Welcome Joan Williams, Professor, and Host, June Carbone, Professor.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter

June Carbone, Host:

As the economy fails to improve, as we chart the rise of the Tea Party and the Republican Party’s ability to express disdain for unemployment benefits without significant political cost, Americans lack a roadmap for the role of class and gender in the new American landscape. Joan Williams’ book, Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter (Harvard 2010), supplies that roadmap. The book creates an innovative framework for examining the relationship between law, work and family in the post-industrial economy.

The book builds on Williams’ earlier research exploring the maleness of the workplace and expands it dramatically. Williams starts with the caustic observation that “we still have a workplace perfectly designed for the workforce of the 1960’s.” That workplace depended on the availability of “ideal workers,” who could meet employer expectations premised on the availability of someone else to tend to the children, run the necessary household errands, and make the work-family relationship work. While today’s workplaces successfully assimilate women who participate on the same terms as men, they remain remarkably resistant to creating more supportive environments that would assist parents – male or female – in balancing the competing demands between work and family. The curious question is why. Williams makes the case that more flexible workplaces would benefit employers and that the U.S. is so far from the norm that it can boast “the most family-hostile public policy in the developed world.”

Where the book moves most significantly beyond Williams’ earlier work is placing the debate over the workplace at the intersection of class and gender. The first part of the book thus retells the story of work-family conflict. The initial chapter takes on the story that while well-educated women are not more likely to drop out of the work place, they may face the most intense choices between the remade ideal of super- mothering (the new helicopter parents) and workplace norms that prize total dedication. The second chapter then tells the often heartbreaking stories of the dilemmas working class parents face; these dilemmas are often not so much about time as flexibility – the inability to make a personal phone call can affect children’s lives.

The middle part of the book links these developments to the remaking of workplace norms of masculinity. In 1965, class had little to do with leisure; executives and union members worked about the same hours. Today, the American elite works longer hours than most of the rest of the world while working class men put in fewer hours than they did in 1965. The new “macho” norm for law firm associates or Silicon Valley engineers is total dedication; for the working class men on an oil rig, it continues to be physical bluster. Williams argues, however, that both competitive norms not only drive women away, they are also bad for business. Industry productivity goes up when the company takes into account the costs of attrition and the lack of cooperation. Workplaces with mixed rather than macho gender norms outproduce the competition.

Williams’ most innovative research addresses class. In the post-industrial world, the poor, racial minorities and recent immigrants who have not yet made their first million may still be Democrats, but the white working class has moved decisively into the conservative camp. She traces liberal politicians’ change in emphasis from economic concerns to cultural issues as a critical source of the alienation that many members of the working class feel: the title of one chapter is “Culture Wars as Class Conflict.”

Indeed, Williams’ brilliant contributions to the emerging literature on class stems from her recognition that the new class antagonisms are less about income – the working class is the middle of the American income distribution – than they are about family and culture, and that a class analysis must focus not just on the haves and the have-nots, but on those in between these two groups. While working class income has held steady, working class families are in crisis. Over the last two decades, the divorce rates for the white working class have continued to rise even as they have fallen substantially for the college educated, and the non-marital birth rate is moving steadily upward even as rates have stabilized for the urban poor. The underlying cause is a growing mismatch between men, women and family expectations. The working class holds more traditional family values than the college educated; yet, working class families need two incomes and the job prospects for working class women now exceed those of the men. Family unfriendly workplaces and a lack of support for childrearing exacerbate the tensions. Yet, the toxic politics of cultural division direct this anger at the prospering creative elite of the information economy, blocking the type of policies that might provide greater assistance to men and women at all income levels.

Joan, you starting working on these issues before the Great Recession. How do you see hard times affecting the relationship between work and family?

137 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Joan C. Williams, Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter”

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

And how do you interpret the election results?

BevW November 7th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Joan, Welcome to the Lake.

June, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Happy to be here.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:04 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 1

I interpret the election as evidence that the Democrats keep falling into the same old trap: Republicans set them up as targets for class conflict, and the Democrats obligingly walk right in.

dakine01 November 7th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Good afternoon Joan and June and welcome to FDL this afternoon.

Joan, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but do have a comment.

When I was in a previous life working for consulting firms, there was always the drive to work obscene hours and anyone who chose not to do so was not a “team player”

When I had people reporting to me, I did try to work with the women and if they needed to take time because the children were sick or needed to go to the doctor, I directed them to take whatever time they needed.

So I guess I was probably part of the problem as the husbands were not even expected to be the caregiver when problems arose.

egregious November 7th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Hello and welcome to Firedoglake – glad you could join us!

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I enjoyed the book and find Joan’s thinking about to bring working class and middle class views on jobs back into the same ballpark. I was disappointed to see little discussion of these issues, however, in the last election. Joan, did you pick up on discussion of work-family balance that I may have missed?

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:07 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 5

Did you have employees who left because of family responsibilities?

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:08 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 5

It’s not just that husbands are not expected to have caregiving responsibilities. If men do show that need to take even a short time off for family care, studies show that they encounter stigma even worse than the stigma that hits mothers. Until we start to discuss, and counter, these gender pressures on men, we cannot jump-start the stalled gender revolution.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:09 pm

What issue would have the Democrats emphasize with the new Congress?

