – that have raised their minimum wage, rejected laws that deter unions, and expanded access to health care, including reproductive care – are also places where families tend to have better outcomes. That’s likely due in part to the fact that such policies promote economic security, better health outcomes, less work-life conflict, and other factors positively associated with family stability and health for a wide range of family types.

Given this research, one of our key concerns is that the President-elect and a Congress controlled by conservatives will undermine or repeal important policies that stabilize and support families, particularly working-class and poor families. One of the big success stories of the last decade or so has been the extent to which programs like Medicaid, SNAP (formerly food stamps) and the EITC have become more inclusive and accessible to working class families, including many married and partnered ones. A related success story is the expansion of access to reproductive health care and comprehensive sex education programs, which have contributed to the substantial reductions in the birth rate among women under age 25.

The most immediate threat right now is the President-elect’s commitment to repeal the successful Affordable Care Act. This is effectively a pledge to take away health insurance coverage from 30 million Americans, most of whom are working class, and reduce access to the kind of effective reproductive care that has been a central part of the blue family model. Similarly, Trump’s tax proposal would raise taxes on nearly 8 million families with children—the vast majority of them are families headed by single and other unmarried parents.

These kinds of policies are best understood as part of a larger, right-wing effort to restore a Mad Men-era policy regime in which only the “right” kinds of families are valued and supported.

Q: What are you going to do now? I know you can’t tell us your whole year’s plan, but what are some of the top issues or top approaches?

A: Our first priority is blocking proposals by the President-elect and Congressional leaders that would take away health insurance, nutrition assistance, and other important benefits from tens of millions of struggling working-class families.  Another priority is defending immigrant families from mass deportation. President Obama’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA, initiative, has improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of families, but the President-elect has threatened to end it and deport these families.

At the same time, there may be some limited opportunities to get a better deal for working- and middle-class families when it comes to federal policy, such as child care and paid family leave. The President-elect has said he will work with Congress to pass an affordable child care and elder care bill during his first 100 days in office. But as currently drafted, his plan will mostly help rich families, and do little for working class ones.

On paid family leave, Senator Marco Rubio has proposed a modest paid parental-leave program and the President-elect has proposed a program that is limited to new mothers. Both plans fall far short of the kind of plan that caregivers deserve—a social insurance program that provides paid leave in an inclusive fashion and promotes egalitarian caregiving norms. But if the President-elect follows through on his promise to establish a paid maternal leave program, and puts something workable on the table, then we will likely work to make sure it isn’t just limited to mothers, and is as inclusive and effective as possible.

Additionally, we are thinking about how and where we can expand our work at the state and local levels to support families there. Many states and localities have stepped up in recent years and passed a number of proposals that have been critical to families. For example, in the last half of 2016 alone state and local wins provided nearly seven million workers with access to paid sick time with an inclusive family definition that works for every family. We will be working to grow this number in the coming months and years.

The city council where we both live, Washington, D.C., just voted to approve a paid leave program that’s likely to become law, joining California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, and a number of cities and localities. Similarly, there has been a lot of momentum on increasing state minimum wages over the past several years; just last month, voters in four very different states—Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington—approved minimum wage increases.

Q: How do you see this election affecting your own families? OR What are some abiding beliefs about research and policy work on families that will help you through this surprising new era?

Kate: I’m deeply concerned about so many people in my family. I worried for the health and safety of my LGBTQ family members – both those I’m related to by legal ties and those I’m related to by choice. I’m worried about the economic security and health of my sister-in-law, who is a person with severe developmental disabilities and for whom there are already too few supports. I’m anxious about the prejudice that my family members of color and those who are immigrants are more likely to face as we enter an era of rising hate speech and hate crimes. I’m worried about the fates of my family members who are serving in our nation’s military. That’s why it’s so critical that we work hard to ensure families are protected and supported.

