The NYT on Gender Liberation

There’s an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times this morning from Richard V. Reeves and Isabel V. Sawhill of Brookings about how “Women learned to become more like men. Now men need to become more like women.”

Among a number of other arguments for men to take on more traditionally feminine economic and social roles, the article highlights some of the benefits of national paternity leave. In Quebec, the government mandates that at least five weeks of paid leave be offered to new fathers. Since 2006, the proportion of men taking time off after their child is born has jumped from 21 to 75 percent. Not only that, years after taking paternity leave, these men had become more equal participants in domestic work. Pretty cool.

The piece has one glaring weakness, though. It points out that while women are moving rapidly into traditionally male careers in medicine, law, and business, men aren’t moving as fast into traditionally female professions like nursing or early childhood education. But the article makes no mention of the economic incentives at play here: traditionally feminine professions also tend to be traditionally horribly compensated. A women has a strong financial interest in becoming a doctor. A man does not have the same incentive to become a preschool teacher.

Reeves and Sawhill are of course right to call for more gender parity in the labor market. But we would go a long way toward achieving it if we were to start providing bigger paychecks to the highly under-compensated (and still mostly female) workers in these traditionally female-dominated fields.

Heavy Loads


The spectacles of the Inca Trail (pics here, here, here, and here) are made accessible by the contingent of porters that accompanies each trek group. Last month, the 16 of us tourists were accompanied by 22 men from nearby villages looking to make some extra cash. They carried tents, luggage, food and cooking supplies; they set up camp before we arrived each night and took it down after we left each morning; they cooked our food, served it, and washed our dishes.

The Peruvian government passed a law in 2001 legislating porter working conditions, a job that had gained notoriety for its vulnerability to exploitation. It’s widely believed that the law goes unenforced, though. For instance, porters aren’t allowed to be given more than 20kg each to carry, but many who my friends and I questioned on the Trail claimed that they were carrying 25 or 30kg. Porters also complain of inadequate meals and sleeping arrangements, and not getting paid the $62 per trip minimum wage established by the 2001 law.

Portering for foreigners dates back to the arrival of Spaniards in the Andes. From John Hemming’s The Conquest of the Incas:

From the outset of the Conquest, Spanish armies and expeditions had commandeered regiments of native porters, and it was manifest that this abuse contributed directly to the country’s depopulation. There were dozens of grandiose attempts to discover eldorados in the forests of the Amazon. Hundreds of Spanish lost their lives on these desperate adventures; but their native porters perished long before their European masters. ‘Some two or three hundred Spaniards go on these expeditions. They take two or three thousand Indians to serve them and carry their food and fodder, all of which is carried on the backs of the poor Indians …. Few or no Indians survive, because of lack of food, the immense hardships of the long journeys through wastelands, and from the loads themselves.’

Gustav and I have been researching the subject. More to come.

Are Unions Better Than College?

Stupid question, smart (hopefully) answer. I reported on a new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

The authors found that a 25 percent boost in college graduates (from 34.9 to 43.6 percent) would result in a 2.8 percent bump in the number of Americans with good jobs (from 24.1 to 26.9 percent).

Not bad, right? But also far from ideal.

A comparable increase in unionization would be even better, raising the proportion of good jobs to 30.8 percent.

The other policies also fare better than education. Universal health care would lift 4.8 percent of us into good jobs, and universal retirement plans would boost the figure by 9.6 percent. The two would be even stronger if combined, increasing the good job rate by 20.9 percentage points. Gender pay equity would bring 5.6 percent of female workers over the good job threshold.

The whole thing is at Campus Progress.

For Freelancers Without Benefits, This Might Be The Solution


Freelancers Union members rally in Albany, NY. They don’t have any picket lines, but a motley crew of 200,000 contingent workers have banded together for solidarity and health insurance. Their vulnerability, like their existence, is a recent invention.

Are you a temp worker, freelance writer, “independent contractor” for 40 hours a week, perpetual intern, aspiring entrepreneur, artist waiting for your big break, or otherwise precariously employed? There’s a union for that.

One union for all of that, in fact: the Freelancers Union and its founder Sara Horowitz were profiled in Sunday’s New York Times. The 200,000-strong group is not a union in the conventional sense—it doesn’t bargain collectively and members don’t pay dues—but the group provides affordable health insurance and a sense of camaraderie for a population that often needs both.