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:11 pm

The statistics do show, though, that men are helping out more, and that families today perceive employment to interfere even more with father’s family lives than mother’s.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:12 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 7

There was none, as far as I know. One key point of my book is that Republicans can turn “family values” into an effective wedge to appeal to working-class Americans because those families believe in traditional family structures and values, and not the post-modern families progressives typically believe in. So the key is to shift our discussion of family values away from IDEALS, onto the DAY TO DAY–given that Americans from rich to poor have such acute work-family conflict.

dakine01 November 7th, 2010 at 2:14 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 8

Not me specifically and not the contracts I was working under. The one good thing was that the employer in question basically had an “unlimited” sick leave policy (trusting folks to be professional) and I would tell the couple of mothers who reported to me that their child’s sickness was justified sick leave in my view and my manager supported that view even if the corporate folks might not have liked it

Plus it was a consulting firm so the main deal was to get the billable hours within the billing period so if it meant one day away and the hours could be made up over a couple of weeks, there was no real problem

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:14 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 10

I think that the Republicans have become so expert at mobilizing class conflict against the Democrats that we are in a no-win situation. We have to begin changing the political culture, rather than expect to jump right into legislation. Besides, nothing will pass in the House anyway~

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:15 pm

I wonder if part of the problem isn’t organization. Union workers voted Democratic dramatically more than non-union workers with the same demographics. Today, the importance of family values may be the use of the churches to mobilize, finance and get out the vote. Without unions, I wonder if there are organizations on the left capable of countering the power of increasingly conservative churches.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:15 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 13

This is the key to work-family conflict in professional jobs. What was a “full time” workweek?

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:17 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 13

Were you able to do this for all employees? Was there a distinction between more professional and more administrative employees?

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:18 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 15

The only two groups of working-class voters who still vote Democratic (that I am aware of) are union members and African-Americans. Both groups are far more likely than Americans ordinarily are to recognize structural inequalities. But, sadly, we can’t wait til unions gain strength to take back America — we are going to have to forge a language to appeal to white working class voters who are not unionized, and not politicized, and may well be anti-union.

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Welcome to FDL. As one of the long term unemployed, (I am fifty, female and without children but have many skills and some in more traditionally masculine areas), I’d be interested in your opinion about how all of this affects the current climate of hiring. You see, I keep getting great interviews only to never hear from them again. I have been full time employed, though not always in the same job, for the past thirty five years but this is a new phenomenon for me.
Thank you.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:20 pm

The other group that shows more promising numbers are those under 29. They do have groups that reinforce their leanings — schools, the daily show, urban bars. (Or so my kids tell me on the latter).

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:20 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 17

Typically, the work-family conflicts of pink collar workers are a bit different from those of professionals. For pink-collar workers, the problem is less often a 50-60 hour workweek, than rigid, highly supervised jobs where they cannot take time off when a child is sick or for a parent-teacher conference…. Was that your experience (no not)?

dakine01 November 7th, 2010 at 2:21 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 17

We really only had one person who was classified as “administrative staff” and she was basically the project managers secretary/”executive assistant” and the two young women who held this position over the five years were childless if I remember correctly – everyone else working these efforts was classified as professional staff. Management consulting firm with DoD contracts.

But I do believe the unlimited sick leave as a corporate policy did apply to both professional staff and admin staff.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:21 pm
In response to Margaret @ 19

I’ve talked to a number of women in Kansas City in your position. Often they come from elsewhere with their husbands and feel overqualified for the positions here. Many of them have started small businesses because they get so fed up with the job market.

dakine01 November 7th, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Officially it was a 40 hour week, but I think the labor rates for billing were actually based on the belief/desire that most folks worked 45 hours per week.

But we only showed and billed 40 hours on the time sheets.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:23 pm
In response to Margaret @ 19

Gender may be playing a role. There are four basic patterns of gender bias.. all explained on the Gender Bias Learning Project (google that to find it). Did you feel any of that, or do you think it’s just the fact of too many people chasing too few jobs?

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:23 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 22

That’s great. When I worked in an office with fixed sick leave, many employees felt entitled to take it for other things. As a professor without fixed hours, we are very reluctant to ever miss a class or important event because of illness — ours or our children. I wonder if you don’t end up with less sick time taken under your system.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:24 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 22

That’s great. Was it PTO or was sick leave separated from vacation. Do you believe that people abused the unlimited leave, or not?

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 2:25 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 23

I’ve concluded that I may have to do the same. I am unmarried however and I have no other means of support to act as a cushion. I have been terribly overqualified for some of the positions I’ve applied for but I’ve still applied. I can’t help but feel that gender stereotypes are playing a role here.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:25 pm

What did happen to work-family balance in this election? In 2008, it seemed to rate very high in the polls as an issue with both parties.

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Did you feel any of that, or do you think it’s just the fact of too many people chasing too few jobs?