Shawn: I’m a part-time worker on an annual contract and purchase my health insurance through DC’s ACA exchange. I’m also an unmarried, single parent who files as a head of household. So I’m looking at a tax increase and paying even more for health care. But much more importantly, I’m worried about the impact of this election on my nine-year old son. He was even more upset by the outcome than I was. Pretty much every day since the election he asks me: “What horrible thing did Trump do today?” Before the election, I was hopeful that by the time he graduated from high school, things like millions of Americans going without health coverage would be a thing of the past, and policies that promote egalitarian caregiving, like paid family leave, would be the new normal. I still want to believe this is possible, but it is going to take a lot of hard work and progressive solidarity in the coming months and years.

Molly McNulty is a CCF Public Affairs intern at Framingham State University. She is a senior Sociology and Education major. 

jrandles-proposing-prosperity-book-coverI attended my first healthy marriage education class with Christine and Bill, a white middle-class married couple studying to become marriage educators for their church. The first relationship skill we learned during our Mastering the Mysteries of Love training was the “showing understanding” skill focused on taking a partner’s perspective. Standing back-to-back, our instructor led us through an exercise during which Christine and Bill alternated describing what they saw in the classroom. Christine described the classroom white board. Bill described the other participants, tables, and chairs. “Is Christine wrong,” the instructor asked Bill, “because she sees the world differently than you? Now turn around. What do you see, Bill?” “I see what Christine saw,” he eagerly replied. This exercise was intended to teach us that learning to see things from our partner’s perspective was an important relationship skill that could revolutionize our love lives and improve our chances of having a happy, lifelong marriage. Bill later reported that developing this skill helped him understand Christine better and that he was falling in love with her all over again after decades of marriage.

Two years later, I observed another healthy marriage class, this one for low-income, unmarried parents. There that day were Cody and Mindy, both 18 and white, who were struggling to make ends meet while raising their eight-month-old daughter and living in a studio apartment on money Cody made through his minimum-wage construction job. The communication lesson taught in this class—daily check-ins with one’s partner to understand their feelings and concerns—was similar to the one I learned in that first class with Christine and Bill. However, when Cody, Mindy, and I returned to class the following week, Cody shared that he found it difficult to practice what they’d learned. He and Mindy shared the studio apartment with several other people, making it hard to speak privately, and often fought about how they would spend their last few dollars—bus money or formula for the baby—until Cody’s next payday.

Focused on similar lessons about love in the context of widely varying social and economic circumstances, both classes had as their major goal the promotion of healthy marriage. Government funding for classes like these was first approved by Congress in 1996 when it overhauled U.S. welfare policy to promote work, marriage, and responsible fatherhood for families living in poverty. This led to the creation of the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative—often referred to as marriage promotion policy—which has spent almost $1 billion since 2002 to fund hundreds of relationship and marriage education programs across the country like the ones I attended with Christine, Bill, Cody, and Mindy. For three years, I observed over 500 hours of healthy marriage classes, analyzed 20 government-approved marriage education curricula, interviewed 15 staff who ran healthy marriage programs, and interviewed 45 low-income parents who took classes to answer the following questions: What does the implementation of healthy marriage policy reveal about political understandings of how romantic experiences, relationship behaviors, and marital choices are primary mechanisms of inequality? And, ultimately, what are the social and policy implications of healthy marriage education, especially for families living—and loving—in poverty?

My new book, Proposing Prosperity: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America, takes the reader inside the marriage education classroom to show how healthy marriage policy promotes the idea that preventing poverty depends on individuals’ abilities to learn about what I call skilled love. This is a romantic paradigm that assumes individuals can learn to love in line with long-term marital commitment by developing rational romantic values, emotional competencies, and interpersonal habits. By studying the on-the-ground implementation of healthy marriage policy, including training as a marriage educator for 18 government-approved curricula, I found that healthy marriage policy promotes skilled love as a strategy for preventing risky and financially costly relationship choices and, consequently, as the essential link between marriage and financial stability. Central to this message is the assumption that upward economic mobility is teachable and that romantic competence and well-informed intimate choices can help disadvantaged couples, such as Cody and Mindy, overcome financial constraints.