What’s more, that population is growing wildly. “In 1963, the total number of temps employed per year was 400,000. By 1980 that number was the total employed per day,” said journalist Bryce Covert, whose recent report “We’re All Women Workers Now” chronicled the rise of the American temp worker.

In 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 2 to 4 percent of workers are contingently employed, including a disproportionate amount of young Americans. Other estimates of the total are far higher.

Like many recent travails of American workers, it wasn’t always this way. As the Times put it, “the post-New Deal model of employers providing health insurance, pensions and other benefits is breaking down.”

But why?

The rise of temp work coincided with the conservative counterrevolution against union power and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. As we’ve reported, the backlash—beginning in the 1970s—has meant sputtering job prospects for most Americans and huge gains for the richest. The era also marked a philosophical shift for many employers.

“We have shifted to a business model where companies aren’t thinking of employees as things that they invest in and keep long-term,” Covert told Campus Progress. “They are thinking of them as assets that they either bring on or let go depending on what they need and how the economy is doing.”

According to Covert, this new model has its roots in a temp industry that thrived on gendered conceptions of labor. Beginning in the 1960s, temp agencies “were able to skirt a lot of the protections in place for blue collar workers by branding themselves as offering work to women in particular—young single women who hadn’t married yet or housewives working for pin money,” she said.

Due to wariness about women in the workplace, these jobs were billed as temporary side gigs for women, not careers. But after the recessions of the 1970s, temp agencies changed their tune and the model spread throughout the whole economy.

That’s where the Freelancers Union comes in. The group may not be well-equipped to force employers to hire more full-time workers, but Horowitz “is trying to address what the new economy looks like,” Covert said, “and figure out: If most of the workers are temp workers or freelancers or part-time workers, how do you help them get the kinds of benefits that used to come with a full-time job?”

Posted at Campus Progress. Photo: Flickr / Freelancers Union.

Did NPR Get It Wrong on Disability?

A Social Security check. NPR reports that the number of Americans getting disability benefits has been growing for decades. Is it due to economics or demographics?

Dr. Perry Timberlake has an unorthodox way of evaluating whether his patients qualify for federal disability benefits. “I always ask them, ‘What grade did you finish?’” he told NPR’s Chana Joffe-Walt.

The idea is basically that job seekers with college degrees can get desk jobs that will minimize physical pain; less educated Americans cannot. The anecdote is central to Joffe-Walt’s extensive NPR feature on the growth in federal disability benefits. The story—which aired last weekend on This American Life, All Things Considered, and Planet Money—argues that the decades-long rise in disability payouts reflects a changed American economy.

“There are now millions of Americans who do not have the skills or education to make it in this country,“ according to the story. Disability benefits, Joffe-Walt reported, have become “our extremely expensive default plan” for dealing with the American jobs deficit.

But not everyone agrees with that assessment. The NPR report has drawn fire from a wide range of progressive groups, like Media Matters, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.

According to Rebecca Vallas, staff attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, Joffe-Walt misdiagnoses the cause of growth in people on disability. She told Campus Progress that the real drivers are demographic: “the aging of the baby boomers into their high-disability years, and the entry of women into the workforce in greater numbers in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”

“Those two factors taken together explain virtually all the growth that we’ve seen in the disability programs,” Vallas said.

A corollary concern: the NPR piece could be interpreted to say that the federal disability threshold is nebulous or even excessively lenient. “It’s squishy enough that you can end up with one person with high blood pressure who is labeled disabled and another who is not,” Joffe-Walt reported.

Not true, reply disability advocates. The government has a strict standard for disability (and high blood pressure doesn’t cut it, said Vallas). In total, less than 40 percent of applicants are approved. In some low-income communities, the rumor even circulates that Social Security denies everyone’s first benefit application.

Those who are approved are the Americans with the most severe handicaps, according to Vallas—so severe that one in five men and one in seven women die within five years of being approved for benefits.

For now, This American Life’s Ira Glass is standing by the story. “We know of no factual errors,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Published at Campus Progress. Photo: Flickr / David Ciani.

Don’t Sneeze In My Food, Bro


Most college econ textbooks will tell you that government regulation increases inefficiency, because the rules prevent people and firms from making decisions that would fully maximize their self-interest, and therefore fully maximize economic output.