I think it’s a combination. See mine @ 28.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:26 pm
In response to Margaret @ 28

I would encourage you to look into it if you can. Some of the women here have done some very creative things, but it’s hard to get started.

fuckno November 7th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

There are plenty of things that will pass in the House, imo. We’ll be witnessing a cooperative love-fest, pushing through anti worker, pro capital legislation, attended by a well orchestrated dog and pony show, and synched to a Funeral March for working americans

dakine01 November 7th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Sick leave was separate from vacation and we did also have a couple of days of PTO outside of both sick time and vacation.

I don’t think folks abused the sick time provision at all (helped along by an overall project manager who was not one of those who watched what time people came and went as long as the job was done and the client was happy)

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

On a different note, someone was asking me today what progressives could do to heal class conflict, and I said the first thing was to stop insulting people. Here are some examples of insults:

1) using terms like white trash or trailer trash

2) making statements that rest on the assumption that people who are uneducated are stupid. Remember Freakonomics? In that book, the author casually assumes that people with more education are smarter. They may well simply have had more opportunities. And that’s just a beginning….

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:29 pm
In response to Margaret @ 30

What’s sad is that older women are an enormous resource. Men seem to lose motivation but women are better employees later in life. Yet, workplaces don’t seem to recognize that.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:30 pm
In response to Margaret @ 28

Here are some clues:

Did you feel people felt you were a poor fit for historically male jobs because you were too feminine?

Or that you were caught between the need not to hide your light under a bushel and the need to be modest?

Peterr November 7th, 2010 at 2:31 pm

As a pastor, I encounter a fairly wide range of folks in my day-to-day conversations with parishioners. Some are executives, others blue collar, others are self-employed, and still others un- or under-employed.

The picture I am getting, relative to the economy, is multi-faceted. In some cases, employers are citing the tough economy for cutting or ending “family friendly” benefits and practices. “We can’t afford that any more . . . it’s a luxury that tight times make impossible to grant . . . we need everyone to tighten their belts.” In most of the stories I hear, this is an honest assessment of the company’s financial situation, though in at least a couple, it is seen as a cover. “They didn’t really like the ‘family-friendly’ stuff, and now they can cut it and say ‘it’s the fault of the economy.’” Demands for working longer hours (including evenings and weekends), for instance, are a consistent part of the story from professionals. “We’ve got to pull together and be more productive, so you have to give up some of your family time for the sake of the company.”

Unstated is the threat: if you don’t, you might get canned — or the whole company might go under and we all lose our jobs.

On the other side of things, when employers are feeling pressured by the economic situation, the last thing they want to do is lose some critical people that they would be forced to replace and retrain — giving the competition a chance to jump ahead of them in the meantime. Thus, keeping these people happy is seen as an important business decision.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:32 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 33

That’s great! Did the single women in that context feel that they had to sacrifice their personal lives to their work demands?

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Of course, the rights has deliberately demonized “liberals” as elitists while the conservative elite — the muliti-millionaires with their bonuses are invisible. The group that the public loves to hate are Wall Street execs. Talk about insensitivity! Yet, although the Republicans support them tooth and nail, they are not seen as the leaders who bankroll conservatism.

bigbrother November 7th, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Families with both parents working, separated or not, face child care expenses. Time is the penalty for low wages. Commute time is a penalty as sustainable communities are not designed in a sprawl housing stock. Latch key children that may see their parents on the weekends. We have a broken system without a sufficient safety net. Heartrending problems that bring psychological damage to kids, parents and relatives. Big topic to take on!

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:33 pm
In response to Peterr @ 37

That’s super-interesting. So does it mean that “superstars” are in a better bargaining position than before the recession, but that everyone else is in a worse position?

bigbrother November 7th, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Northern Europeans opted for 32 hour work week a little less pay.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:35 pm
In response to Peterr @ 37

That’s really interesting. I find it fascinating that as well that Walmart seems to have invested an enormous amount in changing the image of how it treats its workers.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:35 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 39

This is partly because, studies show, the Missing Middle (the middle 53% of Americans, with a median income of $64,000) resent professionals but admire the rich. The Democrats just don’t get that.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:37 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 40

Thanks for raising these issues. Joan has been arguing for over a decade that the notion that we can’t change the workplace is mistaken. It could be better for everyone.

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 2:37 pm

To be honest, I couldn’t tell. One job in particular, I thought I had hit the interview out of the park. Between you and I, I can’t imagine that anybody else the guy interviewed was a qualified as I am but once again, it was a more traditionally masculine job. I have been careful to dress appropriately for the job for which I am applying at the time and the guy I would have been working for seemed relaxed around me but I also saw two of his employees, (potential coworkers), pointing at me and talking behind their hands. I get the sneaking suspicion that after I left, they told the boss that they wouldn’t work for me.

It’s a shame. I would have enjoyed that position and I would have done great things for them.

marymccurnin November 7th, 2010 at 2:37 pm

How soon are we going to see the traditional female jobs like nursing take a dive in pay? Teaching has already been effected but it seems that nursing is still fairly viable in terms of pay.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:37 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 42

Many people would do that here if we had the ability to ask for a decrease in hours with proportionate pay, as exists in The Netherlands. American men who work long hours tend to want a 40 hour week, and American women tend to want to work between 30 – 35 hours… And according to some studies, middle-income women want part time even more than professional women…

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:39 pm
In response to Margaret @ 46

That’s super interesting — but distressing. And illegal.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Right now, though, the polls show that the tea party types feel Wall St. has ripped us all off. When my husband, Bill Black, gives talks about the role of fraud in the financial crisis, he gets a tremendous response from both sides. It’s just not a partisan issue because the Democrats don’t want to take it on.

dakine01 November 7th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I don’t think so. We were a small office (starting at 15 people that grew to 25) plus sharing space with subcontractors so there was a lot of mingling of companies.