Healthy marriage policy assumes that developing relationship skills creates better marriages, which in turn lead to financial prosperity. However, the low-income couples I interviewed believed that marriage represents the culmination of prosperity, not a means to attain it. In the book, I describe how cultural and economic changes in marriage throughout the twentieth century have created a middle-class marriage culture in which low-income couples are less likely to marry for both ideological and financial reasons. Couples told me they could neither afford nor prioritize marriage until they were more financially stable. Their relationship stories illustrate how financial challenges lead to curtailed commitments, especially when marriage between two economically unstable partners seems like a financial risk. Marriage educators responded to this by deliberately avoiding talk of marriage and instead emphasizing committed co-parenting as the primary resource parents have to support their children.

Though parents frequently challenged instructors’ claims that marriage could directly help them, their children, and their finances, parents did find the classes useful. While low-income couples’ economic challenges made it hard to practice the skills, participants experienced the classes as a rare opportunity to communicate free of the material constraints that shaped their daily lives and romantic relationships. Hearing other low-income couples talk about their challenges with love and money normalized parents’ intimate struggles and allowed them to better understand how relationship conflict and unfulfilled hopes for marriage are shaped by poverty. This finding suggests that publicly sponsored relationship education could be a valuable social service in a highly unequal society where stable, happy marriages are increasingly becoming a privilege of the most advantaged couples.

Yet, low-income parents’ experiences with healthy marriage classes point to how relationship policies would likely be more useful if they focused more on how economic stressors take an emotional toll on romantic relationships and less on promoting the dubious message that marriage directly benefits poor families. I also show how the focus of healthy marriage programs on relationship skills obscures the insidious effects of institutionalized inequalities—specifically those related to class, gender, race, and sexual orientation—on romantic and economic opportunity. “Skills” were often an ideological cover for normative understandings of intimate life that privilege the two-parent, heterosexually married family. Marriage educators presented a selective interpretation of research that deceptively characterizes the social and economic benefits of marriage as a unidirectional causal relationship without accounting for how selection and discrimination shape the connection between marriage and economic prosperity.

What can policymakers learn from the experiences of low-income couples who took healthy marriage classes? Broader, sociologically informed relationship policies would recognize the benefits and costs of marriage and teach under what specific social and economic conditions marriage is typically beneficial. Any policy with the goal of promoting family stability and equality must contend with the intimate inequalities that lead to curtailed commitments. Programs that link economic prosperity with marriage will likely only reinforce couples’ tendencies to make marital decisions based on middle-class ideas of marriageability. The most effective policy approach to strengthening relationships and families will not be grounded in expectations of individual self-sufficiency and strategies—or skills—for interpersonal negotiation and understanding. Instead, it will reflect how love and commitment thrive most within the context of social and economic opportunity and equal recognition and support for all families as they really are, married and unmarried alike.

Jennifer M. Randles is author of Proposing Prosperity: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America (Columbia University Press, Publication Date: December 27, 2016). She is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at California State University, Fresno. Her research explores how inequalities affect American family life and how policies address family-formation trends.

photo credit: Marc Nozell via wikimedia commons
photo credit: Marc Nozell via wikimedia commons

The night after the presidential election, I went to a “brainstorming and prayer” session held in an evangelical church where I am conducting research. Church members felt it was important to come together in a season of transition for the church and the nation, both of which are experiencing a change in leadership. I sat in a circle of parishioners, notebook and pen in my lap. The first person to speak was a retired aeronautical engineer. The white, straight, 65 year-old veteran sighed in relief and bowed his head as he said “I can sleep again at night now.”

Church members discussed renewed feelings of job security. They prayed for those within their church and for the empty seats they would soon fill. They rejoiced in their happiness for what is happening in the country. One woman prayed, “We can elect a pastor, and we can elect a president, but we already have a KING.” None of the conversations focused on Trump’s religious values. Trump’s appeal lay in his secular ability to advocate for them so that they can, in turn, continue to do the work important to them as active evangelicals.

