Apr 19, 2012

How About Improving Jobs So That More Parents Have A Choice?

When moms have good union jobs, families win.
No doubt you've all been witness to the explosion of the so-called "mommy wars" of the last week, regarding Ann Romney's choice to stay at home and raise her sons. A lot of ink has been spilled by a press hungry for skirmishes, trying to divide women based on one pundit's comment on CNN.  But most American women (and men) recognize exactly how ridiculous this so-called "debate" is. It's another smokescreen thrown up by the GOP to distract Americans from the real issues affecting our families. Didn't we already have this conversation, a long time ago? And we more or less agreed, yes, that women or men who choose to stay at home with their children should be allowed to do so - that it's a personal choice?

The real issue, of course, doesn't have anything to do with moms or even gender. It's the one that Republicans like Mitt Romney want to keep us from talking about. It's rising income inequality. The plain fact is that very few men OR women can afford to make the choice to stay home and raise their children, due to stagnating wages and income inequality. As E.J. Dionne writes in his column today:

The public debate seems premised on the idea that all two-parent families have a choice as to whether one or both work. That’s still true for the better-off. But this choice is denied to most American families. They have had to send two people into the workforce whether they wanted to or not.

What we really need to figure out isn't whether or not women should or can be working outside the home. What we really need to figure out is how fight income inequality, and improve jobs here at home for both men and women, for two-parent households and single parents alike. We need to bring household incomes up, so that more parents can afford to make the choice to stay home and raise children, regardless of gender. And to do that, we need to look at where the jobs are in America and how to make them better jobs. In The America Prospect today, David Moberg, reporting on research about retail jobs and Walmart, points out that:

From 1997 to 2004, Fishman reports, retail jobs grew more than half as fast as the population, and more than 70 percent of those new jobs were at Wal-Mart. During that period, 3.1 million manufacturing jobs disappeared, so that by 2003, more Americans were working in retail than in manufacturing.
Retail jobs, like those at Walmart, are fast replacing the kind of jobs that used to pay a good wage - the kind of jobs that allowed one parent to stay home and raise a family if they wanted to do so, and still allowed the family to stay afloat financially. As Moberg reports, "The Wal-Mart effect on wages is more clearly harmful to workers, whether they work for the company, its suppliers, or its competitors." He continues:

A group of University of California, Berkeley, researchers led by Arindrajit Dube, found in 2007 “strong evidence that Wal-Mart entry reduced average and total retail earnings, retail wages, and health benefits for retail workers over [the 1990s]—primarily in urban areas.”
It's not just Walmart, in other words. The fastest growing jobs, the jobs of the future - retail jobs - are steadily being eroded in quality by companies like Walmart, that can and need to do better for workers. As UFCW's Director of Organizing Pat O'Neill points out in the American Prospect piece:
“It’s like the U.S. and the Third World. Either we take them up to our standard, or they’ll bring us down to theirs.”

What we need isn't another national conversation about what constitutes women's work. What we need is a national conversation about how we can improve the jobs that women - and men - have now. And that's a conversation Mitt Romney might consider listening in on. He just might learn something.

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