Nice Work

1. National Health Plan=Good for Small Businesses and Self Employment.
2. Small Businesses and Self Employment=Good for Women.
3. You do the math.

Allow me to explain:
Old news: The U.S. hasn’t been able to muster the will to get real health care reform, but we are leaders in entrepreneurship and small businesses. We have that going for us.

New news: Oops. The U.S. has one of the lowest rates of self-employment and small businesses of any comparable rich economy, per a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Check out “An International Comparison of Small Business Employment.”

“Conservatives and liberals see small business as a way for women to get ahead in the economy. It offers flexible employment–and takes away the glass ceiling because you are your own boss,” comments the report’s lead author and CEPR Senior Economist John Schmitt. “But the numbers on U.S. small business and self employment suggest that the U.S. lags far behind European counterparts.”

Uh, health care issue? The CEPR report explains that one big obvious reason for this surprising weakness might be our lack of availability of health insurance. As Schmitt and co-author Nathan Lane explain, “The undersized U.S. small business sector is consistent with the view that high health care costs discourage small business formation, since start-ups in other countries can tap into government-funded health care systems.”

So, for example, those considering their own business, women with pre-existing conditions or women of childbearing age can have a lot of trouble getting health insurance. Though insurance companies can’t treat pregnancy as a pre-existing condition, the loopholes make the situation look like gruyere cheese. I’m sure GWP readers have a story or two to tell.

All roads lead to health care reform. This is #87 of the 46 million reasons why Americans really do want health care reform. By really do, I mean, 72% of Americans (polled by NYTimes/CBS) support a public option. It gets framed as like “Medicare for All”–and there’s a bill in Congress to support it. Want to do something? Tell your member of Congress about the CEPR’s small business research. And tell your member of Congress that Medicare for All (H.R. 676) is a no-brainer.

-Virginia Rutter

After six decades Jimmy Carter has left the Southern Baptist Convention in protest of the leadership’s continued insistence on the subservience of women. Carter explains his decision:

It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

Read his article. This good man of deep faith denotes that such discrimination also appears in many other faiths, and has consequences for women’s leadership opportunities, but also for women’s control over our own bodies.

He goes on, blessedly (!), to link (some people’s) Bible-culture of discrimination to the secular culture of discrimination:

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

Amen. (And thanks Ann Austin!)

(For another principled examination of the role of religion in a different form of discrimination, make sure you check out For the Bible Tells Me So,  a documentary about gays, lesbians and Christianity; it includes the story of another southern gentleman, Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, and his faithful work for equality.)

-Virginia Rutter

Last month I went to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at the National Mall in DC: friends, including one who had had breast cancer, were running. As I walked down to the Mall, I saw many many many shirts, signs, bags, and banners honoring the survivors. I was proud just to be going to watch my friends engage in the Race for the Cure and to honor these cancer survivors. I felt gratitude for the day, for this life, for all the lives. The mass of families was beautiful, moving, charming, and pink.

I secretly had another feeling, though. All the stuff of survivors made me think about two loved ones of my own who were not survivors. My friend Peggy died in April of lung cancer. And my husband Neil had died 10 years before–not of cancer, but anyway, on that walk I was taking it personally that he was not a “survivor.” I kind of felt like, f*#& you (world) with all your glorification of survivors. But that wasn’t what I really felt, because I was so joyful, too, for the survivors.

Writer–and cancer survivor–Deborah Lewis helped me out with these conflicting feelings with her remarkable column in the LA Times. She starts:

Somewhere along the way in our News You Can Use culture, good health has taken on the patina of virtue. Like good grades and job promotion, health is seen as bestowed upon those who work for it. There’s no excuse for not doing everything you can, not with all the lists of necessary practices in popular magazines, not with all the attention to disease prevention. The flip side of this is the judgment passed on those who get sick.

As I reflected beyond my survivor “issue,” she made me think of the many friends of mine who are facing, or have faced, fertility problems. As with judgments passed on those who get sick, those who struggle with fertility often have the two-problem problem: first, they have the problem getting pregnant or sustaining it. But second, they have the problem of feeling guilty, regretful, a whole host of internalized fears, often related to entrenched beliefs about how fertility is a such a necessary part of being a “good woman” (or a “good man”–I wrote about this a while back here) as well as with notion Deborah offered that health=virtue.

So, I wanted to share Deborah’s column with as many people as I could. One line in particular gripped me: “I do not believe we earn our illnesses, even the illnesses that are directly the result of personal habits.” Read it. It is good for what ails you.

-Virginia Rutter

When I was growing up I thought it was my Uncle Frank who said, “most of day’s work is done by people who don’t feel very well that day.” In my family’s lexicon, this meant “life is hard” and “deal with it.”  (Later I learned it was Eleanor Roosevelt; but maybe she was quoting Uncle Frank?)