 Their prayers and hopes for the next four years reminded me of Arlie Hochschild’s recent work in rural Louisiana, where she uncovered what she calls the deep story of disenfranchised rural tea-party supporters. She suggests that Donald Trump might provide what she calls a “secular rapture” for many in the United States who feel as though their economic and social world is changing. Hochschild argues that the sense of being invisible and forgotten she witnessed among white working and middle-class individuals might indeed be a major factor in Trump’s appeal.

President-elect Donald Trump had the largest share of evangelical votes of any presidential candidate. My current research suggests that members of the evangelical community feel as though they live in a different world than many of us—a world in which they perceive themselves as losing their voice (see here, here, and here). Given those feelings of disenfranchisement, what appeal did a presidential candidate with unclear, and often seemingly un-Christian values hold?

I ask this question as a nonreligious individual researching evangelicals—I think many others ask it too. People ask me what it is like to be a woman, a feminist academic, and nonreligious in these spaces, spaces in which evangelizing is the point. My first response to those queries is that my gender identity does not matter much to those I study. My religious identity—and lack of one—matters much more to them. The reason for the salience of my nonreligious identity is perhaps similar to the reasons we saw such a large evangelical voter turnout.

In my larger research project on gender and sexuality within the evangelical church, I find evidence for what I call an imagined secular heterosexuality. Members of this church community discuss and debate married life and family life in relation to, and against, what they perceive to exist in an outside secular world. These conversations transcend concerns and understandings of life in the home. As an outside member of the secular world, I am seen not only as a researcher, but also as someone who can bridge a gap between their world and the secular world in which they no longer feel they have a voice.

There’s overlap between what I call the imagined secular and what Hochschild predicted as a secular rapture. Both terms highlight a strongly felt divide in the United States. Where evangelicals feel they are living in a separate world—one in which their economic, political, and social needs and beliefs are silenced—Trump may provide the voice they want back. And whether we speak of tea party supporters in rural Louisiana or ardent evangelicals in suburban Washington state, we must attend to the intersections of whiteness, religion, and felt disenfranchisement to understand the evangelical voter turnout we witnessed, and what that turnout now means for the upcoming moral, religious and political debates our country faces.

Sarah Diefendorf is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington, where she researches constructions of gender and sexuality in religious communities. You can find more of her work here: www.sarahdief.com

photo credit: Marko Lovric via pixabay
photo credit: Marko Lovric via pixabay

When a person is sent to prison they leave a community behind. And few of the studies of mass incarceration in the U.S. examine the prison system and families. Consider, for example, how incarceration triggers the termination of an incarcerated parent’s parental rights.

What is the extent of the problem? Data on the punitive impact of child welfare policies on families of incarcerated parents are either overly broad or just plain old and outdated. For example, some of the most recent research states that there are between 29,000 and 51,000 children in foster care who have incarcerated parents. But seek more information and the picture gets hazy. More research, even just constructing a database from data kept in separate state systems, would help.

I discovered this when I started to study the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act. From 1995, before the Act, to 2004 adoption rates in the U.S. doubled. This may be due to the financial incentives offered by the federal government to states that had increased their number of adoptions. But the provision in the Act stating that if a child has been in state care (i.e. foster care) for 15 of the last 22 months the state must move to terminate the parent’s parental rights has had a harsh effect on incarcerated parents, leading to untold numbers of family termination.

You see, non-incarcerated parents (“outsiders”) have access to exemptions to the time-based termination provisions. For instance, outsiders, who can regularly visit their child, are empowered to use that as evidence of connection. But incarcerated parents are not in control of whether or not they see their child.

The Act’s time limit provisions that trigger adoption were passed at the same time that incarceration rates were growing. The War on Drugs that began in the 1970’s turned drug abuse, which was once a public health issue, into a law enforcement issue. Cue the rise of mandatory minimums. In the early years of mandatory minimums, possession of five grams of crack cocaine (a drug that happened to be more common in low-income areas, which often have a large minority population) got you a minimum of five years.