And again, for our manager, the primary key was getting the job done and keeping the client happy.

the biggest off hour time hogs were extra corporate required training classes and any work on proposals attempting to build more business and the training was a pain for everyone and the prop work did not usually entail more than a handful of staff on any one effort.

Peterr November 7th, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I take it as more of a “some are more equal than others” kind of thing.

The “superstar” in question might be the hotshot VP, but more often it’s someone like the office manager who works behind the scenes to keep a dozen salespeople connected with their clients, or the warehouse manager who knows every corner of the sprawling storage complex and can find anything you want when you want it.

Says the hypothetical salesperson to the CEO: “I just heard Sue comment that she’s had to work three evenings this week, and missed her kid’s program at school. She’s not going to quit, is she? We really need her, and you’ve got to find a way to get her some help and keep her happy.”

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:40 pm
In response to marymccurnin @ 47

The ironic thing is that when a historically male jobs has trouble recruiting people, they raise the pay. But when a historically female jobs has trouble recruiting, people moan and groan but don’t think about raising the pay. What a job is “really worth” depends in part on the gender of who holds the job.

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

but distressing. And illegal.

Maybe. But ultimately unprovable. I can’t enforce anything based on a sneaking suspicion.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:42 pm
In response to marymccurnin @ 47

What’s driving those jobs now is the fact that state and local government are facing a budge crisis because of the economy. In Missouri, we are looking at a 15% budget shortfall next year. That will touch off a new set of layoffs in teaching, and other state funded activities. If there’s a double dip, it will affect women much more than the last round, which disproportionately affected “male” jobs in construction and manufacturing.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:43 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 50

But didn’t Obama talk about kicking butt and such? Was this theme just not sustained enough? From what I heard Wall Street is furious at him for demonizing them…

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:43 pm
In response to Margaret @ 54

No doubt.

kking November 7th, 2010 at 2:44 pm

In 60 years of life I’ve seen proof that HI IQ and low inttelligence go togeather.Usely missing is common sense.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:44 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 55

It’s true. It was a “mancession” at first, because of the drop in manufacturing, but the recession is getting pinker and pinker now that we see such cuts in government. Is anyone aware of women who have headed back into the workforce because of the recession?

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:45 pm
In response to Margaret @ 54

Proving discrimination IS hard and bringing the case can take a lot out of you. I wonder about looking for temporary or seasonal employment in this market or something that gives you a chance to show how much you can do for an employer. The literature on executives indicates that women produce better results, but manageement still prefers to hire the men.

Peterr November 7th, 2010 at 2:47 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 55

I’m in the KC area as well, and if it’s 15% it will be a miracle. I’m betting on closer to 20%.

And the anti-tax, anti-government forces are on the rise in Jeff City, who will delight in telling anyone who will listen that these layoffs are all proof of government waste, featherbedding by unions, and such. Meanwhile, the TheoCons in Missouri will be cheering them on, suggesting that you women need to be at home anyway, just as God intended.

(And oh, how I wish I was joking about that.)

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:48 pm
In response to kking @ 58

As someone who a supposedly high IQ and too little horse sense I can vouch for that! But the underlying point is that there are a lot of smart people who are working as mechanics, sales staff, admins and building engineers because they did not have the means to get a good education. That does not mean they’re stupid. It’s just means that one of the things that good grades correlate with most tightly is class of origin – and that richer kids are much more likely to go to fancy colleges than are middle class ones. Progressives need to recognize this.

November 7th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

, it was a more traditionally masculine job
Oh, no. You did not just say that. Margaret, that comment makes me uncomfortable in the same way that Dakine’s comment about trying to work with women’s issues did.
It’s hard for me to read this discussion, because it doesn’t seem that we’ve moved very far from the discussions we had in the 60′s and 70′s.
I’m sad. To say the least.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:50 pm
In response to Peterr @ 52

That is super-fascinating, and follows up on the theme that the indispensability of people in historically women’s jobs often does not translate into higher salaries. So are employers more willing to respond to Sue’s family-care needs now, do you think?

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Not I but it seems to me like women, especially middle aged women, are suffering disproportionally through longer periods of unemployment. Maybe that’s because employers think that all of us have husbands to provide and that we should retire early and settle down, helping to raise grandchildren.

I was working in clinical research when I got laid off and those positions don’t have a very high attrition rate apparently and research is the first to suffer in a downturn and the last to recover. Like I said though, I haven’t only tried for research or even sit down jobs. Being fifty and having exactly zero retail and service industry experience I think has really contributed to keeping me out of work. For me, it’s the perfect storm of age, gender, work experience and economic times.

