Category Archives: Gender

Wealth is dived deeply by race and gender

Years of discriminatory policies that favored white men at the expense of the common good have created stunning disparities that persist to this day.

Though many Americans favor an approach to equality that stands for “giving everyone an equal chance,” the realities of inheritance, neighborhood segregation and outright discrimination make such meritocratic ideals suspect. (This meritocracy myth is akin to insisting, as 19th century political economist Henry George once noted, “that each should swim for himself in crossing a river, ignoring the fact that some had been artificially provided with corks and other artificially loaded with lead.”) A new study by Mariko Chang shows just how deep those wealth gaps remain today.

Chang’s report, published by the Asset Funders Network and making use of Consumer Finance Survey data, suggests stark gaps. First the report shows gaps between married couples, single men and single women.

It’s worth noting the large disparities not just between men and women, but also between the median and mean. That suggests a deep inequality: the mean is being pulled higher by numerous rich people at the top. (Consider an instance in which Bill Gates walks into a bar full of working-class women and men. The mean wealth increases dramatically, while the median increases modestly.) As Matt Bruenig has noted, “The top 10% of families own 75.3% of the nation’s wealth. The bottom half of families own 1.1% of it.”

Adding a racial lens to the data (viewed in the chart above) also produces stark divergences: the median black woman has $200 in wealth, the median white man: $28,900. Age also matters: The data suggest millennial (18-34) women, of all races, have $0 in wealth. That leaves very little buffer from an unexpected job loss or medical emergency (made even more likely by the conservative war against access to healthcare, for instance their refusal to expand Medicaid, which primarily harms people of color).

Indeed, data show “the top 10% of white families own 65.1% of all the wealth in the nation.”

Although women are now more likely to complete college than men, this alone won’t close the wealth gap. The median single woman with a college degree has wealth of $18,710. The median single man: $31,400. Even pay equality won’t close the gaps. The highest-earning women, those earning more than $65,001, have median wealth of $166,000, while men in the same bracket have median wealth of $223,700.

As I’ve noted recently in Salon, policymakers are biased toward the policies of rich white men. Indeed, for a long time, all of the policymakers were rich white men. The gaps Chang exposes are not simply the product of neutral or natural forces; extensive research shows that government policy was there all along, benefiting some at the expense of the few.

What are the solutions? First, America needs a strong public sector. That means more money for infrastructure, childcare, higher education and universal pre-K. America needs to invest in its cities, and its communities, particularly low-income, black and Latino communities that have faced decades of disinvestment and neglect. Second, America needs full employment. That means active fiscal policy and guaranteed jobsfor all Americans who want to work. Third, America needs a financial sector thatworks for everyone. That means a modest financial transaction tax to limit excessive trading and a baby bond to give every American a shot at buying stock, starting a business or buying a house in a better neighborhood. To get there, America needs a true, participatory and equal democracy. That means ensuring policymakers pay attention to everyone, not just the wealthy donor class. Limits on, or at leastdisclosure of, lobbying and campaign contributions from the rich, combined withpublic financing to amplify the voices of women, people of color and workers would bring us closer to a vibrant democracy. Eliminating discriminatory barriers to voting will breathe life into our democracy.

Deep disparities in wealth belie the American myth that simply because we have a black president and Oprah is massively wealthy our problems are over. Chang’s report shows that single black and Hispanic women own less than a penny for every dollar owned by single white men. Once again: single black and Hispanic women own less than a penny for every dollar owned by single white men. That didn’t just happen.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

The Threat of Just-in-Time Scheduling

One of the most unnoticed labor trends in the past few decades has been the rise of “just-in-time scheduling,” the practice of scheduling workers’ shifts with little advance notice that are subject to cancelation hours before they are due to begin. Such scheduling practices mean that already low-wage workers often have fluctuating pay checks, leading them to rely on shady lenders orcredit cards to make ends meet. Such consequences especially affect women and workers of color, who disproportionately fill these jobs.

