New Orleans In the United States we have become hardened to the code words, “family-friendly,” because too often that is just right wing whitewash for thousands of intrusive policies that attempt to make women into “breeders” as they were called in the current hit, Mad Max on Fury Road. We like to think women are making progress towards equality, especially mothers, given their vaunted place in American mythology, but then we are confronted by the facts.
The very modest Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 took forever to win, and is notoriously skinny in its benefit allowance, providing twelve weeks of unpaid leave for women workers of larger employers, but now a study reported by the New York Times says that women are “5 percent more likely to remain employed but 8 percent less likely to get promotions than they were before it became law.” And, US policies in this area are notoriously skimpy compared to European and other countries.
The Times also referenced a study on a policy in Chile intended to overcome the relative lack of women’s participation in the workforce there compared to other Latin American countries. The study found that “…woman hired in a firm with 20 or more female workers are between 9 and 20 percent below [in wages] those of female workers hired by the same firm when no requirement of providing child care was imposed.”
Looking at the actual study done, mostly by researchers at the Inter-American Development Bank, leaves more questions than it answers and under closer inspection seems doomed for failure from the onset. First, the requirement that this benefit provide near location day care was only going to be borne by employers of significant numbers of women, which already tended to either ghettoize them or encourage employers to hire less than 20 women, as we have seen with the games played by companies near the employer mandate number for the Affordable Care Act. The policy would have been more fairly administered for all women working in companies with a base-line level of workers. I’m sure the hope was that a critical mass of women would make the provision of day care more efficient, but instead it pushed down all women and huddled them together.
Another critical fact, unmentioned, was that the provision was also limited to women with children under the age of two-years old, meaning that women of child-bearing age and intention were likely seeking employers required to provide the benefit and exchanging wages for daycare, which is a universal problem unless the government is providing or paying for all daycare. Finally, past the scope the study, but critical in examining the real public policy impact, no one followed the women and their employment patterns and choices after the benefit expired and what happened to their wages and future prospects. It’s worth noting that many smaller employers simply ignored this mandate in Chile altogether, making it impossible for the researchers to follow enough of them on their employment data-set.
The story is no better in Europe where family-friendly for women has been the gold standard. The Times reported:
These findings are consistent with previous research by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, economists at Cornell. In a study of 22 countries, they found that generous family-friendly policies like long maternity leaves and part-time work protections in Europe made it possible for more women to work — but that they were more likely to be in dead-end jobs and less likely to be managers.
Having the government provide the benefits doesn’t protect women against discrimination either it seems.
Lip service about the role of women, holding up half our world, and family, being our future, is not enough to keep women’s futures from being hijacked and families from being fractured. This is a sorry situation that begs for real policy and political solutions, not something leaning whichever way the wind blows.
Please enjoy these two new songs by Neil Young, thanks to Kabf.