Nice Work

Ninety percent of working moms, and 95 percent of working dads in the US report work/family conflict–much higher than workers in other comparable countries. But of course. We work 11 more hours per week than we did three decades ago.  And, compared to other rich countries, we have fewer laws and policies regulating working time, including no federal laws on paid vacation, paid sick days, or paid parental leave. All this, according to a new Center for American Progress report by Joan Williams and Heather Boushey on “The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict.”

I just got the report, but already there are two things I love about it: first, it focuses on social class. They separately analyze the reality facing three kinds of families: those who are low-income, those who are professionals and managers (one out of five families), and those in the “missing middle” – the 53 percent of families in between. Not surprisingly, work family conflict for those at the top–the ones that New York Times loves, loves, loves to write about in their mythological pieces on women opting-out and about how “daddy’s so baffled at home”–is different from families at the bottom or in the middle. By highlighting the differences by economic groups, the authors help us to recognize that, for example, our Family and Medical Leave Act–that gives people a “right” to unpaid leave–is a policy that only benefits families who can afford it.

Second, the report puts it all in our policy context: The authors explain that the lack of progress in the United States is a result of a conscious choice by our political leadership. Understand: the absence of work/family policies is policy. Let me quote from their executive summary:

“The United States today has the most family-hostile public policy in the developed world due to a long-standing political impasse. The only major piece of federal legislation designed to help Americans manage work and family life, the Family and Medical Leave Act, was passed in 1993, nearly two decades ago. In the interim—when Europeans implemented a comprehensive agenda of “work-family reconciliation”—not a single major federal initiative in the United States has won congressional approval. In the 110th and 111th congressional sessions, the Federal Employee Paid Parental Leave Act, which would provide four weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees, passed the House of Representatives—garnering support from 50 Republicans in the vote in the 110th Congress—but has not passed in the Senate.”

Worfamily conflict sucks. But Williams and Boushey’s report is awesome. So check it out.

Virginia Rutter

Now for the 411 on “the new economics of marriage” –  a Pew study that is making its way through the media: To me the study is a good follow up on Heather Boushey’s “the new breadwinners” in A Woman’s Nation: The economic status of women has changed irrevocably, and our society generally accepts it. We rely on it too – women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 63 percent of families; and 43 percent of family income is from women.

Thanks to Pew, we see what this means for marriage and the balance of power and status. While 40 years ago, 96 percent of men earned more than their wives, today that number is 78 percent. Men out-earn wives, but less so than in the past. In terms of education, back in the day as today, married couples are most likely to have the same amount of education. But in 1970, whenever there was a difference in education, it was more likely to be men with more education (3 out of 10 marriages). Today, only 2 out of 10 marriages have men with more education…and 3 out of 10 have women with more education.

The question everyone is asking is how does this influence the “psychology of marriage”… by which I mean the principles that bind couples together, and the things that make marriages more likely to be happy and to last. The old wisdom is that traditional gender roles hold marriages together: in the past marriages with a more traditional structure were more stable. But that was in the past. With changing economics and culture, so the glue in marriage has changed too.

Well, it has been changing for quite some time. In the 1970s the research showed higher rates of depression for wives who were staying at home. By the early 1980s the more depressed wives were those who were doing a second shift–paid work and then work at home. More recently there has been evidence in how much more stable and satisfying are marriages where partners share housework–I mean really share housework, not this “helping” notion–but real sharing of responsibility for childcare, housework, and the administrative things of family life like list making, event planning, and gift giving. That’s the other change: men have been participating in their marriages differently, being more engaged at home.

The numbers show us that we are talking about narrowing the gender gap–at work, at home. This is a story of narrowing the gap between men and women, not of anyone losing ground–at least not men or women losing ground to each other. I did a radio call-in show with Joy Cardin this morning on Wisconsin Public Radio and the callers were talking more about their embattled families than any war between the sexes:  Where we aren’t narrowing the gap is figuring out how to create public policy–health care, day care, family leave, paid sick leave, paid vacation, or even reasonable banking policy that doesn’t sustain all sorts of inequalities that are bad for families (but I digress)–that gives these men and women the freedom to keep doing their jobs at home and at work without high levels of stress. The new economics of marriage is also the new psychology of marriage, and it has been around for a while. We’re talking about it more now, and creating more egalitarian marriages. Soon perhaps our public policies will catch on and help families as they really are out more.