just in time
Source: Susan J. Lambert, Peter J. Fugiel, and Julia R. Henly, “Schedule Unpredictability among Young Adult Workers in the US Labor Market: A National Snapshot,” July 2014 (Click symbol to enlarge)

New research from three University of Chicago professors, Susan J. Lambert, Peter J. Fugiel, and Julia R. Henly, examines scheduling practices for young adults (26 to 32 years old). Many outlets have reported their finding that part-time workers face greater scheduling uncertainty than full-time workers: 39 percent of full-time workers report receiving hours one week or less before work, compared to 47 percent of part-time workers. But less attention has been paid to the race gap: 49 percent of blacks and 47 percent of Hispanics receive their hours with a week or less of notice, compared with 39 percent of white workers.

Non-white workers also report far less control over their hours. Lambert and her co-authors find that 47 percent of white workers have their hours set by their employer. By contrast, 55 percent of blacks and 58 percent of Latinos say their employer sets their hours. Only 10 percent of Latinos and 12 percent of blacks report being able to set their hours “freely” or “within limits,” while 18 percent of white workers do.

just in time scheduling
Source: Susan J. Lambert, Peter J. Fugiel, and Julia R. Henly, “Schedule Unpredictability among Young Adult Workers in the US Labor Market: A National Snapshot”, July 2014 (Click symbol to enlarge)

Hours vary widely from week to week for many of the young adults Lambert and her colleagues studied. They find that “among the 74 percent of hourly workers who report at least some fluctuation in weekly work hours … their weekly work hours varied from their usual hours by, on average, almost 50 percent during the course of the prior month.” Such large fluctuations in hours also indicate large fluctuations in wages, which make life difficult for an increasingly debt-burdened overall population.

In a previous study Lambert and Julia Henly also found that unpredictable schedules increase stress and often disrupt a worker’s family life. Using data from 21 stores across the U.S. they found that workers with unpredictable schedules reported more stress and conflict between work and family life. “Precarious scheduling practices are not isolated within a few organizations but rather reflect growing national and international trends,” they concluded. As the world becomes increasingly globalized and labor commodified, employees will be treated more like “factors of production” and less like people. Rather than a few egregious corporations, such practices are increasingly the norm in low-wage and middle-wage industries.

Rising toll

Just-in-time scheduling is an increasingly prevalent practice in two of the fastest-growing and deeply unequal sectors of the economy: retail and service. Both sectors disproportionally employ women and people of color. It’s not a stretch to connect just-in-time scheduling to a broader war on women and workers which has been waged by the modern conservative movement.

Because most worker protections were passed before the influx of women into the workforce and were designed to exclude people of color, these groups are perfect targets for the anti-worker agenda. Because women and people of color are highly concentrated in low-wage service sector jobs (home health care, retailfast food) that only recently started unionizing, they are even more vulnerable. Congressional Republicans have opposed pay parity for women, early childhood education and paid parental leave. Recent decisions by the conservative Supreme Court havedecimated unions in the highly minority- and female-led home health care sector as well as prevented women from getting necessary health care through their employers.

Low wages and erratic work schedules take an obvious toll on working families and workers of color. But they also affect the general economy. Research suggests that lagging demand may be holding back the economy because low-wage workers can barely afford necessities. Few can follow President George W. Bush’s famous advice “go shopping more” or “go to Disney world” and thereby stimulate the economy.

Scheduling abuse compounds this problem by making work and wages subject to erratic swings. Sociologist Nancy Cauthen writes that, “Many low-wage workers are expected to work the day shift one day and the night shift the next and/or to be available seven days a week.” Although the right likes to portray trickle-down economics as good for long-term growth, the literature suggests the opposite. By depriving workers of stable incomes, conservative policies actually stifle economic growth.

What’s more, if the goal of such employers is to increase profits, there’s good reason to curb these scheduling practices: Studies show that giving workers more control over their hours and their time actually increases productivity, while JIT scheduling increases turnover and decreases work satisfaction and loyalty. Managers, who are forced to juggle more workers, also work more hours.