Today, under federal policy 100 grams of a substance containing heroin results in a mandatory minimum of five years. However, if a defendant meets certain criteria (e.g. fully cooperated with the government and is a first time offender, etc.) they could get a reduced sentence. Yet, even a reduced sentence would still be between twenty-four to thirty months. If parental rights are challenged when a child is in state care 15 of the last 22 months, and the mandatory minimum is five years (24 to 30 months if you’re lucky) what chances have these policies given families?

As of March 2016 2.3 million people were in some form of corrections facility in the United States. New policies, aiming to create more reasonable sentencing laws, have been introduced in Congress such as the Mandatory Minimum Act of 2015. However, such bills still need to get through the House, the Senate, and the President. Given the uncertainty of the President elect’s intentions, and the clear racial animosity he and his coalition have displayed throughout his campaign, sentencing reform is now precarious. Meanwhile families remain and continue to become separated. Early commentary suggests that sentencing reform is dead. My question is what steps, if any, will we take to help mend the families separated due to the combination of The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 and unabated mass incarceration? Because it is clear that mass incarceration is family policy.

Megan Peterson is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs and Social Media Intern.


Re-posted from Urban Wire

photo credit: Alicia Campbell via pixabay
photo credit: Alicia Campbell via pixabay

Worldwide, only about one in two women work, compared with three in four men. In some low-income countries, such as Zimbabwe and Madagascar, the labor force participation rate for women has reached 90 percent, but these women are often underemployed. Hard economic circumstances often force them to be self-employed or work in small enterprises that are unregulated and unregistered.

About 83 percent of all domestic workers in the world are women, most of whom work in precarious conditions. Women also do much more unpaid work than men, including caring for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities; contributing to family farms or businesses; and performing household chores such as collecting water or gathering firewood. Improving women’s livelihoods constitutes basic human rights protection.

But could including more women in the labor force also stimulate economic growth, enhance business competitiveness, and improve well-being?

We recently conducted a review of evidence to answer that question and found that reducing the gender pay gap and equalizing access to economic opportunities and resources are good for economic, social, and business development. For example, some firms that purposefully reduced gender discrimination and supported family-friendly policies attracted more talented workers, improved retention rates, and decreased employee stress, resulting in enhanced productivity.

But women face significant barriers to improving their lives, such as fear of victimization and violence, lack of child care, and legal and informal discrimination. Removing those barriers could help draw women into higher-productivity sectors and improve family, community, and national prosperity.

We found evidence that broad-based and gender-specific policies can enable women’s economic empowerment; that is, improving women’s ability to make decisions and affect outcomes important to themselves and their families. Here are six of those policies.Broad-based policies

Broad-based policies

  • Promote economic growth: In countries experiencing rapid economic growth, increasing demand for labor and the availability of better-paying jobs ensures that women’s economic empowerment does not become a zero-sum game between men and women. When the economy demands more workers, women will not replace men if more women participate in the labor market.
  • Invest in public services, infrastructure, and women-friendly public spaces and transportation: The quality of and access to public services, including basic utilities such as water and sanitation, improves all-around well-being through greater economic productivity and growth, but may be especially beneficial for women. For example, because women do most household work, electricity and tap water can free up their time, enabling greater labor market participation. Access to speedy and reliable transportation can reduce safety concerns that discourage women from entering the labor force or limit them to working at home.
  • Promote innovation and technology: Information and communications technology can help increase women’s inclusion in the economy, particularly in high-productivity service sectors. Greater access to information and technology can also stimulate changes in social norms and attitudes toward women’s roles in society, potentially improving access to education and political involvement.