No doubt this knowledge will be a great comfort to me when I’m living under a bridge in January…

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Actually, I just looked at those statistics last week. More men AND women who weren’t working have started looking for work because someone else in their family was laid off, and they’re not being hired, pushing up the unemployment rates. But the figures for men have been more dramatic.

What hasn’t gotten enough attention is that states have balanced budget amendments because they can’t print money. The conventional wisdom has been that the feds should help in times of recession because the federal deficit is a problem only if it fuels inflation (and the FED is so worried about deflation, it deliberately took action last week to cause inflation). In the meantime the Republicans got the measures in the stimulus package removed that would have directly helped states, even though revenue sharing was an idea Republicans thought up and even though economists say that it has the most dramatic impact on jobs.

The jobs that will be most affected next year are in schools, police departments, and state workers generally.

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 2:53 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 60

I wonder about looking for temporary or seasonal employment in this market or something that gives you a chance to show how much you can do for an employer.

I have tried… I am going to exhaust my benefits this month and as I said, I am single with no family. I can’t afford not to look for something, anything that will pay the bills.

Peterr November 7th, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Joan, let me raise another piece of this mess: health insurance.

Does your book get into health insurance issues at all? Again anecdotally, I’ve heard of company after company raising co-pays and deductibles, cutting families out of employer-paid health insurance policies, and taking other steps to shift the burden of health insurance costs from the employer to the employee.

This is happening at a time when people are scared to death of being without health insurance. If you’ve got a two-worker family that suddenly becomes a one-worker family, and that one worker has a job without family insurance, that’s a double hit. You lose the other paycheck, and the insurance that went with it.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
In response to Peterr @ 61

I have been thinking that one thing the Democrats need to do is to work on a form of cognitive bias called “attribution bias.” For 40 years, the Republicans have blamed every scraped knee on government — so that now, the automatic assumption is to do so, and to believe it when others do. Democrats need to reverse that, both by pointing out the good things government does, and the bad results the market can produce. How about a sign picturing bread line during the Depression with a legend: “Wonder why there were no bread lines this time around? Thanks unemployment insurance, brought to you by the American people, and your federal government.”

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 2:56 pm
In response to demi @ 63

Say more. I am not sure I follow you yet…

Peterr November 7th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Some are, but others are not.

It gets back to whether the employers are willing to look at long-term costs like running a job search, hiring a candidate, and getting that person up to speed — and the cost of missed/lost sales opportunities in the meantime — or if they are so focused on the short term costs (# payroll hours this month) that they are unwilling to bring on even a half-time person to save the long-term money they’ll lose.

(As an undergrad, I studied with Dale Mortensen, so you might recognize some of his labor economics theory stuff here.)

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 2:58 pm
In response to Margaret @ 65

These are the type of jobs that suffer most if governments are trying to cut funding. I was on a bus from the airport and met a man who inspects bridges. I asked what he was finding and he said they’re “terrible.” Then, he launched into an attack on welfare as the cause. I was stunned (my mouth dropped and he changed the subject). Welfare spending has been way down since the 1996 reforms and with the recession governments cut the funding for the childcare that allows poor women to be able to stay employed. The lack of money right now reflects the loss of revenues from the recession and the unwillingness to share responsibility for the things that government does. That includes research. Thirty years ago, the government funded almost all medical and basic scientific research. In today’s economy, that research is viewed as a luxury.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:00 pm
In response to Peterr @ 68

This will be one of the blessings of the new health bill. It’s crazy to deliver health insurance through a job link, but that’s water under the bridge. The fact is that now people will not have to be terrified of losing health insurance if they get laid off. So why don’t we see ads of people saying “When I got laid off, we worried about how to cover the bills. But, thanks to the new health insurance bill, soon we won’t have to worry about not having health insurance. I can’t wait til 2014 (or whenever the relevant provision kicks in).”

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Talk about elitist insensitive comments — how about those from Larry Summers of old as well as the Republican leadership that unemployment benefits increase unemployment by persuading workers not to look?

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:01 pm
In response to Peterr @ 71

I am writing a report where I will be talking a lot about this long-term versus short-term type of thinking. Can you recommend some articles or books by him?

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 3:01 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 72

Indeed. My employer was mostly funded by Congress or was until the deficit peacocks took out their knives and the poor investments made by the board came crashing down with the housing bubble.

You know what the hardest thing is for me? The knowledge that the people who made those crappy decisions are still employed.

November 7th, 2010 at 3:01 pm

There was a time when this site was predominately feminist, and some other minorities. This post is not reflective, in this case, of that.
To stay on topic of the Book Salon, I’m wondering why the author choose to include the words Why Men Matter…in a book title. And, further, why we are having this conversation at a blog that was started as a female perspective.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Health care is also one of the reasons employers don’t offer more parttime positions. The cost of benefits can’t be apportioned. Walmart would have loved a single payer plan.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:03 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 74

That’s another good example. And there are the condescending comments by Obama and Howard Dean about guns and religion. Again, these comments reflect the belief that people who did not read Nietzsche in college, and so know that God is Dead, are less intelligent than those who know this Truth.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:04 pm
In response to Margaret @ 76

And were rewarded in the last election. Most of don’t see what went on in Congress but about a third of the stimulus package included tax cuts that rewarded those who lobby Congress. They didn’t lead to the creation of many jobs in comparison with the direct funding of states and local governments.

fuckno November 7th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

How do you pay rising deductibles when you are laid off? Laid of workers would surely like to know.

