AfterShow

Breadwinners indeed

I originally wrote this on Sept 26, 2010. It still applies.

Alice Paul c. 1930s
Alice Paul c. 1930s

In her article in the WSJ, Peggy Noonan uses an example that has been kinda turning over in my head ever since I read it early yesterday morning. In it, she quotes Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee that many in the Tea Party crowd are grandmothers and that:

“Women are always focusing on a generation or two down the road. Women make the education and health-care decisions for their families, for their kids, their spouse, their parents. And so they have become more politically involved. They are worried about will people have enough money, how are they going to pay the bills, the tuition, get the kids through school and college.”

Ms. Blackburn suggested, further in the conversation, that government’s reach into the personal lives of families, including new health-care rules and the prospect of higher taxes, plus the rise in public information on how Washington works and what it does, had prompted mothers to rebel.

And that really got me thinking about who these “grandmothers” and women are, the timeline of their lives and the unintended consequences of history.

These women — who are older and are now “livid,” concerned and intuitive — were most likely responsible for inadvertently starting the ball rolling toward our ever-increasing crushing debt load by supporting the most politically and socially active woman’s issue of the time; the Equal Rights Amendment.

Now before you all start in on me for beating up on grandma, just hang with me for a moment. Growing up Catholic and as a kid of a mother forced to go to work second shift to afford us, my formative years were spent at ground zero of this issue. One thing that came out of the ERA was that women were an emerging force in the employment scene. With the political and cultural tides turning the way of equal pay for equal work and looking like the ERA was going to be ratified, companies slowly, reluctantly began paying women more and promoting in an effort to ward off legislation. Women were also becoming more educated and getting better jobs. The country was getting used to the dual income. And that flush of cash was too tempting for corporate America not to scheme a grab.

And grab they did. From 1964-1980, the average house price went up from $13,050 to $68,700 while average income went from $6,000 to $19,500 per person. That calculates to 217% of annual income for a house in 1964 v 352% annual income in 1980. In addition, a car which cost an average of $3,500 in 1964 now cost $7,200 in 1980. In 1964 when most families were single income, they only needed one car. In 1980 when the dual income family had firmly taken root, a second car was necessary. So was out-of-the-home day care. Women had fought the right* to be equal in the workplace, but so too had this fight created a dependence on a dual income for a typical family to afford a home to live in. Women could no longer leave the employment world at will and their men could no longer afford them to.

Life got too expensive to maintain and none of this was due to the Federal government meddling with significant entitlement programs (except Medicare, which every senior in the Tea Party loves and would kill any candidate who takes it away.)

But we really didn’t learn that large social shifts will always be taken advantage of by our free market economy and corporations incessantly hungry for more profit. In this last decade before the Recession, universities were watching the housing market climb up and up and jumped into the fray with their version of the cash grab. They raised their tuitions, knowing full well the middle class would dip into their easy home equity to pay for Johnny and Suzie’s education, regardless of cost. Now, their grandkids are saddled with large bundles of debt nobody is willing to forgive.

And men are losing their jobs at record rates, reducing the dual income family to a minority. And I was left wondering, “Were the grandmothers in Ms. Noonan’s article the same women who foresaw the staggering and unsustainable private debt we are now faced with as they marched for women’s rights back in the early ’70s?” All these women wanted was the right to be treated equally and have the right to do the same job as a man so they could have a higher quality of life. Unfortunately, all corporations saw was an opportunity to grab more disposable income.

I’m finding it hard to believe the average grandma is more “livid” and worried about the US Government going broke from entitlements than they are about their own grandkids being $50,000+ in debt from student loans and not being able to afford a house to live in because homes are priced to a dual-income standard. Maybe I’m missing something.

*I know, the ERA Amendment is still shy of 3 states ratification and died in 1982, but it gets reintroduced every year. Maybe someday. But for purposes of creating a dependence on dual incomes, women have won these rights.

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