Here’s what the saying means now: most of a day’s work is done by people who don’t have adequate paid sick leave (not to mention decent health insurance). Our buddies at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) just published a report, “Contagion Nation: A Comparison of Paid Sick Day Policies in 22 Countries,” that will, well, make you sick. Here’s the abstract:

This report finds that the U.S. is the only country among 22 countries ranked highly in terms of economic and human development that does not guarantee that workers receive paid sick days or paid sick leave. Under current U.S. labor law, employers are not required to provide short-term paid sick days or longer-term paid sick leave.  By relying solely on voluntary employer policies to provide paid sick days or leave to employees, tens of millions of U.S. workers are without paid sick days or leave. As a result, each year millions of American workers go to work sick, lowering productivity and potentially spreading illness to their coworkers and customers.

The report couldn’t be more timely, as our swine flu anxiety plateaus out into recession’s hot summer. Workers under increasingly enormous economic stress cannot afford to take off when they are ill. “The economic costs of a serious flu outbreak are potentially enormous,” said lead report author Jody Heymann, Director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University. Her sentiment, and the report’s, were reflected in a New York Times editorial supporting the report’s call to provide workers with paid sick days. Now.

I know, I know. We can’t afford it. Jeepers, ya’ll, we’d really like to help, but we just can’t afford it. Hard times, high unemployment. I hear ya’ out there, and thank goodness for you smart free marketeers who can help us sort out priorities rationally. I mean, heck of a job on that financial sector!

Oh wait, this just in: CEPR did a cool little follow up to “Contagion Nation.” The very title, “Paid Sick Days Don’t Cause Unemployment,” tells the story. But let me recap: The researchers had already shown that availability of sick days doesn’t give countries a higher unemployment rate, nor does it make countries less competitive. But this time, they asked, what about the amount of paid sick days? Does that make a difference? The answer is no. Paid sick days don’t hurt employment–and they don’t help. They have no influence one way or another on unemployment. But, as Dr. Heymann and colleagues explain in “Contagion Nation”:

A substantial body of research has shown that in addition to the obvious health and economic costs imposed on employees by the lack of paid sick days or leave, significant costs result as well for employers. Workers who go to work while sick stay sick longer, lower their productivity as well as that of their coworkers, and can spread their illnesses to coworkers and customers.

The way things are, I don’t feel so good. But reading papers like this is like a shot in the arm. Let’s make sure this work reaches legislators. The National Partnership for Women and Families can hook you up here with a variety of ways to take action, including urging your members of Congress to support the Healthy Families Act, which guarantees workers a minimum of seven days of paid sick leave. (And send them both CEPR papers!)

-Virginia Rutter

So, the latest issue of Business Week warns parents about the “Age of Anxiety” facing young kids in their first recession. According to the psychologists over at BW:

The long-term psychological effects may be most profound for young children, since they are growing up without any real memory of better times. They can pick up on parents’ anxiety about money and may see the world as an uncertain place where they have to struggle to succeed. Later this may make them cautious about career choices and financial decisions.

Does anyone else see this as absolutely hilarious…and infuriating? Hmmm. Who knew economic hard times could be tough on children?

Of course, this piece was written without irony. BW hasn’t seemed to recognize that the “new problem” of the trauma of economic bad times and uncertainty isn’t new for a lot of kids, kids whose parents were outside the charmed circle of opportunity of the past few decades, for whom there wasn’t ever going to be any “memory of better times” in their family.

As economist Nancy Folbre reminded us in her recent, and much more sensible, post “Hard Times for Kids,” the United States has long had one of the highest child poverty rates of industrialized countries. The main reason we do so poorly is that we make no effort to combat child poverty. Demographer Patrick Heuveline has demonstrated that other rich countries like England and France would have the same child poverty rate that we do if they didn’t provide social supports to prevent it.

Folbre makes an interesting point:

During this recession, many other problems, including huge bank bailouts, are competing for public attention and taxpayers’ money. Sometimes I wonder how closely the Child Well-Being Index would mirror an Adult Wrong-Doing Index.

If I were going to construct such a new index, financial malfeasance would rank high among the measurement domains. But in the composite, apathy among those who could do more to help poor children would receive at least an equal weight.

I don’t think that BW is any more interested in the Child Well-Being Index than they are in an Adult Wrong-Doing Index. But when we wring our hands about the children, let’s remember to wring our hands about all the children, including the children we have been neglecting in good times and bad.

-Virginia Rutter

That’s Peggy Schmitt: she’s my boyfriend’s mom. She died at age 68 on April 25, 2009, after a fierce yet sane battle with lung cancer. A remarkable thing happened last Sunday at her memorial service. Friends and family that spanned communities as diverse as an urban homeless (Protestant) ministry and a city Catholic parish outreach program along with teachers from Chestnut Hill independent schools, Philly public schools, and inner city academies, hipsters from the arts and culinary communities, some do-good doctors and one or two do-well lawyers, grieving friends from the very young to the much, much older, just hint at the kind of mind-boggling scope of her life.