Gender-specific policies

  • Provide child care: Evidence suggests that the availability of child care is strongly associated with an increase in women’s labor force participation and productivity. Child care, particularly high-quality child care, is one of the most important enablers of women’s economic empowerment and can have a positive impact on children’s learning.
  • Change laws that limit women’s economic independence: Reforming inheritance and family law to lift prohibitions on daughters’ legacies and to reduce husbands’ power over wives’ economic activity can have positive economic effects, going beyond the specific outcomes they are intended to address.
  • Improve or reduce work in the informal sector: Women are concentrated in the informal sector, which includes jobs that are unregulated and insecure, like street vending. Policies designed to move workers from the informal sector to the formal sector can significantly benefit women. Working in the formal economy is more likely to empower women because it is associated with more control over their own incomes than they would have in informal work. Evidence suggests that strengthening the collective bargaining capacity of women workers in this sector and improving awareness of women’s rights is important to ensuring that income levels and working conditions improve in the formal economy.

Enacting these policies will not only empower women, but will also benefit their families and communities. The United Nations’ recently formed High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment will bring needed attention to these issues and, we hope, begin to bring about needed change.

Elizabeth H. Peters is a Council on Contemporary Families Board Member, Director of the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute, and coeditor of the book Marriage and Family: Perspectives and Complexities

Re-posted from The Conversation

photo credit: Leslie Andrachuk via pixabay
photo credit: Leslie Andrachuk via pixabay

Even after mounting evidence of Donald Trump’s exploitative and demeaning treatment of women, his standing in the polls still hovers above 40%. On the face of it that’s more than a little shocking – but less surprising is the gender split among his supporters.

A recent summary of gender differences in the polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight found that women favour Trump’s female opponent, Hillary Clinton, by 15 percentage points overall; men, on the other hand, favour Trump by five. It’s true that many Republican women are standing by their man, but that’s not enough for Trump to win women’s vote overall.

No surprise at all to gender researchers, though, is that the first time a woman threatens to break through what Clinton called the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” of the US presidency, her nominated opponent is the embodiment of the “male chauvinist pig” – a man, usually in a position of power, who publicly expresses the opinion that women are by nature inferior to men and best relegated to the kitchen and the bedroom.

The term male chauvinism first emerged after World War II as more women entered paid employment. This threatened the self-esteem many men derive from their dominance over women in the family, the economy, and society at large.

The use of the term chauvinist pig became more widespread as women in the US demanded not just employment, but the employment equality supported by affirmative action and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The epithet was in vogue during the late 1960s and early 1970s, at the height of second wave feminism.

Since then, many American men have adapted to women’s economic gains. They are much more likely to be married to employed women than to women who aren’t in the labour force. Men spend twice as much time doing unpaid housework and childcare as they did in the 1960s, and generally report more egalitarian attitudes to survey researchers.

Yet these gender equality gains are modest and fragile. Men’s masculine identity is still linked to their economic role, and a man’s chauvinist pig can resurface if this is threatened. But not all men are equally vulnerable to this threat.

Across the divide

All workers shared in the prosperity of the postwar era – but things began to change in the late 1970s, when wage inequality among men rose sharply in ways that affect their economic advantage over women.

Wage returns on a university degree steadily increased for both women and men, but the gender gap remains largest at the top of the wage distribution. In other words, the wage gains of high-skilled women are not likely to threaten the masculinity of high-skilled men. In contrast, the gender wage gap has almost disappeared among the least-skilled men and women.

Low-skilled men’s wages stagnated as the US de-industrialised and the real value of the minimum wage declined. Collectively-bargained, high-wage manufacturing jobs evaporated; they were replaced by precarious, low-wage service sector positions. The upshot is that a couple or family could not survive for long on a low-skilled husband’s income alone.

The men most affected by this transformation are now lining up for Trump like no other segment of the electorate. As reported by The Atlantic back in March 2016, white men without a college degree form the core of Trump’s supporters.

Without economic advantage, a man’s inner chauvinistic pig can break out to reassert dominance over women in another way. One way is to objectify women, as Trump was recorded doing with Billy Bush in 2005. Trump’s coarse comments may have scared away some of the Republican mainstream, but plenty of his supporters have dismissed them as typical masculine “locker-room talk” (a defence even shock-jock Howard Stern rejected).

Male chauvinists also use the state to assert their dominance over women. An example of this among a fair number of Trump supporters is the Twitter feed #repealthe19th – a cry to repeal the amendment that gave women the right to vote.