It’s an example of what’s wrong with mainstream economics. Sometimes government regulation might actually increase production. For example, a law requiring employers provide paid sick days to workers will result in less spread of contagious illness, and perhaps even fewer total days of lost work:

“Fifty to 90 percent of norovirus outbreaks can be traced to food service employees working sick,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and director of UC-Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center.

In total, 38 percent of all private sector workers in America don’t have paid sick days, and in the fast-growing food service industry, almost 90 percent of workers lack the protection. It’s no surprise those workers are prone to come in sick; calling out means losing wages and maybe even your job.

According to the Center for American Progress, workers with paid sick days are more likely to seek preventative health care, improving their own health and easing the burden on American emergency rooms.

Read the rest at Campus Progress. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid sick days to its workers. A bill by Senator Tom Harkin aims to change that.

Photo: Flickr / Vincent Sanga.

Here’s Your Crisis: Student Loan Debt Isn’t A Myth [Infographic]

The student loan crisis is a myth.

So say Nicole Allan and Derek Thompson, who argue in this month’s issue of The Atlantic that the economic returns of college far outweigh the burden of student loan debt.

“Horror stories of students drowning in $100,000+ in debt might discourage young people from enrolling in college, but they are as rare as they are terrifying,” Allan and Thompson wrote in the article. “The economic value of college, meanwhile, is indisputable.”

Allan and Thompson looked for crisis in the wrong places. Six-figure calamities are indeed rare, but millions of Americans are caught between stubbornly weak labor markets and increasingly costly higher education.

1. The employment prospects for young grads are pretty gloomy. According to an Associated Press analysis, 53 percent of recent college graduates are either unemployed or not putting their degree to use

2. Because of the weak job market, borrowers are struggling more and more to keep up with payments. According to TransUnion, federal student loan delinquencies shot up 27 percent between 2007 and 2012. (Private loan delinquencies dropped 2 percent.) 

3.Ddon’t expect the problem to go away once the economy picks up. As Campus Progress recently reported, the growth in Americans with degrees is far outpacing the growth in jobs that require them, meaning jobs that offer a secure path to debt repayment will become ever more competitive.

4. But repayment is already causig hardship: 13 percent of students whose loans came due in 2009 to default on their debt by 2012. Another 26 percent are delinquent, on the cusp of default.

5. It’s not just a debt crisis—it’s an affordability crisis.

CNN Money found that the cost of attending a public university has more than doubled since 1988, even as Americans’ median income stagnated. If our incomes had kept pace with the cost of higher education, the average American would now make $77,000 yearly. 

Finally, the cost of college prevents many low-income Americans from even seeking a higher education. Forty-eight percent of adults aged 18 to 34 without degrees told the Wall Street Journal that they can’t afford to go to college.

Among high schoolers who score highly on the SAT and ACT, 80 percent of kids from wealthy families go on to get college degrees, compared with just 44 percent of those from low-income families. Student loan debt not only makes life miserable for many graduates, it prevents some Americans from even setting foot on a college campus. That’s what we call a crisis.

Posted at Campus Progress.

How America Became So Unequal [VIDEO]

There’s a good chance you’ve already seen this video on the distribution of wealth in America. If not, it’s well worth six minutes of your time.


Created and posted to YouTube by a user named politizane, it graphically illustrates how the United States is much more unequal than Americans perceive and desire it to be.

“One percent of America has 40 percent of all the nation’s wealth,” the video’s narrator said. “The reality in this country is not at all what we think it is.”

The video doesn’t discuss how America became this unequal, though. The answer, in short, is the Reagan Revolution: Over the course of a few decades, Republican politicians created a political environment that allowed America’s richest to wildly increase their wealth.

As the video points out, such egregious inequality is new. Since the 1970s, the top one percent have tripled their share of national income.

“America was much more equal when you go back to the late ’50s, and ’60s,” Nicholas Finio, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute, told Campus Progress. “Deliberate policy decisions have allowed this to happen.”

Paul Krugman wrote in “The Conscience of a Liberal,” his account of 20th Century American economic history, that the rise in inequality can be captured in two words: taxes and unions.

In the 1960s, marginal income tax rates for America’s richest were as high as 90 percent, Finio said, but a series of cuts have left the top rate at just 39.6 percent. Capital gains, inheritance and wealth taxes are all lower now than in generations past, as well. The result is that wealthy Americans now keep much more of their cash than they once did.