-Virginia Rutter

You may have seen this: a little story about a girl-with-pen who was able to make a lot more money as men with pens. “James Chartrand” is the pen name for a woman blogger who reports she earned two or three times more under a man’s name than a woman’s.

In the year of the Shriver Report–you know, women hold up half the economy, make up half the work force, oh and also make up nearly half of union membership–we’re still struggling to get a host of humane work policies (uh, health care and “good jobs” with benefits) that isn’t just about material benefits.

The tougher part is the social psychological (and hard to measure) aspect of how “men’s work” and “women’s work” are still remarkably differentiated. As I’ve written here before, gender inequality is sneaky!

So is a lot of other inequality. James Chartrand isn’t just a man’s name. It is a white man’s name. The New York Times reminded us last month that “In Job Hunt, College Degree Doesn’t Close Racial Gap.” At 8.4 percent, the unemployment rate in 2009 for black college graduates has been nearly twice that of white college graduates (4.4 percent). An American Economics Review article highlighted how this works in their paper “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” In a field study, job applicants with “white sounding” names got twice as many call-backs as those with “black sounding” names. So, James Chartrand probably had more than just the advantage of gender.

An even newer American Sociological Review study makes the case even more clearly. In “Discrimination in a Low-Wage Labor Market: A Field Experiment,” Devah Pager, Bruce Western, and Bart Bonikowski report on sending out matched sets of job applicants–white, black, and Latino men, similarly well-spoken, well-dressed, and credentialed–for low wage jobs in the New York area.

The results? Whites received positive responses 31 percent of the time–twice as many as blacks (at 15.2 percent). Latinos, with a 25.1 percent call-back rate, did worse than whites but better than blacks.

The descriptions of the job applicants’ encounters that are enumerated in the article highlight what we keep hearing: there were few if any episodes of overt racism or bias. The job applicants in the study, for example, didn’t sense a pattern themselves as they went through the application process.

A lot of inequality is sneaky. And where there is gender inequality, I’m going to keep checking for other forms of inequality that are sneaked in along with it–especially class and race–because I don’t think we’re going to do much about any of it until we do something about all of it.

-Virginia Rutter

Follow the thread: The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation reminds us that women now make up half the workforce. And are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 63 percent of families.

The report also reminds us that a lot of policy has not kept up with the definitive end of “separate spheres” and the caregiver/provider model of families. We all do market work, and we all need to find ways to care for our families, our children, and ourselves.

The report reminds us that now, more than ever before, we all need family friendly and more humane work policies. That issues like good (secure) jobs, adequate, affordable, and just health care, paid vacation, paid sick days, child care, and family leave aren’t women’s issues at all. They are human issues. They are workers’ issues.

How to get there? The word of the 1960s was plastics. The word for 2010 is unions. We don’t even have to invent them. They already exist. And they are changing. And there is opportunity just up ahead to help them change more.

A Center for Economic and Policy Research report released today, The Changing Face of Labor 1983-2008, documents that “over the last quarter century, the unionized workforce has changed dramatically…. In 2008, union workers reflected trends in the workforce as a whole toward a greater share of women, Latinos, Asian Pacific Americans, older, more-educated workers, and a shift out of manufacturing toward services.”

As reported in the Associated Press this afternoon, “Women are on track to become a majority of unionized workers in the next 10 years, signaling their growing clout in the labor movement.” Women make of 45 percent of union membership–up from 35 percent in 1983, according to CEPR’s report.

Lead author, CEPR senior economist John Schmitt, connects the dots: “When you have a majority of women in the labor movement, issues like work-family balance, paid sick days and paid parental leave become more important.”

