Friday, March 4, 2011

Flip flops

I read in a few articles this week that there are many changes happening in the workforce and social scenes of America. Not wanting to scientifically quote this stuff, I'll just say that both CNN and MSN have both run a similar (if not the same) article stating that there are more women than men in the work force and in college currently. The population percentages aren't exactly the same, though. There are roughly the same number of men and women, but the percentage of successful, money-making professionals has tipped toward women.

The article had plenty more to say about this, as well as what all this means for the balance of power in our country, but there were a few other articles that got me thinking and making connections that I really don't like. For instance, I ready that unemployment is at less than 9% nationwide. How do they figure those numbers? Are they counting every adult who isn't working, or just those that haven't given up looking for jobs, yet? When does someone stop being counted as "unemployed?"

So, if more women are working than men, and unemployment is dropping, and there seems to be a recovery happening economically, how do those figures add up? Here is another little fact to think about - women STILL make less than men across the board. For the same job and time in position, women still make a much smaller paycheck than their male counterparts - sometimes 20-40% LESS.

I can see what is happening here. Employers have gotten wise to the finances of the sexes. If two people interview and they are equally qualified for the position, they apparently are hiring the woman instead of the man because they can pay them less for the same job. There really isn't a huge recovery happening around here at all. The American workforce is getting the short end of the stick because employers are trying to save a few bucks.

What pisses me off the most is that they are getting away with it and American women are letting them. We don't have a choice. We all need our jobs and we can't afford to negotiate for more  money when we simply need whatever money we can get. Women are less likely to negotiate for a higher salary when offered a position and less likely to ask for a raise once they are hired. In general, women start off at lower salaries and stay lower than their male counterparts even taking into consideration things like maternity leave and other issues unique to women.

Fifty years ago women were more likely to stay home and raise kids once they got married and men were more likely to continue to work. Thirty years ago, stay-at-home dads were something that was novel. Twenty years ago two incomes began to be necessary to make ends meet so both parents were more likely to work than stay home, but women still tended to stay home more than men. Today people - especially parents - find jobs where ever they can. Single people often work more than one job to pay their bills. Both halves of a couple work before and after they have kids for the same reason.

The economics of both parents working really don't add up, though. When you take into count the cost  of daycare, commutes, lunches, and all the other costs that come from working for an employer (other than your kids) it is difficult to break even, let alone get ahead. Both parents need to have great paying jobs if any of their kids are under five. Once they start school, it is only marginally better. I'm not going to take out "work-at-home-moms" from this equation either. Whether you have a home office or office away from home most parents still need child care of some sort. Parenting is work. Working for another boss is work, too - you just get paid a little more money by other people.

It appears to me that the change happened because when things started to go sour in the economy about 10 years ago, men and women both lost their jobs. Heads were cut where ever money could be saved. Did men lose their jobs more often because they made more? I'm not sure whether that was the case (I've never read research to that point) but it makes sense. So, people still had bills to pay whether they lost their jobs or not. So everyone kept looking, but only women were rehired? It sucks, but that seems to be the case.

Has anyone else seen this happen?

In my house, my husband and I have actually  taken turns working since the babies were born. He actually spent more time at home with  them as babies than I did. The last five years, he has had a steady job and I haven't. He was laid off and spent more than a year looking for work at one point. He still makes less than he did before he was laid off, even though he has worked for this company longer than any other company before. But, I know that if I were to have found a steady, good paying job, he would  have become Mr. Mom instead of me. I don't believe that is unique to just our relationship, either. I think that most couples would have done the same. When you have kids, you do  what you have to.

These days, it appears that the work force is taking less than they used to, because they have to. Reports of national spending are down. Businesses are still closing down, stores are reducing the number of store fronts, home prices are still down, and even the medical profession is paying their clerical and support staff less than they used to. More women work than men, but women make less than men. That logically means households are bringing home less money than they used to. What used to be considered a necessity is now a luxury. Who still buys a DAILY cup of coffee - or three - from Starbucks anymore? Not everyone, or else they wouldn't be shutting down a quarter of their shops.

So, if women are working instead of men, does this mean that American kids are being raised by their dads instead of their moms? Are we going to see a change in the values and personalities of our youth as they become older and join the workforce because of this? It is well known that fathers and mothers bring different and unique perspectives to child rearing, so what happens when the other half is put in charge not for a week, or a month, but for the majority of child rearing years?

I guess we will find out soon enough.


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