No matter how we parse it, so many things seem to come back to that famous Bill Clinton campaign mantra. It’s still the economy in terms of major issues in this election. And now, it is apparently the economy when it comes to women leaving the workplace.
Not babies. Not unfulfilled June Cleaver fantasies. Just plain old economics.
While so many of us have been hashing it out over whether increasing numbers of women are opting out of the workplace because they would rather be stay at home moms, what’s really been happening is an economic phenomenon that men are experiencing, too, at least according to a new Congressional report.
In Women are Now Equal Victims of Poor Economy, the New York Times suggests that while we’ve all been examining our collective navels about whether women were being pushed out of their careers or were “opting out,” there’s been more to it than the mommy angle.
Sure, there are some who truly opted out, and probably more women who were pushed out, but it appears that all this hand-wringing over what’s wrong with modern professional women today is a story of the economy and not one of mommy guilt. Yes, there will always be women who leave the workplace because their husbands make enough money to support the family or because they feel the pull of motherhood, but, as I suspected, it looks like those ladies are hardly in the majority:
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.
But now, a different explanation is turning up in government data, in the research of a few economists and in a Congressional study, to be released Tuesday, that follows the women’s story through the end of 2007.
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 men who have been trying to deal with this phenomenon have been viewed as just trying to get back into the workplace, the ongoing criticism and conjecture about women focusing more on their homemaking skills than their careers has been off.
What if we looked at this story from a different angle — that men are just now being put in the same bad economic situation that women have faced for so long.? Marie Wilson, the President of the White House Project writing at The Huffington Post has already taken that on, saying that perhaps we’d all be in a different economic national situation if more women were making the hiring and firing decisions:
For ten years I have traveled the US speaking about the urgent need to increase the numbers of women in leadership, across all employment sectors. What I find is that most people (women and men) don’t realize how few women actually occupy positions of leadership at present — nor do they realize the benefits we could reap by putting them there.
Meg at The Last Chance Democracy Cafe has a different spin on the Congressional study that brings us this equality of economic suffering report:
The [NYTimes] article blames the poor economy [on women's job losses], which certainly has something to do with it. But I’d also posit that wages play a role. If a family has to choose one member to drop out of the workforce (usually to avoid work-related expenses such as daycare or commuting costs) logic dictates that the main breadwinner remain employed. So though the stigma against stay-at-home dads may have dropped away, moms still earn less, and therefore their jobs are more expendable.
So, I wonder — would the premise of the New York Times story be true today if women were actually getting paid the same as men as we are guaranteed under the Fair Pay Act and as the Lilly Ledbetter Act would help us achieve?? That’s another post for another day.
Back to women suffering equally as men when it comes to job losses, guest poster Virginia Rutter at Girl w/ Pen looks at the impact of gender differences in this story:
The impact of unemployment … continues to be interpreted, understood, and experienced differently for men than for women. So, as the “opt out” narrative … tells us, when women lose work, it gets interpreted as being about family and psychology (not about unemployment or the economy), or seen as a return to traditional gender roles (not as women assuming a new gender role on the unemployment rolls).
I’m not happy to have equal footing with men on this one. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will help tone down the mommy wars aspect of women being at home with their children and light a fire under some political rear-ends to put women’s pay on par with that of their husbands.
Cross-posted from BlogHer, where PunditMom is a Contributing Editor for Politics & News.