Paycheck Feminism

working_momDepression era policies public policies are out of sync with today’s families. With women now making up the bulk of the US paid workforce, it’s time to rethink government policies that were designed for a very different time. This is a theme running through my own book, This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today. Karen Kornbluh, a friend and public policy expert in this area, co-authored an article about the topic recently.

KAREN KORNBLUH AND RACHEL HOMER of Ms. Magazine write about five ways for society to adapt to the new reality of employed mothers and modern families.

In a subtle shift with momentous implications, women are on the verge of becoming more than 50 percent of U.S. paid workers. This landmark should come as no surprise; labor statisticians are well aware that women’s share of the paid workforce has been swelling for decades, hitting 48 percent at the start of the new millennium. That means that this economy depends on women’s strong participation. Oddly enough, it was the current economic bad times that helped boost women to the halfway point, as men have comprised nearly three-quarters of recent job layoffs.

Since women have long been a near majority of the workforce, our government must have been developing women-friendly economic policies—right?

Wrong. Despite the demographics, the crucial U.S. government policies that provide economic security to American workers and their families were designed initially during the New Deal to fit that very different era. “Social insurance” programs—which today include Social Security, employer-provided (and tax-subsidized) health care and pensions, unemployment insurance and Medicare—as well as the 40-hour workweek were first established when only 10 percent of married women were in the paid workforce.

Fortunately, women are crossing that 50-percent-ofpaid- workers threshold at the same time that Washington is recognizing that, rather than privatizing or eliminating these crucial programs—as the Bush administration wanted to do—we should modernize and strengthen them. Certainly today’s workers are as much in need of protection against what FDR called “the hazards and icissitudes of life” as their New Deal predecessors. Health-care reform is the Obama administration’s No. 1 priority, but also on the table for 21st-century reforms are pensions, Social Security and the income-tax system. Women should take advantage of this opportunity to
make sure that when new rules are written, they account for the way women work today. Call it “paycheck feminism”: As women become the majority of the workforce, we must educate and mobilize ourselves to demand that policymakers meet our legitimate needs for security, flexibility and opportunity.

Read the rest of the article for their list of five important changes society can make to support mothers, fathers and families.

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Filed under Assumptions about Mothers, Career-Life Fit

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