Among the many ways in which Peggy was a force for good—for meaningful, substantial, public kinds of good, as well as the more intimate kind—was the discovery that she had been a feminist role model for women who are barely in their 30s, to those nearly in their 60s.

One after another, at our stylized Quaker meeting in Philadelphia, various women spoke at random, interspersed with men, interspersed with teenagers. The stories had thick resonance, as recollections of a life well and intensely lived often do.

The speakers, I started to notice, recalled crashing up against the heartbreak of being young, of wanting…something, everything, that-not-this-but-something-else….  We delicately avoided too many personal details, but the themes were about how to be kind to ourselves while doing big brave things in a world that wasn’t particularly on our side. We told our stories of Peggy’s compassion and confidence in the face of our pain, just as she had in the face of her own, right up until the until the very end.

Peggy did a lot of “empowering.” But the difference was her solidarity. This woman knew struggle; she recognized it without sentimentality, showed us how to respond without judgment of ourselves—or (and this was very important) others. She told us it was hard, but you can do it. And by telling and showing us what she did, she helped make it so.

Peggy herself had triumphed over hardship while creating a beautiful, beautiful life with four unusually wise, non-conforming, justice-loving children, and a life-long partnership with her soulful husband John. I met Peggy on Memorial Day 23 years ago, and her solidarity—from way back then—was a lasting resource, and helped me through hard times that inevitably were to come. And here at her memorial were all these other people from different worlds for whom this was also true.

I don’t think that Peggy would embrace the phrase “feminist role model” but I do think she would like the way so many women in her life felt her particular influence. She wouldn’t embrace the phrase because Peggy saw issues of justice as bigger than feminism, and saw people as much more than a reduction to a single or a few attributes. And that is precisely what, for me, makes Peggy one of my feminist heroes.

Thank you Peggy. Nice Work.

Virginia Rutter

Can someone puh-lease get all the Wall Street shills like this one off my t.v.? As the economic horizons look darker and darker, economists at Janet Gornick and Pam Stone’s awesome work/family mini-conference at the Eastern Sociological Society meeting in Baltimore this weekend presented, by way of contrast, really nice work.

At the concluding panel, “Public Policy and Working Families: Providing, Supporting, and Equalizing Access,” Heather Boushey (Center for American Progress), Chai Feldblum (Workplace Flexibility 2010), Heidi Hartmann (Institute for Women’s Policy Research) and John Schmitt (Center for Economic and Policy Research) discussed horizons for work and family policy. And they really took Obama adviser Rahm Emanuel’s advice to “never waste a perfectly good crisis” to heart. All four demonstrated that the particulars of the current downturn plus key demographic trends will help us to move work/family policy issues higher up on Obama’s and Congress’s priorities list, even in these hard times.

Here are some key points:

*Four out of five jobs lost since December 2007 are men’s. This means that women are increasingly sole breadwinners in partnered families as well as in single-mom families. As Heather Boushey argued in a recent paper for CAP, this shift in family relations and the workplace makes work/family issues more salient as the economic crisis deepens. Boushey encourages us to focus on the implications of a “woman, making 78 cents on the dollar, now supporting her family.” More than ever, we gotta have pay equity. And here’s the crisis-as-opportunity piece:
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Did you hear the one about how testosterone is to blame for the meltdown? Pretty good stuff, eh? The headline reads: “Male Hysteria and the Market Meltdown: Is testosterone to blame for the financial crisis? A growing body of evidence suggests an intriguing answer as neuroscience reshapes our understanding of economics.” IMHO, it is perhaps one of the most absurd of the reflections on what the economic meltdown tells us about men and masculinity today.

Wondering if there might not be a “third-wave feminist masculinity scholar” on the project, I talked to my Framingham State College colleague, Professor Ben Alberti. Ben is an anthropologist who usually studies gender in ancient cultures (he says “prehistoric guylands”). Here’s what he had to say:

BA: How the hell can testosterone cause a market meltdown? Saying it is about testosterone covers up the idea of calculated greed. There is a much larger system than the trading room dynamics that accounts for how our economy works—or fails. It is misdirection, like a magic trick.

GWP: But even if we can mock biological explanations, isn’t that calculated greed part of the culture that men live in, a part of the expectations for being a “good man”?

BA: Oh, rubbish. You are simply saying that if men aren’t a “victim of their biology” they are a “victim of their culture”—that’s the “crisis of masculinity” argument, and I don’t buy it.

GWP: There’s been some interesting reporting on how unemployment is stressful for men, but you’re saying that we can biologize masculinity—but we can also culturize it—and get to the same place?

