Saturday, December 13, 2014

Going Home. Are US Women Leaving The Labor Market And If So, Why?

The New York Times is running a long series on the US employment situation.  Yesterday it ran a story of American men without jobs, today a similar type of story ran on American women.  It's the latter that requires some extra attention here.

It's not a bad story at all.  It looks well-researched and it points out the lack of government policies which would help women with children to stay in the labor force.  That lack is reinforced by the cultural norms which expect mothers to do all the hands-on child-care. 

But those problems have existed in the US for ever.  They are not new policies, and as such they cannot explain the crucial statistics the article quotes, these:

As recently as 1990, the United States had one of the top employment rates in the world for women, but it has now fallen behind many European countries. After climbing for six decades, the percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74 percent for women between 25 and 54. It has fallen since, to 69 percent today.
The article notes that countries such as Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, France, Britain, Denmark, Portugal and Japan all have higher labor market participation rates of women than the US, and the reasons for those differences are at least partly in the lack of paid parental leave and good subsidized daycare in the US.  Still, the drop in the US women's labor market participation rate from 1999 to 2013 has a better explanation than this:

But the failure of the United States to meet the needs of working parents doesn't respond to the headline of the piece, "why U.S. women are leaving jobs behind." The answer to this question is very clearly the state of the economy. After all, the employment to population ratio (EPOP) for prime age women peaked in 2000 at 74.2 percent, coincidentally the peak of the business cycle. After the stock bubble burst and threw the economy into recession in 2001 the EPOP for prime age women declined. It bottomed out at 71.8 percent in 2004 and then started to rise as the economy began to create jobs again. It peaked at 72.5 percent in 2006 and 2007 and then tumbled to a low of 69.0 percent in 2011. Since then it has inched up gradually as the labor market has begun to recover from the downturn.
I agree with that quote.  Note, especially, how the EPOP has varied within a short time period.  Those changes cannot be explained by the lack of support for working parents (read: mothers), because that lack of support has been fairly constant.

An interesting problem in stories like this one (or any stories which use interviews with individuals as anecdotes) is that the anecdotes appear to support the stories (women wishing to work but unable because of child-care obligations), simply because the interviewed people are telling the truth about their lives.  But the people picked for the interviews are selected to go with the plot the author(s) wish to follow.  Similar stories could have been told at the peak of the business cycle in 2000 or at any time, pretty much. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

When Religious Rights Clash With The Rights of Others

Religious rights often clash with human rights, because so many of them are demands to be allowed to decide how other people live or demands to be allowed to treat other people as lesser.   Ultimately, of course, they are all about organizing the whole world so that one's own religion trumps everything else, including other people's religions.  Just look at what the founding principles of the Islamic State are all about.  Granted, they tend to have the most severe form of demanding what they have decided to define as their religious rights, one which utterly shreds any human rights of women or gays and Lesbians or those whose religions (including their interpretations of the same religion) are different.

However distantly, the arguments the Islamic State uses are plants from the same root as the recent growth of the religious rights movement in the US,   This quote explains the similarity fairly well:

NM: Let's start with why these two things — religious belief and civil rights — have come to seem so at odds.
KF: Part of the problem is the way we're currently framing the issue. On the one hand, we have the free exercise of religion, which is largely based in an appeal to revelation, to the truths of religious texts and religious doctrine. And on the other hand we have rights of equality and liberty, which are based in rational arguments — what are people entitled to as a matter of their humanity because we should all be treated equally under law. It’s an incommensurable confrontation between revelation and rationality. What ends up happening is that religion ends up like a trump card — you throw it down, it’s a conversation stopper, and we don’t know how to get out of this impasse. Law is really ill equipped for adjudicating between the claims of revelation and the claims of rationality.
The more practical interpretation of that clash is that most large religions allow interpretations which take away equal rights from women, from gays and Lesbians and from those who possess different religions or none at all.  To be able to practice one's religion in peace, then, may well mean that other people's lives become harder, narrower, less free and more dangerous.  While this is very clear in the events happening in Iraq and Syria, the same basic conflict exists whenever one's religious rights are set above other people's human rights.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Two Studies on Differences Between Men And Women At Work

These studies are, first,  on comparing men and women who acquired a Harvard MBA on various measures of success and satisfaction, and, second,  on the ratings online professors get, based on the gender the students think they belong to.

They both share a certain flavor of not being the last word on the topic, but they are also worth dipping into for what they can tell us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cromnibus. Or Making Sausage Out Of Pigs.

The name "cromnibus"* is a new silly word for both short-term and long-term government spending bills.  It's intended to keep the government funded until September 2015, while squeaking through all sorts of utterly unrelated riders.  The Republicans also want to use it to fight president Obama's immigration actions (that's the CR or continuing resolution part).  The measure must be voted on by midnight EST on Thursday.  Otherwise the government will shut down.

Since it's the time before Christmas and its traditional gifts, it's worth asking who might be treated as having been a good child this year.  The Department of Defense, for sure:

For the Defense Department, the legislation would provide $554.1 billion for fiscal 2015, just smaller than the $554.3 billion the Obama administration requested.
But the bill's $490.1 billion base 2015 Pentagon appropriations bill, if enacted this week, would be $3.3 billion larger than the amount allocated for fiscal 2014.
The measure would give the White House most of the funds it requested, including $3.4 billion of the $5.6 billion it recently asked for to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It proposes $64 billion for the Pentagon's overseas contingency operations (OCO)account; with the war in Afghanistan winding down, that level would be about $21 billion less than the 2014 enacted level.
A summary of the cromnibus released by congressional leaders and top appropriators states it includes $93.8 billion for total Pentagon procurement, a $1 billion hike from the previous year. For R&D, DoD would get a total of $63.7 billion, up $700 million from 2014.
Amid worries about the military's readiness, appropriators are proposing $161.7 billion — $1.8 billion more than last year — for operation and maintenance accounts.
The measure also substantially ramps up funding for the Navy's E/A-18G electronic warfare jets to $1.4 billion, providing enough monies to buy 15 in fiscal 2015.
For the Navy, the legislation provides a $1 billion funding hike above the request for one San Antonio-class amphibious transport ship. It also would keep the American aircraft carrier fleet at 11, allocating $483.6 billion to refuel the USS George Washington.
The shutdown-skirting measure would increase funding for joint US-Israeli missile defense programs by $172 million. For the much-ballyhooed Iron Dome program, the appropriators doled out $175 million more than the $176 million the White House requested, for a program total of $351 million.
The National Guard and Reserve would get $1.2 billion more than requested to "enhance" their equipment, according to the summary.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Hoaxes? On The Rolling Stone Rape Article And Its Aftermath

This post covers sexual violence and rape

What is a hoax?  One online dictionary defines it as "a plan to deceive a large group of people; a trick," another one as "something intended to deceive or defraud."  Sounds pretty serious, right?  Note, in particular, the terms "a plan" and "intended."  We are not talking about a misunderstanding of events or of partial memory after, say, a traumatizing event.  No, a hoax is something planned on purpose, something intended to deceive.

This is how it all began.

First Round

The Rolling Stone magazine published an article about an alleged gang-rape, a shocking piece which hit many readers in the gut and made them doubt the wisdom of belonging to the human race, a piece which was about the inadequate response of the university where the event was said to have taken place, University of Virginia, a piece which was almost completely about "Jackie," the woman who stated that she was raped.

The article did not name those accused of the rape though it did name a fraternity building as the place for the rape and gave additional information which could be used to try to find the identity of one of the alleged rapists (called "Drew" in the story).  It also provided a date for the alleged gang-rape and some additional evidence of preceding events.