The shitty economy

9 03 2009

Last week the New York Times published an interactive map called “The Geography of a Recession” showing unemployment rates across the country. While the map is comprehensive but also slightly depressing, the accompanying article by David Leonhardt is not quite so up to par.

Leonhardt writes that the recession is hurting men more than women and linked to an older article about how women are surpassing men in the workforce even despite the economic downturn. That article says:

The proportion of women who are working has changed very little since the recession started. But a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men, who are heavily represented in distressed industries like manufacturing and construction. Women tend to be employed in areas like education and health care, which are less sensitive to economic ups and downs, and in jobs that allow more time for child care and other domestic work.

“Given how stark and concentrated the job losses are among men, and that women represented a high proportion of the labor force in the beginning of this recession, women are now bearing the burden – or the opportunity, one could say – of being breadwinners,” says Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress.

Economists have predicted before that women would one day dominate the labor force as more ventured outside the home. The number of women entering the work force slowed and even dipped during the boom years earlier this decade, though, prompting a debate about whether women truly wanted to be both breadwinners and caregivers.

I have several things to say after reading this bit. First, regarding the whole debate about whether women truly want to be both breadwinners and caregivers, the issue should be less about whether women want to juggle career and family, and more about what women are able to do given the constraints placed on them.  In some families, women can be content just being stay at home moms because they have the luxury to do so and do not need to supply more income into the home. Some working moms would love to be stay at home moms but can’t afford to do so because it just isn’t financially possible. Meanwhile some women can afford to hire babysitters to watch their children for them during the day and thus be able to have a career and have children. Other times women rely on relatives (the childrens’ grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) This speaks to larger issues around the need to have accessible and affordable quality child care and health care. It also speaks to class privilege and how juggling career and family can be more difficult if you are economically disadvantaged.

Another thing to touch upon is that even if women are bearing the brunt of being breadwinners, women still make less than men do and the wage gap still persists, which just goes to show that women have been living in a shitty economy for quite some time now (an economy where women are systematically paid less, under employed, and lack basic benefits). The article does go on to say that although women may have more job security, it’s harder for them to support a family with their jobs. For one thing, they work fewer hours than men do and secondly, they are more likely to be in part-time jobs that not only do not pay much but also fail to offer health insurance or unemployment insurance.

Both articles also fail to mention how in times of economic crises, domestic violence/intimate violence escalates in relationships or in households where abuse already occurs. While both men and women can be victims of domestic violence women tend to be a majority of the victims. The economic downturn also makes it harder for individuals to leave abusive relationships because they may be unable to find another job, they rely on their partner’s income, they may not be able to afford to find another place to live, etc.

Leonhardt’s article that accompanies the interactive map also claims that the stock market crash has hurt wealthy and upper middle-class families more than others because the upper rungs of the echelon own more stocks than those on the lower rungs. Okay, so wealthier families do own the bulk of the stock but as Melissa writes on Shakesville:

But on what planet is a $2 million portfolio that loses half its value really more “hurtful” to its owner than a $100,000 portfolio that loses half its value? That’s literally the difference between another entire year’s survival (at least) after losing a job, or a life-altering ability to pay for healthcare twice as long after a catastrophic injury or illness.

This is absolutely true. Although wealthier families may lose more money than less wealthy families do, wealthier families also have more money to start off with and they have more savings. The portfolios of wealthier families may have been harder hit than the portfolios (or non existent portfolios) of less wealthy families but they are probably are experiencing less luxuries instead of struggling to survive and put food on the dinner table. Saying that the upper classes are harder hit by the economic downturn makes it seem like we should pity these poor rich people who might have to cut out a summer cruise when there are families who can barely make ends meet.

P.S. Here is a cool video tutorial I found that illustrates why the economy is so shitty and how it got there. It’s like an Idiot’s guide to what led to the economic downturn, which is great for people like me who still are not quite a hundred percent sure how the economic downturn came to be.


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