BA: Yes. Men can be victims—and there are a lot of men suffering right now in this economic downturn–but not because of their being men. It isn’t about identity or role any more than it is about testosterone. This crisis is about economics, values, inequality.

GWP: But men are living in a world of changing expectations, and it can be hard to respond because they aren’t (yet) fully equipped to switch gears, right?

BA: Oh come on!

GWP: What?

BA: In masculinity research there’s the notion of the “man box.” The man box view shows us the cultural expectations that men are subject to and that shape their actions. As you can imagine, a “box” suggests it is really hard to get out. I’m saying there’s no f-ing box. It is all about choices. Not the crisis, but the response. There are constraints, for sure. That means circumstances will determine which resources you can draw on for being what kind of man. But don’t masculinize constraints…. When we talk about men, we need to talk about possibilities rather than expectations. We need to talk about actions—what we’re performing—rather than containers—like the box.

GWP: (We’re not supposed to pun about the box, right?) You’ve talked about masculinity as performance—but what does that give us?

BA: Here’s a cliché example, one I’m familiar with: asking directions. So from the point of view of the “man box,” I don’t want to stop and ask for directions because I’m a man. What I’m saying is that, really, I don’t stop and ask directions because I haven’t done it before.

GWP: It sounds like you are saying that the issue of where men are today—in terms of unemployment or in terms of ethical choices in the pursuit of their work or career—is a lot more tractable and a lot simpler than we make it out to be when we expect biology or culture or the man box to leave men in “a crisis of masculinity.” Is that it?

BA: Yes. Stop anticipating a conflict. Don’t anticipate the man box. I am saying when you do it—ask directions, change your approach to work, deal with this awful economic crisis, whatever it is–it becomes part of your repertoire. That’s how change happens.

-Virginia Rutter

Seven point two. And counting. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, the most recent unemployment rate is 7.2 percent. On February 6, we will get the next installment of bad news. The big number gives us a backdrop for what bloggers like Deborah have been reporting on in a more personal way–that the Great Recession we’re in requires that us all to learn new things about ourselves. The downturn also helps us understand some old things, like inequality.

In the New York Times the other week, a blogger took a look at gender and unemployment and put the following together: the rates of unemployment are increasing for everyone, but they are increasing at a higher rate for men than for women, and at a higher rate for African Americans and Latinos than for other groups. As men fall out of their jobs at a higher rate, women are coming very close to being 50% of the workforce. The Times blogger asked, is this “A Milestone for Working Women?” The question is meant, I think, to be ironic: could it be that this bad news for the economy is kinda good news for the ladies?

Like so many other things, though, this employment question is not a a zero sum—in other words, men’s losses are not women’s gains, or any one else’s. As an alternative to any kind of zero-sum thinking, I suggest that we think about the meaning and function of work.

The meaning of work, as well as of “unemployment” and “employment,” continues to be something different for men and women. As I pointed out in November, recent research shows that on the job women work harder for less pay their male counterparts. And not because women have less experience. (For the latest on this, see Center for American Progress’s Equal Pay for Breadwinners report by Heather Boushey.)

Here’s an idea. Working status might best be understood as lying on a continuum: there are the unemployed (want a job, can’t find one), the underemployed (have some work, want more), the employed, and the overemployed (let’s call it the second shift category). (By the way, the BLS offers a bunch of alternative measures of unemployment; that 7.2 percent figure is called “U-3″—the official unemployment rate. But there’s another number, the “U-6″—or the underemployment rate, which in December 2008 hit 13.5 percent.)

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Women, Work, and the Downturn For an excellent column on why and how the downturn is likely to affect women, read UNC-Chapel Hill sociologist Philip Cohen’s recent post at HuffPo. He argues, as has Randi Albelda and Linda Hirshman, that Obama’s jobs/stimulus plans thus far are good for men, but not as likely to address the jobs concerns for women. As Cohen asks, will Obama listen?

The Black Middle Class As happened during the Great Depression, so in the (current) Great Recession, African Americans are going to be harder hit by job loss. Zenitha Prince does outstanding reporting on the issues in AFRO News. She reports that the manufacturing sector—read auto industry, where in particular African Americans had found a path to the middle class in the past few decades—is getting hammered. What’s the size of the problem? While the unemployment rate overall is currently at 6.7 percent, for African Americans it is at 11.2 percent. It will get worse.

Not only is unemployment generally twice as high for African Americans than for the population in general, but wealth inequality also makes the black middle class a vulnerable group. While the racial gap in incomes—what we earn at our jobs—has declined over the past thirty years, the gap in wealth—what we own in terms of savings, retirement funds, housing, stocks, and other assets—remains quite large. A 2005 report from the National Urban League reports that African American households have about one-tenth the net worth of white households. This makes family crises like unemployment much harsher.

Virginia Rutter

Later: Read more about the recession’s impact on minority autoworkers in Tuesday’s New York Times.