But women did not principally cause the economic woes that have left some voters so desperate as to think a chauvinist like Trump can save them. Indeed, it’s precisely men like Trump who have used their power and privilege to widen the gap between the haves and have nots.

Trump’s chauvinism will never make America greater than it is right now. Instead, his campaign has revealed just how damaging male chauvinism can be. And now, with his hyper-masculinity threatened by Clinton’s edge in the polls, Trump is attacking the very democratic process a presidential candidate should passionately defend.

Assuming that not even Donald Trump can destroy American democracy, the real challenge begins for whoever is sworn in as president on January 20 2017. Americans need more economic security for their enlightened sides to shine through again. This means more good jobs at living wages for men as well as women. Only then can the country begin to close the social chasms revealed and fuelled by Trump’s campaign – and only then can we banish chauvinism to the past, where it belongs.

Lynn Prince Cooke is a Council on Contemporary Families senior scholar, a professor of Social Policy at The University of Bath, and author of the book Gender-Class Equality in Political Economies.

photo credit: jamesoladujoye via pixabay

Revisiting a NICE WORK column at Girlwpen, written in 2012 during the last presidential campaign.

What to do when I read a study that so appeals to my worldview that I want to shout it out? Should I just kinda act cool, not let on that I wanna say, I knew it! See? SEE?!!!! That is how it is. We all have biases and preferences and a worldview that shape how we process information. And we all have choices about what to do with them. And that brings me to a study about how dudes in traditional marriages have traditional views that influence their judgments at work, too.

In a new working paper called “Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace” (.pdf), three business school professors investigate why, despite notable progress, the gender revolution appears to have “petered out.”  (An accessible overview of just this puzzle from the Council on Contemporary Families is in Gender Revolution? Or Not So Much.)

The new paper is novel: it asked, is it is possible that there are well-placed pockets of resistance in the workplace that help account for impeded progress? The authors hypothesized that, perhaps, men in cross-sex marriages with stay-at-home wives might have a different view of women in the workplace than married men with full-time working wives.

They hypothesized correctly. In particular, they found that (1) men in traditional marriages (MITM) had more negative attitudes towards working women (controlling for selection!); (2) MITM perceived the workplace as running less smoothly when more women worked there; (3) MITM also found more gender-egalitarian organizations less attractive; and (4) MITM, when asked to rate the quality of workers who were exactly equivalent, rated women lower than men. They controlled for selection (or the way it might be that sexist guys at work choose traditional marriages rather than guys being influenced by their traditional marriages to have traditional views at work) and for education (more educated guys espouse more ostensibly feminist views).

The study excited me because it provided support for that sinking feeling that some of us can have when working with guys who lead traditional private lives. At work, it can seem, they just don’t “get it.” Hard to put one’s finger on it. But they keep doing stuff like thanking their wives for all they do at home, thinking that this shows their respect for women.

The study also excited me because it was an example of the kind of research that I was talking about when I wrote about the neglect of men as focal points for research on gender, and my suspicion that the neglect stems from a sneaky sensibility that men’s vantage point is natural and therefore can go without examination. But without investigating the impact traditional marriages on work practices (instead of the more common investigation of egalitarian marriages on home practices), we are at risk of naturalizing “traditional” just as we naturalize “men.” To understand how gender operates, it helps to look at men at the center of power not just those at the margins. And this study did so.

Perhaps now you see the irony that I felt when I noticed my enthusiasm. The study shows how worldview lines up with personal life. This might influence your judgment at work. Back in the day, feminists said the personal is political. Thing is, the personal is political for everyone, including those who follow conventions. Even for those who don’t believe in this stuff. That means the personal is political, too, for MITM (the M is silent, by the way).


Re-posted from The Washington Post

photo credit: Unsplash via pixabay
photo credit: Unsplash via pixabay

Older generations always seem to fret about the sexual behavior and romantic lives of the younger crowd. In the 1920s, there was alarm when boys stopped visiting in the parlor and started driving girls around in what one newspaper called “a house of prostitution on wheels.” This worry paled in comparison to the panic evoked by the rowdy sexual revolution that began in the late 1960s.