The union movement — once a bulwark against the encroachment of employers — is still nascent in service and retail whereas it has deep roots in male-dominated sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing. The recent Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn, which struck down the requirement for home healthcare workers to pay “agency fees,” will only hold back unionization even further.

Federal protections for workers haven’t been expanded since President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs and therefore haven’t adjusted to the rise of women in the workforce. These protections also effectively excluded people of color; for instance, farm labor (made up of Hispanics) is still exempt from many labor protections. Thus, the U.S. is one of the only countries that fails to mandate paid maternity leave. The result is that all but 5 percent of pregnant women in retail are denied paid maternity leave — which forces on them a devastating choice between their job and their own health and that of their child. Women who do have paid leave get it through employers, so such policies are concentrated at the top of the income distribution.

The result is that many employees must adjust their family time to meet the demands of customers and employees. While many conservatives, such as Ross Douthat and Ramesh Ponnuru, talk about the importance of family and the working class, few support commonsense worker protections and none supports unionization.

Flexible or stable

The U.S. needs legislation to ensure guaranteed minimum weekly hours that will help regularize workers’ pay. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) have introduced the Schedules That Work Act which would give workers the right to request a “flexible, predictable or stable” work schedule without retaliation. The bill stipulates that employers must detail upon employment the number of hours an employee can expect to work each week, and be given two-week notice before any scheduling change. The bill also requires that those who arrive at work only to find out there are no shifts available would be paid for four hours of work. Low-wage workers often travel long distances or pay for fuel only to arrive at work and be told they aren’t needed that day. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have sponsored a Senate version.

Although Republican intransigence will make federal action difficult, there are other options. Some states havetaken the initiative and passed “reporting time pay laws,” which require payment for workers that report to work, even if they aren’t needed. A stronger union movement, especially in the retail and service sectors, can also provide a counterbalance to the power of corporations and stem rising inequality. Service-sector workers receive a $2.00 an hour wage bump when they unionize, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and are more likely to have health insurance and a pension plan.

Corporations should take note of the lower turnover and higher productivity that structured scheduling provides, just as social conservatives should look to the benefits for working families. Workers are taking to the streets, fed up with low pay and bad hours. The economy is hobbled by lack of demand. The push to laissez-faire, orchestrated by ideologues in D.C. is finally under siege by an inchoate mass of workers. As Karl Polanyi notes, the “laissez-faire economy was the product of deliberate state action,” but “subsequent restrictions on laissez-faire started in a spontaneous way. Laissez-faire was planned; planning was not.” Without these reforms, employers will continue to exploit low-wage workers, to the detriment of all.

Amy Traub, a Senior Policy Analyst at Demos, contributed to this article.

This piece originally appeared on Al Jazeera.

Stop blaming single mothers for inequality

Republicans have been having an intense debate about how to solve inequality. On one side, there is conservative pundit Charles Murray, who thinks the solution is for the rich to tell the poor how gross they are and how moral rich people are. On the other side are those like conservative columnist and author Ross Douthat, whobelieves it would be better to be really mean to poor people because there’s just no stigma to poverty anymore. Because solving inequality will inevitably entail redistribution, the Right so far is content with throwing out some vague talking points, rather than a real agenda.

Now they have one: make life really hard for single mothers.

Earlier this year, Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee proposed a tax credit for families with young children and tax preferences for married couples. Now, Fla. Republican Senator Marco Rubio has proposed not only making life easier for married couples,but making life harder for single mothers. In the Wall Street Journal, Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for George W. Bush, argues that, “Marriage inequality is a substantial reason why income inequality exists. For children, the problem begins the day they are born, and no government can redistribute enough money to fix it.”

Even ignoring the fact that one really easy way to encourage marriage would be to open it to millions of LGBT Americans currently denied it, the focus on marriage is a charade.

Conservatives who want to argue that a decline in marriage is causing inequality argue that poor people tend to be unmarried and that areas with more two-parent households tend to have more economic opportunity. Both of these statements are true. But it’s important to tease out the causal link. Does not getting married harm your economic prospects or do bad economic times put an undue strain on relationships? Is there another factor driving both developments?