And Change to Win head Anna Burger makes the message concrete:According to AP, Burger says, “Because of women, we don’t just talk about raising wages, but about creating family friendly workplaces with sick leave, child care, and family and medical leave. We don’t just talk about out-of-control insurance costs, but about the fact that women pay more than men strictly because of their gender.”

(Change to Win is a federation of five unions: Teamsters, Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Farm Workers (UFW), and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). The AP article also interviews secretary-treasurer of  the AFL-CIO Liz Shuler.)

The hype is about how women will benefit unions–by bringing traditional women’s issues that are really about the well being of all of us into the mainstream. For more on how unions actually benefit women–in terms of wages, pensions, and health insurance–read this interview with John Schmitt from last year.

Next thread: EFCA (The Employee Free Choice Act). That’s how to turn the benefits that women bring to the union movement into benefits for all. Bring us some more good news, ya’ll.

Virginia Rutter

Last week U of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan argued on the NYTimes Economix blog that paid sick days are an incentive for people to stay out of work–shamming sick days is the suggestion. Paid sick days, the argument goes, encourages people to stay out from work. Well, sometimes people can’t see the forest for the ideology, but help, alas, was on the way the day Mulligan posted.

CEPR senior economist John Schmitt, co-author of a report on paid sick leave in the US and Europe earlier this year, said not so fast! At noapparentmotive.org, Schmitt took issue in two ways: first, as his CEPR report, Contagion Nation, pointed out, the current system of no paid sick leave in the United States provides incentive for people to go to work sick. You see, if we measure cost, we have to measure the cost of a policy of no paid sick leave as well as the cost of some paid sick leave. You can read more about Contagion Nation at girlwpen here.

If that isn’t bad enough, Schmitt catches Mulligan on another sleight of hand. Mulligan, it seems, left off all the countries in the data set he was using that didn’t conform to his thesis that paid sick days are an incentive to stay out sick. As Schmitt explains, “Denmark, Germany, and seven other countries with more generous statutory paid sick days policies all have lower sickness absence rates than the United States. A really interesting question is: how is it that these countries are able to provide both guaranteed paid sick days and lower sickness absence rates? (And why didn’t Mulligan include these countries in his graph?)”

Andrew Leonard discusses the Schmitt response at Salon. He concludes, “Of course people, given an opportunity, will abuse generous benefits. But what explains the situations where they don’t?”

Over at Mother Jones, Nick Baumann was not so cagey in his post Economic Dishonesty. In response to the question, why the selective use of data?, he simply says, “Um, because he was being dishonest?”

I think that making working life humane for all people is a feminist issue, as the Shriver Report recently reminded us. To my mind, rebutting simplistic supply and demand arguments about work/life issues is a feminist act.

Weirdly, the New York Times has not run a correction. What a shame.

PS 11/3/09. NYTimes reported today on the concern among public health officials that lack of sick leave may worsen flu pandemic: “Tens of millions of people, or about 40 percent of all private-sector workers, do not receive paid sick days, and as a result many of them cannot afford to stay home when they are ill. Even some companies that provide paid sick days have policies that make it difficult to call in sick, like giving demerits each time someone misses a day.”

-Virginia Rutter

A year and a half ago Feministing reported about rapes occuring to women working for defense contractors in Iraq. The gist of the story is this: assaulted workers told, badgered, intimidated into keeping silent about vicious assaults on them.

One of the people who this happened to was Jamie Leigh Jones. She testified before Congress in December 2007 about being drugged and gang-raped in company barracks in Iraq. Her company, Halliburton, said that when she signed her employment contract, she lost her rights to a jury trial. The contract they offered forced her into having her claims decided through secret, binding arbitration. WTF?! She had no idea.

Fast forward to October 2009. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) introduced an anti-rape amendment to a larger defense appropriations bill last week that (per talkingpointsmemo) would “prohibit the Pentagon from hiring contractors whose employment contracts prevent employees from taking work-related allegations of rape and discrimination to court.” Kind of minimum standard.

The amendment passed, 68-30, in the Senate. Because that is the right thing to do. Indeed, Jon Stewart profiled the case, pointing out that, “If, to protect Halliburton, you have to side against rape victims, you might want to rethink your allegiances.”

