The Economy is a Feminist Issue

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you know that no other issue has dominated nightly news discussions like The Economy.  We’ve heard endless iterations of the reasons why The Economy tanked and what needs to happen to fix it.  Currently, the Tea Party Occupy Wall Street Movement both seem to inhabit the same space of blame assessment for why The Economy – and the jobs picture – appear dismal.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that U.S.-based employers added some 103,000 net new jobs in September.  This rate of “job creation” doesn’t seem to be enough to reduce the unemployment rate, 9.1 percent in September, a stubborn number that’s remained the same since April.

The media has covered the story from a number of angles, including numerous pieces on how this recession has emasculated the American Male.  No doubt, The Economy has harmed Male Earning Power.  But what I’ve found surprising is the lack of analysis on how this recession – which ended in June of 2009 – has devastated the already weak economic position of the American Female.

Why is this? Why is it that the story of the reduced Earning Power of the American Male constitutes national news, while the story of the continued disadvantaged economic position of the American Female gets barely a mention?

As Sabrina Tavernise noted in the recent New York Times article Gains Made in Equality of Incomes in Downturn, the recession had the effect of equalizing Female income with Male income, not because Females became higher earners, but because the recession pushed Male wages downwards.

An analysis of new Census Bureau data by the American Human Development Projects suggested that median earnings for Males, adjusted for inflation, fell by $2,433 — or 6%— from 2007 to 2010.  Female earnings, meanwhile, fell by just $253 in the same period, a drop of 0.9%.

“Devastating for men,” said Kristen Lewis, co-director of the Project, which is part of the New York-based Social Science Research Council, of the recession.

And for Females?  The Project fails to highlight – although you can see it in a chart on its webpage – that Female Earning Power continues to lag behind Male Earning Power, regardless of the recession.  Females make less than Males – and have seemingly forever.  Why would this be news when the much more compelling story – at least from a media perspective – is the loss of Male Earning Power?

It is true that some of the recession’s steepest declines occurred in industries typically dominated by Males. According to the Project’s analysis, earnings in construction, for example, fell by 5%, while median earnings in health care and technical occupations, popular among Females, increased 3%. Further, the service sector, which includes some of the lowest-paying jobs that Females tend to have, like waitress and housekeeper, added jobs for both Males and Females. Earnings in this sector declined by 6% for males, as they took lower-paying jobs, but stayed flat for females.

Earnings flat for Females! Males now getting jobs typically deemed “women’s work!”

If this doesn’t tell you that The Economy is a Feminist Issue, I am not sure what will.

Females – already heavily represented at the bottom of the earnings ladder – have lower salaries than Males across all occupations. A typical Female in the service sector earned $14,792 last year, compared with $21,104 for a typical Male.

Females are disadvantaged. This is not news. Thus, this is not reported.

So, where is the Feminist Outrage? Where do national Feminist organizations like the National Organization for Women, or LGBT groups that claim to represent lesbians – like the National Center for Lesbian Rights – stand on this?

In September, NOW issued a press release calling on Congress to pass President Obama’s jobs bill. “Of special concern to NOW is the fact that women are being left behind in the current so-called recovery, having lost nearly 300,000 jobs since the recovery began in 2009. In fact, many jobs previously held by women are now being taken by men,” NOW said in the release.

Thank you NOW. NOW has also lobbied Congress to combat female economic vulnerability, taking up the need for reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Family program, which provides invaluable economic assistance to the most vulnerable among us – who tend, in case you haven’t already figured this out, to be Female (and Children, who Females tend to care for).

What of NCLR? This year, NCLR lauded the enactment of the California DREAM Act and condemned the execution of Troy Davis, but the organization has not – apparently – said anything about the economy.  Although I personally support both the DREAM Act and condemnation of the death penalty, it strikes me odd that the major organization claiming to represent lesbians (who are, of course, Female) would have NOTHING TO SAY about The Economy and its impact on Females.  Even the Economic Policy Institute – not an organization that represents Females exclusively – has highlighted the lack of economic opportunity for Females, noting in a 2010 report that economists observed the largest gap between Male and Female unemployment in 2010 since data collection began in 1948.  EPI projected that the unemployment rate for Males would climb to 11.7% by the third quarter of 2010, while for Females it would reach 9.7%.  “Because there has never been a gender disparity of this size, there is no way to predict how it will affect family structures or the labor force,” EPI noted.

This is huge news! Where are the national stories covering this major event?

Well, they don’t seem to exist.

Because he is smart, President Obama knows The Economy as a Feminist Issue, a fact that the mainstream media has yet to pick up, preferring instead to laud the testosterone-inducted spectacle of the Tea Party Occupy Wall Street Movement.  Obama has highlighted that this year of budget cuts does not bode well for Females, who are heavily represented in local government jobs, like teaching.  As of September, government job losses continue to mount, with local government shedding 35,000 jobs, 24,400 of them in public education.  And you know who tends to be a teacher? Yes, it’s Females. According to the White House, 78% of pre-K to 12 teachers are Females.

This all bodes poorly for Females.

The reasons why Females historically and continually have less Earning Power than Males are legion and beyond the scope of a column in a LGBT Community newspaper.  But in the throng of stories about how the recession has emasculated Males, Females have been left holding the Same Stuff, Different Day bag.  It’s simply assumed that economic inequality is Females’ lot in life.  And this, of course, makes many of us simply wish we did live under a rock, because Ignorance does afford a certain kind of bliss, and the problem of Female inequality is a multi-faceted, difficult problem to solve.  Of course, for those of us literally living under rocks and other inadequate places due to the devastation of this recession would probably appreciate it if we stopped ignoring the problem and started naming it – Sexism in The Economy is a Feminist Issue.

Friday, 21 October 2011

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