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 3:06 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 80

…about a third of the stimulus package included tax cuts that rewarded those who lobby Congress.

I’m hip but that has a tendency to happen when lobbyists are allowed to write legislation. I’m not the only one my government has failed but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:07 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 80

It was pretty disappointing. I hike every week on trail built by the WPA and ask myself: why didn’t the stimulus produce more projects like these?

kking November 7th, 2010 at 3:08 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 78

Wasn’t it 71% of the people wanted buy into Medicare that would be the Public Opption.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:08 pm
In response to Margaret @ 82

No doubt the government should have done better. But isn’t it your employer, and the employers who won’t hire you (perhaps in part because of gender) who have really put you in this painful position?

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:09 pm

The sad thing, though, is that all Obama is doing is playing defense. During the election, I went to hear Michelle Obama and she had a well orchestrated rally emphasizing the identification with single mothers, workers burdened by college debts, and those driven into bankruptcy by health care costs. That message doesn’t come through. The local Republicans here ran against Obama the job killer, presumably because of the deficit. But this story has as much truth to it as death panels.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:09 pm
In response to kking @ 84

Wow is that true? How come I never heard about that? Isn’t that an example of the Democrats not getting their message out to the people (or do I just not read the papers enough).

nonquixote November 7th, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I hope I am not misunderstanding you, but I was priced out of health insurance years ago, I am not looking forward to being forced to buy insurance that doesn’t automatically guarantee access to HEALTH CARE, with no caps on premiums ever. I’ll be in a position of being forced to buy insurance that will put me out of a shelter and food. What kind of choice is that?

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Yes, of course it was but the government has been too busy scratching the backs of their patrons to worry about me or any of the other fifteen million plus people who are jobless.

I can’t help but notice that Wall Street once again paid their executives record bonuses and that the banks have turned in record profits.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:12 pm
In response to kking @ 84

Yes. I spoke to a friend who’s a doctor. They hate Medicare and they hate Obamacare. When I said the real problem is the insurance companies — a hugh bureaucracy, which unlike the govt is motivated only by greed — my doctor friend agreed completely. But NO ONE in Washington is willing to take on the insurance companies. So Obama gave up on that before he started; he thinks that it’s why the Clintons lost and he’s probably right.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:13 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 86

I don’t Obama. I blame the last 40 years. The Democrats need to understand that they have been class-bated, and to think systematically about how to create a new narrative. Take David Brooks’ op-ed yesterday in the New York Times. Why are we letting Republicans carry to flag for ending the sharp increase in economic insecurity for middle-class Americans. Margaret is not the only one.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:15 pm
In response to Margaret @ 89

Yes, Margaret, it’s infuriating. Another theme the Democrats need to stress: that what Republicans want is to privitize investment profits and socialize investment risk. This could be the theme when Republicans attack the new banking regulation statute — and if it had been the theme to begin with, perhaps we could have gotten a whole lot stronger statute.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:15 pm
In response to Margaret @ 89

You should also the current system SUBSIDIZES the cadillac heath care system for executives that encourage doctors to invest in the practices that drive up costs. There’s actually legislation that prohibits hospitals from offering lower prices to people who can’t pay.

nycterrierist November 7th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

But what if the recently laid-off person can’t afford to buy
the mandated, non-cost-controlled insurance – precisely because
they are now without an income?

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

The Democrats didn’t WANT to get that message out. The whole thing was a kabuki dance that ultimately rewarded the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. How can it be otherwise in a bill that creates an enforcement framework for individuals who refuse to buy private health insurance but doesn’t provide an enforcement framework for the companies when they break the rules? Once again, the rules are for the chumps who didn’t have the foresight to become wealthy, not for the people who schmooze with the bigwigs.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:16 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 90

I am not usually speechless. But what you say is true, and very depressing.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:17 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 93

Okay, we are working out a campaign here to defend health reform. That’s a great talking point.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Yes, what no one realizes is that the administration has used accounting gimicks to hide the losses in the large banks. And while the Dodd-Frank bill is an improvement, there is no political will to deal with Citibank or Bank of America or the other institutions that helped cause the crisis.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:18 pm
In response to nycterrierist @ 94

Yikes. I don’t know. What happens then in the new bill, does anyone know? I assume there are breaks for unemployed. If there aren’t then that’s Kafkaesque

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:20 pm
In response to Margaret @ 95

I didn’t know that either. (I am not a health care expert or even, it seems, moderately well informed.) Is that what the bill does?

Peterr November 7th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

The best I can do is point you to his CV, and suggest you look at the titles there to find what would be most relevant to you. Some I know are highly mathematical and theoretical, while others are more empirically based. It’s been quite a while since I studied with him, and in my move from economics to theology I haven’t kept up on his work — other than to cheer madly when he and two others shared this year’s Nobel prize.

You might also simply send him an email. He absolutely delights in multi-disciplinary work, so bringing his work into your field is something he would find most appropriate.

[Note: to others interested in what Mortensen's work entailed, see here.]