But, Huffington Post reports that someone not yet clearly rethinking his allegiances is Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI). He’s considering removing the amendment, and he has the power to do so. Explains HuffPo: “Inouye’s office, sources say, has been lobbied by defense contractors adamant that the language of the Franken amendment would leave them overly exposed to lawsuits and at constant risk of having contracts dry up.”

There is so much wrong with this I don’t know where to start. But I wanted to provide the update. Read this for info about contacting Sen. Inouye to tell him to support the Franken amendment.

-Virginia Rutter

Damn. The Shriver Report, out in the morning, already sounds fantastic. CAP explains: “The Center for American Progress, in partnership with Maria Shriver, has broken new ground with the publication of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything. By taking a hard look at how women’s changing roles are affecting our major societal institutions, from government and businesses to our faith communities, the report outlines how these institutions rely on outdated models of who works and who cares for our families, and examines how all these parts of the culture have responded to one of the greatest social transformations of our time.”

You can read Gloria Steinem’s early Women’s Media Center review–she likes Kimmel on men’s stake in equality, she worries that the 50/50 workplace hasn’t created a safe and just world just yet, she has high hopes for change. At Time Magazine, they’ve posted the Shriver Report survey results with the headline, “The Argument about Women Working Is Over.” In a skillfully conducted poll, 76% of men and 80% of women agree that women and men sharing the work force 50/50 is “positive for society.”

In the coming days, much will be said–and the media blitz looks fabulous (Time Magazine cover out Friday; CAP President John Podesta and Maria Shriver on Meet the Press Sunday, Maria Shriver on Today Monday – Wednesday, Heather Boushey on MSNBC on Tuesday, and god knows what else)–but here are two early points that I want to celebrate tonight.

First, the survey finds–and recognizes that it finds–much more similarity than difference between men and women across a host of items. Just one example: Men and women have very similar life goals. We value security, fulfilling work, and children to a similar degree. The widest margin of difference? Women value religion more so than men.

Second, I love the way the Center for American Progress identifies their project. CAP has located the focus on the great labor market transition of the late 20th century as a human issue, not a gendered issue. Women are the movers–in this case moving into the workforce–but the movement is about all of us, men and women, and how we as a working nation can arrange our lives humanely and effectively.

For all the data and analysis, visit CAP’s project page “Working Nation: How Women’s Progress is Reshaping America’s Family and the Economy.

-Virginia Rutter


From our friend over at noapparentmotive.org: Here’s some info about the Domestic Workers United Celebration Campaign–because there are lots of ways to get it done but they should all involve respect and fair labor standards. Per noapparentmotive.org,

DWU is an organization of nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers in New York working for respect and fair labor standards for domestic workers. In less than a decade, the DWU has built a membership of over 2,300 workers and won almost a half a million dollars in unpaid wages for domestic workers.

DWU has recently launched a campaign to recruit “donor members” to help sustain their work through these tough economic times. The donor campaign celebration will be held on October 29 from 6:30pm to 9:30pm at the offices of SEIU Local 32BJ, 101 Avenue of the Americas, 22nd Floor. (A flyer with full details here.) You can use the pledge form if you’d like to help, but can’t make it on the day.

A recent article in Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society (you can check out the abstract here) asks: “As the boundary between family and market changes to accommodate the entry of women into the labor market, who will assume these women’s family‐welfare work?” The authors use an analysis of labor in the US and Sweden to conclude, “Rather than blaming women who hire housecleaners, progressives should aim instead at elevating the status of this labor.” That’s nice work.

Virginia Rutter

In The New Republic Online, “line of the day” post by Jonathan Cohn, see the “…back-and-forth at the Senate Finance hearings, between Jon Kyl, the Arizona Republican, and Debbie Stabenow, the Michigan Democrat. The subject is requirements that all insurance policies cover certain benefits.”

KYL: “I don’t need maternity care.”

STABENOW: “I think your mom probably did.”

Watch the video here.

