Where the women at?

There's some interesting stuff in this NY Times piece about women in the workforce, but as usual, what's more interesting is what's not included, as well as the assumptions made by people looking at the problem.

Here's the situation in a nutshell: women in their prime earning years have been taking breaks from employment during the current "recovery." Taking breaks is the euphemism the Times uses to describe losing a job and not finding a similar one right away, just so we're clear--in this article, it's rarely describing women who voluntarily take a break from the work force to raise kids.

That didn't stop the people looking at the phenomenon from making that assumption, though.

When economists first started noticing this trend two or three years ago, many suggested that the pullback from paid employment was a matter of the women themselves deciding to stay home — to raise children or because their husbands were doing well or because, more than men, they felt committed to running their households....

After moving into virtually every occupation, women are being afflicted on a large scale by the same troubles as men: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut. And they are responding as men have, by dropping out or disappearing for a while.
So it didn't occur to them that women were being shafted by the "recovery" (and yes, I plan on using scare quotes to describe the Bush economy for the entire post)--no, those economists just thought that it was an optional thing. After all, most women just play at a job because otherwise they'd get bored watching Oprah and The View in between having kids and going to the salon, right? It's no big deal if they get tossed out of a job, right?

Except that it is, of course. It's interesting to look at some of the statistics the piece offers; to get a sense of just how crappy this "recovery" has been, look at this excerpt:
The proportion of women holding jobs in their prime working years, 25 to 54, peaked at 74.9 percent in early 2000 as the technology investment bubble was about to burst. Eight years later, in June, it was 72.7 percent, a seemingly small decline, but those 2.2 percentage points erase more than 12 years of gains for women.
12 years of gains for women, wiped out in a single "recovery," when in every previous recovery, women had made gains. And later in the same article:
Pay is no longer rising smartly for women in the key 25-to-54 age group. Just the opposite, the median pay — the point where half make more and half less — has fallen in recent years, to $14.84 an hour in 2007 from $15.04 in 2004, adjusted for inflation, according to the Economic Policy Institute. (The similar wage for men today is two dollars more.)
Smell that equality! At least the economists are honest about their biases, though.
But while men are rarely thought of as dropping out to run the household, that is often the assumption when women pull out.

“A woman gets laid off and she stays home for six months with her kids,” Ms. Boushey said. “She doesn’t admit that she is staying home because she could not get another acceptable job.”
Two questions--why do they insist on calling it "dropping out to run the household" instead of calling it what it really is, namely, being unemployed long-term? And why aren't men thought of the same way as women in that circumstance? The two answers are identical--it's the power of the patriarchy. If the economists call it what it really is--long-term unemployment--then there's pressure to skew economic policy toward the working classes instead of toward investors, which are largely made up of older white men. And if they acknowledge that working and middle class men and women are being hit by the same pressures and are being pushed from the workplace by the same issues, those workers just might team up and demand better from their employers, and that's the last thing the people in charge want.

Newer Post Older Post Home