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I wanted to start another line of conversation. The statistics show that the revolution in gender roles has stalled: women’s workforce participation stalled out in the 1990s, as did men’s household contributions. One argument is my book is that a key reason for this is that we have never adequately discussed the gender pressures on men to be ideal workers — always available to their employers. And that we need to start one now, beginning by reassessing our tendency to measure masculinity by the size of a paycheck. Anybody agree or disagree?

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 3:24 pm

The bill provides for penalties for people who refuse to buy into the system yet all it does is provide state insurance commissions with money to “monitor” compliance by the health insurance providers. If a state insurance commission is stocked with and run by insurance company insiders and allies as it is in Texas for example, there is no compulsory enforcement. I guess that the DoJ would have the right to sue but really, what kind of a solution is that?

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Yes, the great myth is that the current health care system is a system created by market incentives. It’s not. It reflects tax subsidies that benefit the richest Americans the most, and very complex regulations that require that emergency rooms take anyone who walks in the door even if they can’t pay. The government should then help out the emergency rooms, but it doesn’t. Instead, it passes regulations that help hospitals get money from whatever private sources they can. That’s why the health care bill has to mandate insurance payments. The system would be less expensive IF either everyone had insurance (it’s mostly young health adults and poor children who don’t) and paid in, or with a single payer system. Over 30% of health care costs in the US go to paperwork, the highest in the industrialist world and that’s because of the insurance companies. If I could pass one measure, it would be a single FORM system.

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I agree with that. I think it has to do with both the availability of men, (being as they don’t reproduce), and the relatively cheaper cost to ensure them. Employers are going to find every way they can to squeeze the most money they can.

nycterrierist November 7th, 2010 at 3:27 pm
In response to fuckno @ 81


Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

We’re getting a bit wonky on the health care issue. One thing the Republicans do well is to keep stressing a central narrative theme, rather than spinning off into detailed debates about specific policy issues. Here’s a theme: Hard work rewarded. What we want to build is a new American in which hard work is rewarded. This week’s installment of that theme is that where we’ve exported jobs, we need to export goods made by hardworking Americans — so that the folks who took our jobs will buy our goods. Thoughts?

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

And we argue that the change in men’s roles has also fueled divorce. Men who don’t earn that much but still sit on the couch or hang out with the boys have very high divorce rates, especially if their wives feel they have to work to make up the difference.

nonquixote November 7th, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Self-employed in manual trades since 1978, I married late, took on a step-child and we soon had a child together in our family. I provided 85% of our income, took on at least 50 percent of the child-rearing of both children and having been single into my 40′s I was not unfamiliar with all the rest of the household chores, cooking to cleaning and did at least half of those in the marriage. I don’t think that I may fit any of the tendencies that you might be re-assessing here.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:32 pm
In response to nycterrierist @ 106

But often employers need not just any body, but the best candidate. And that candidate may not be a man married to a homemaker, or someone without children, but an adult with child (or elder) care responsibilies. Also, given that it’s illegal to hire only men, employers will have to hire women, and then see one after another leave after they have children. That does’t make economic sense.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Excellent idea. I was talking to friend who used to work in San Jose. He said that the venture capitalists used to insist that companies outsource jobs. Now, though, they’re finding that China has gotten more expensive and there’s no quality control, while US workers are more reliable. Some of the jobs are coming back to San Jose. Joan do you know if there’s much effort to encourage that?

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:34 pm
In response to nonquixote @ 109

Indeed you don’t! What you represent is the shift in men’s roles and attitudes. Are the guys you work around in the same position as you are?

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:35 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 111

I don’t but you or I should blog about it, June, and urge the Democrats to make this a theme.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:35 pm
In response to nonquixote @ 109

Good for you. I do research on families and we’re finding that your model is the one that is working — couples who are flexible enough to do what the family needs as they change over time.

nycterrierist November 7th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Confused here. Perhaps you’re replying
to someone else’s comment?

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:38 pm

What we haven’t talked about is the media. Joan, I think you did a wonderful job on the myth of educated women leaving the workforce — they haven’t — and the failure to pay to attention to the costs of not allowing mothers to make a phone call at work or take time off for a sick child. How do you deal with the 24 hour news cycle that seems to have more time for flashy falsehoods that stories about less powerful people?

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:40 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 114

What are other ideas about how to develop the theme that the Democrats need to make sure hard work is rewarded? How about refusing to socialize banking losses and privitize bank’s profits– which should be taxed as a way to gain control over the deficit created when we socialized their losses through TARP?

spocko November 7th, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Yes, gender pressure for men to be ideal workers is there. However I know a lot of women who felt the same way.

You mention Silicon Valley. When I was working for a couple of “go-go” companies there was a real sense of “macho” braging about how much work you did. Crazy hours. And it led me to severe burn out. For some men that pressure is translated to physical death. I think that had I not lived in Califoria with healthy eating and exercise I would have just died of a heart attack.

Peole who knew me then talked about how hard I worked and how much I took on, what they didn’t see is the price I evenually paid in burn out. But I kept at it because of a little mid-west Mantra in my head, “I’m sure there are plenty of homeless people who would love to have your little burn out problem.”