Two researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research — Melissa Schettini Kearney and Phillip B. Levine — findthat single motherhood is largely driven by poverty and inequality, not the other way around. They state in a report: “The combination of being poor and living in a more unequal (and less mobile) location, like the United States, leads young women to choose early, non-marital childbearing at elevated rates, potentially because of their lower expectations of future economic success.”

A report by the British Rowntree Foundation had a similar finding: “Young people born into families in the higher socio-economic classes spend a long time in education and career training, putting off marriage and childbearing until they are established as successful adults.” Women in the slow track, in contrast, face “a disjointed pattern of unemployment, low-paid work and training schemes, rather than an ordered, upward career trajectory.” This is largely due to “truncated education.”

Fleischer and Rubio also argue that marriage is harming upward mobility. In theAtlantic, W. Bradford Wilcox has adopted this meme, citing the work of Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez. But his case leaves out something important. Hendren tells Salon that, “areas that had more two-parent households had higher rates of mobility, people born to married parents have lower rates of upward mobility in a place with fewer two-parent households. It’s something about the place that is driving the mobility in these places.”

So all Fleisher’s pontificating about how all the “have-nots” need to do is, “marry and give birth, in that order” comes to naught. A two-parent family living in a community full of single-parent households will still end up poor. The case is far from closed, but there is strong evidence that economic hardship is causing poor and working-class Americans to abandon marriage, rather than the other way around.

Even given this, while it’s worth helping families, we should also help single mothers and fathers, since they are in need of even more help. Instead, Rubio’s plan will actually exacerbate inequality by hurting single parents. If economic hardship is driving high divorce rates and teenage pregnancy, then creating more economic hardship is only going to make the problems worse.

Take my friend Sally (not her real name). She had a child with a man she thought was a stable partner. But Sally broke up with him when he became physically and emotionally abusive. She has a good job, but it’s still hard to make ends meet with kids: she has to pay for childcare, she’s limited in the jobs she can pursue because of her mortgage, and she isn’t getting much help.

Lee and Rubio will do nothing to help her. In fact, Rubio’s plan will make her life even worse, because the Earned Income Tax Credit will be even more skewed against her. Rubio’s plan actually gives Sally, and other women like her two options: court poverty or marry the man who is abusing you.

The plans fail even if you accept the premises of the Right. According to the conservative narrative,inequality has grown worse because America has increasingly divided into two groups. One group, the hard-working Americans, get a college education, get married and then have kids who go to college, get married and have kids. The other group is the lazy, feckless poor, who don’t go to college, have children out of wedlock and don’t get married. The data don’t support this narrative, but even if you accept it, the Republican proposals will only increase inequality. If the rich are married and the poor aren’t, then policies that help married couples and hurt unmarried workers will only worsen inequality.

A better way to fight inequality would be to support policies that help married and unmarried Americans. NY Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s “opportunity agenda” would do exactly that. She advocates a broad swath of proposals including raising the minimum wage, creating a family leave system, funding universal pre-K, establishing a tax credit for childcare expenses and passing an equal pay law. These proposals will ameliorate inequality and will do far more to strengthen the family than a modest tax credit. Other liberal proposals include instituting a universal basic income, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and higher taxes on the wealthy.

“Encouraging marriage” is a disingenuous dodge. A small tax credit isn’t going to fix the fact that if middle-class incomes had risen equitably over the past three decades we’d all be making $19,000 more each year.

Here’s the dirty little secret. The Republican Party isn’t seriously worried about inequality or poverty or mobility or wage stagnation because addressing any of these issues will lead to the government intervening in markets. That’s okay if it’s to help rich people, but not to help poor people. As Gore Vidal noted, they want “socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor.”

The Right would also like to stay away from inequality because the main genesis of the cavernous gap between the rich and poor is policies that they championed (deregulation, free trade, union-busting, halting the rise of the minimum wage). They want to destroy the few remaining New Deal programs that are hindering inequality from becoming worse. Talking about marriage keeps the institutions that are driving inequality intact and serves as a red herring that obfuscates the causes of inequality.