As for unions, Krugman wrote:

Unions raise average wages for their membership; they also, indirectly and to a lesser extent, raise wages for similar workers, even if they aren’t represented by unions, as nonunionized employers try to diminish the appeal of union drives to their workers.

Shortly after World War II, more than a third of American workers were in a union, compared with just 11 percent today. In correlation to that decline, labor has earned a dwindling share of the nation’s total income, as more cash flows into the hands of capital.

The silver lining: Higher marginal tax rates and better labor protections can make America more equal. “Policy is what made it this way,” Finio said, ”and policy can turn it back.”

Published at Campus Progress.

Why Can’t College Graduates Find College-Graduate Work?

Recent grads

Good luck on the job hunt, grads. You’re gonna need it.

Kate really wants to work in Washington. This young Ivy League alumna, recently profiled in the Washingtonian, has been interning for a year and a half—at a political outfit, a media company and now a law firm. Until she finds salaried professional work, Kate is waiting tables in the evenings to make ends meet, which means she often works 15-hour days.

About half of recent grads are, like Kate, in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, and the problem is only going to get worse. In the next decade the number of degree-holders will grow more than twice as fast as the growth in jobs that require them.

Why then, are so many young Americans like Kate dead set on college-level employment? And why are they willing to take on tens of thousands of dollars of potentially crippling student loan debt in order to secure a college education?

Here’s a hypothesis: What if the overstock of American college graduates is not a reflection on the market for educated labor, but rather on the decreasing quality of alternatives?

In the eyes of many Americans, “It’s either ‘I have to go to college or I’m going to work at Wal-mart,’” Janelle Jones, researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said. Jones co-authored the report “Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?” which found that since 1979, the economy’s ability to generate what the authors consider “good jobs” has diminished by about a third. This is due to deregulation, privatization, a declining minimum wage and a decrease in union membership.

The Atlantic’s Richard Florida wrote last year that with the decline of American manufacturing, workers in the U.S. now fall mostly into one of two classes. The creative class, about a third of working Americans, averages more than $70,000 in take-home pay. Meanwhile, everyone else—about 60 million people—are in the service class, and make an average of just over $30,000.

So where does college fit in to all this? To oversimplify, young Americans once faced a choice between going to college and working a unionized manufacturing or government job with benefits and a middle-class wage. The choice now is between trying to angle your way into the creative class, or working for tips at a restaurant with no benefits or job security.

“The restaurant offered me something full-time, but that’s not a field I want to go into,” Kate told the Washingtonian. Can you blame her?

Mirrored from Campus Progress. Photo: Flickr / scot2342

A Setback For Public Services

The New York City school bus drivers’ strike is over, with drivers giving in after more than a month of striking. The bad news is immediate for drivers, but I suspect that there’s a broader significance here:

As Campus Progress reported last month, the strike is a pitched battle in a wider ideological conflict over how public services should be managed. Are New York City parents and drivers locked in a zero-sum game, as Bloomberg would suggest, in which a dollar more to drivers is a dollar less for taxpayers? Or do they have a symbiotic relationship, in which an investment in drivers is also an investment in children?

“In the city’s entire history, the special interests have never had less power than they do today, and the end of this strike reflects the fact that when we say we put children first, we mean it,” Bloomberg said in a statement last week.

“School transportation is not a luxury, particularly for students with disabilities—it is a civil right recognized under several federal and state statutes,” said Sara Catalinotto, an organizer with Parents to Improve School Transportation and Manhattan mother of two. “There are places that you could trim the fat, but not in the salaries of workers. That’s ridiculous,” she told Campus Progress.

Read the whole thing.

Photo: Flickr / Jason Kuffer.

AU Adjuncts Vote to Unionize

Attention American University students: Some of the folks who compile your report cards will soon carry union cards.

In a month-long election administered by the National Labor Relations Board, 379 AU adjuncts voted to be represented by Service Employees International Union Local 500. 284 voted against. AU joins about a dozen U.S. private college campuses where adjunct professors have unionized, most in the last decade.

At AU and elsewhere, many adjuncts complain about inadequate wages, poor job security, and a lack of respect on campus; some see unionization as a way to address their grievances.

“Universities recruit adjuncts to cut costs, even as admissions are up, tuition is up, administrative overhead is way up, building construction is up, everything is up except pay for instructors,” says Mark Plane, a part-time anthropology professor at AU and a supporter of SEIU. “This is a moment in which people are saying ‘enough is enough.’”

Continued here.