In the 1980s, observers were rightly alarmed by the growing prevalence of early teen sex, AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. In the first two decades of this century, anxiety shifted to the college hookup scene and the emergence of dating apps to facilitate casual sex.

Recently, however, a new concern has surfaced, with the finding that young adults, those age 20 to 24, are now having less sex than Gen-Xers or baby boomers born in the 1960s did at the same age. Indeed, 15 percent of 20-to-24-year-olds today report having had no sexual partner since they turned 18. (This is more than double the percentage for those born the 1960s; only 6 percent of them reported being sexually inactive at that age.)

Explanations abound. Some experts posit that porn and virtual sex are replacing the intimacy of actual sex. Others blame the distraction of social media, unrealistic expectations of beauty and sexual prowess perpetuated by the mass media, the pressure of preparing for careers, or the inhibiting effect of so many young adults living with parents.

Many worry about the emergence of a generation that fears the physical and emotional risks of sexual entanglements. Could we be headed for the world once described by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, where people have become so accustomed to interacting with other humans only over their devices that robots must arrange reproduction to avoid extinction?

My own sense is that the changes in the sexual behavior of millennials are less dramatic and more positive. This generation is hardly embracing celibacy in significant numbers. Most of the increase in sexually inactive 20-to-24-year-olds occurred among women; much of this is probably due to their rising age of marriage.

At the same time, most millennials have never been the sexual players portrayed in the media, nor were the Gen-Xers. Still, they face an unprecedented romantic and sexual challenge. Never before have young people reached sexual maturity so early, had so much freedom to explore their sexual desires and identities, and yet had such strong incentives to postpone making long-term romantic commitments.

Hooking up at gatherings and having friends with benefits are two ways young people handle this challenge. Whatever the drawbacks of these practices, they are safer and less exploitative than many traditional ways of dealing with unsatisfied sexual desires, such as resorting to prostitutes or seeking one-night stands with strangers.

After interviewing more than 20,000 college students, sociologist Paula England and other researchers found that fewer than half of all campus hookups involve sexual intercourse. When intercourse does occur, it is typically between students who have hooked up before.

Furthermore, hookups are not replacing relationships. Most students hook up and date during their college years. Less than 10 percent reported having hooked up without ever going out on a date or being in a long-term relationship. More than one-quarter had never hooked up at all, but instead had dated or formed long-term relationships.

As an AARP-card-carrying member of the older generation, I am more impressed by the positive changes we see in the sexual behavior of teens and young adults today than by the negative behaviors that persist. Young people are initiating sex later than their peers did in the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 1970s. They are taking more precautions, whether by having fewer partners or practicing safer sex. The ever-widening acceptance of consensual sex has been accompanied by a much more definitive rejection of non-consensual contact. The incidence of rape and sexual assault has fallen dramatically since the 1970s.

True, in recent decades, sexual frequency among couples has declined in several countries. Distraction by computers, smartphones or work pressures may be part of the story. But another part may be the fact that women today enjoy more equal status in their relations with men and feel more comfortable saying no.

One group of Gen-Xers and millennials, moreover, seems to have discovered a new secret to sexual happiness. Among heterosexual couples married since the early 1990s, those reporting the highest marital satisfaction — and the most sex — are couples who share housework and child care. In fact, these egalitarian couples are the only couples having more sex than their counterparts in the past.

So perhaps we should spend less time worrying about millennials’ sex lives and more time following the models they seem to be pioneering. Don’t feel pressured to have sex unless you really want to. Don’t feel embarrassed about having consensual sex whenever you want to, with whomever you want to, without feeling you need to commit to either the partner or the “lifestyle.” But when you do commit, don’t settle for anything less than the equality that forms the basis of long-term erotic and emotional satisfaction.

Stephanie Coontz is the director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families and author of “The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap.”