As Jonathan Cohn comments on the exchange: “I’m hard-pressed to think of a single exchange that better captures the sensibilities of our two political parties–or the principle of shared risk upon which universal coverage is based.” (The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has taken note, as reported on TalkingPointsMemo, and has sent a fund raising letter to draw attention to the exchange–and how it reflects different values.)

Here, I’m stalled: I think Cohn’s excellent point is a kind of conversation stopper.
If we start from different principles, where do we go from here?

How about self interest and humanity? That’s where I’ll go. A very helpful article at Forbes.com reviews what health care reform means to women. In case you weren’t aware, most private insurance policies currently allow pregnancy as a pre-existing condition for exclusion from coverage. Most jurisdictions are able to have gender ratings that hike up charges for women over men.

Now lots of even the most pessmistic folks seem to think that health care reform at a minimum offers hope that we’ll make such “pre-existing condition” exclusions illegal and that we will establish community ratings that end subgroup ratings, like the gender one. That is the minimum, but I’m still holding out for Medicare for all, something that 65% of Americans favor, according to a recent Time/CBS poll. (yet we are still debating this because….?)

But there’s more: Columns like Adina Nack’s “HPM, Stress and the Inner Game” remind us about the important ways that health care is subjective–and those subjective aspects can cause negative (or positive) health outcomes. When we are disempowered, it wears us down, undermines the immune system. The overarching point of real health care reform is for us all to understand that, in the words of Deborah Lewis, “I do not believe that we earn our illnesses….” This suggests that women–and men too–should be empowered to seek and assert their need for care.

The dilemma is that in a world where it is “special treatment” to get preventative care, like mammograms (only 20 states require private insurance companies to cover these after age 40), or maternity care, or the like, such a personal empowerment view doesn’t get us all the way there. What gets us all the way there is health care for all. Maybe Macbeth would not care about it. But the rest of us, who have a mama, just might.

Virginia Rutter

Are people really having less sex? Well, at the very least, it looks like they are having less sex outside of their committed relationships, according to a new study written up in Scientific American. But it also looks like people may be making up for having less sex outside of committed relationships by talking about it more. And that is good news for sex.

First the news: In each category surveyed—gay, lesbian, straight—people report fewer affairs now than in the 1970s. Everybody has changed in terms of monogamy: gay men do it (where do it means doing non-monogamy) 59% now versus 82% in the 1970s. Nowadays, straight men do it less—14%. Meanwhile, 13% of straight women and 8% of lesbians do it. As we keep seeing again and again in recent surveys on monogamy, women—lesbian and straight—still report fewer affairs than their male counterparts, but they are catching up with the boys, as UW psychologist David Atkins has shown. On the one hand, affairs overall may be on the decline because of STDS and the like; on the other hand, women may be catching up because they have greater autonomy and economic independence.

That is all interesting, but this is also potentially good news for wild, free-for-all sex. The investigators from Alliant International University in San Francisco showed that over the same period people have also increased how much they talk to their partners about the idea of sex outside of their relationship. (What’s happening in those conversations, report these psychologists, is that they are talking about outside liaisons, and deciding against them.)

But the other discovery here is about the talking. Increasingly, this study hints, people are talking about the notion of sex outside their relationship–talking about forbidden, off-the-approved-roster sex with someone who isn’t an official or legal sweetheart–even if in the end they decide against it. Conversations like that—no matter what the outcome—mean that more and more people are acknowledging, countenancing, and admitting that they and their partners are completely capable of having sexual fantasies about someone other than their official one. We all know that being in a committed relationship doesn’t change our brain structure and doesn’t stop a great, diverse sexual imagination about all manner of things, people, and situations. But when people don’t talk about it, they have to tell one another lies, and pretend like their fantasies don’t exist.

So, maybe people are saying no to the reality of sex with their hot new colleague, but if they are saying yes to a conversation about it with their partner, it might mean that those partners will be better at dreaming up their own edgier, more interesting sex. And, by the way, in a world where women have greater sexual freedom to have affairs, they also have greater freedom to acknowledge desire and have conversations about it that can lead to fewer affairs.

-Virginia Rutter