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I have been thinking about a report about how the press covers working class whites. I’ll bet that would be sobering. I think the Democrats have to accept the new cycle as it is. Pick a theme like Hard Work Rewarded, and build on it every day, with discipline, the way Republicans have.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:44 pm
In response to spocko @ 118

Loved your comment. Why do people work so hard. Is it partly about macho posturing — a way of showing “mine’s bigger than yours” for the men, and “anything you can do I can do backwards and in high heels” for the women?

nonquixote November 7th, 2010 at 3:45 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 114

Depends on your definition of “working.” My spouse left, happily and luckily I retained custody of my child, I had pretty much given up my self-employment income and business as it had been functioning to be there for my child. Now my child is a teen and I am trying to re-start my business with the ability to again put that time back into a business, only trouble is that my industry, housing, is in the tank.

Peterr November 7th, 2010 at 3:47 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 116

More and more, the television media operates on an advertising-driven mindset of gender roles. For example, NBC’s Today Show has gone more and more into the “we’re here to talk to stay-at-home moms” mindset, and given up on appeals to a broader audience that they once had in the past (say, 10-15 years ago). Stories of missing white women, children at risk (from just about anything), and such predominate, while broader conversation are absent.

When marketing drives the media, and marketers see their best money spent on reaching particular audience niches (women 29-35, men 65+, etc.), that will by definition reward shows that deliver the most desirable niche audience — and reinforce the gender role mentality in the process. “This is what women want to see, so that’s what we’ll program.”

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:48 pm

The Administration is still terrified that recognition of the losses will touch off another economic freefall. The banks may be reporting profits, but that’s only because the Administration adopted a system that says they don’t have to report losses until they actually sell or foreclose on mortgages. That creates an incentive not to foreclose, leaving lots of homes where the ownners aren’t paying anything and not making repairs.

In the meantime, Fannie and Freddie and the large banks hold the underwater securities. The profits the large banks report are a product of accounting fictions. Any taxes on them would be funded by more accounting fictions. If they reported the truth, though, it would bankrupt the FDIC fund, because the FDIC would have to put them out of existence.

Investment banks like Goldman Saks are another matter, but the reason the beneficiaries have paid back the TARP funds so quickly is so they could be freed of government restrictions.

The big issue as I see it is inequality. Bob Frank’s work suggests that it is distorting everything — politics, health care, the banks, marriage and divorce. We should have higher taxes on the top, but politically I don’t see it happening.

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

That’s the risk of a model where one adult cuts back, while the other lives up to ideal-worker standards. Not only does the ideal worker often risk becoming marginal to family life — or even risk death from overwork, as the comment above indicates–but the adult who focuses on family care places herself (it almost always is a her) and her children in an economically vulnerable position. Take heart! The housing market can’t tank forever…

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:51 pm
In response to spocko @ 118

Yes. Silicon Valley was definitely like that. In 1965, top workers and less educated workers put in the same number of hours. Today, they’re radically different. The average US worker does not work that many hours, but the top 10% of men and and higher percentage of workers put in incredibly long hours and are in jobs where that’s expected. At the same time, less educated workers today tend to be underemployed. The men at least would like to work more and can’t find the jobs.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:53 pm
In response to nonquixote @ 121

Housing is tough. My cousin has been trying to buy a house in Riverside, CA, the heart of the subprime crisis and can’t find much on the market. Housing can’t recover until either the banks clear out the people who can’t pay or give them more security. Why put money in a house if you think you’re going to lose it, and why buy a house if the market should go down further. My father used to do construction and it was feast or famine.

BevW November 7th, 2010 at 3:54 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Joan, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and Work-Family Issues.

June, Thank you for returning to FDL and Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:
Joan’s website, book
June’s website, book

Thanks all,
Have a great week!

Joan C. Williams November 7th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
In response to June Carbone @ 123

It’s true that the problem, from six different directions, is inequality. Globalization is good in the sense that it is flattening the inequality between “developing” and “developed” nations, but bad in the sense that it is the poor and middle class who are paying the price, becoming impoverished as they compete with people in less developed countries. And the reason class conflict has driven American politics for the last 40 years is that the wages of working-class families have fallen 13% since the 1970s — despite the fact that wives joined the workforce. We need to start a conversation about socialinequality if we are not to be constantly fighting the epi-phenomena that stem from it, without making the inequality itself a political issue.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:56 pm
In response to Peterr @ 122

You’re right. Joan has done a wonderful job in the book of showing how women reporters who identify with the stories of moms who lose their children because they’re working or who quit, after getting a prestigious job, reflect the reporter’s ideas not what’s really happening. It actually makes me miss the “old boys’ club” — three networks who had the ability to pursue the stories they thought that the country needed to hear.

June Carbone November 7th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Thank you to Joan and to the audience. We’ve had lively comments.

Peterr November 7th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Joan and June, thanks for this wonderful discussion!

Margaret November 7th, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Thank you for the great conversation!

spurious November 7th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Yes, thanks!

nonquixote November 7th, 2010 at 4:03 pm

I appreciate your comments and will look for your book, through our local public library. Thank you for being here and allowing us your kind attention.

spocko November 7th, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Good question. Multiple answers. Peer pressure. Corporate expectations.
Catholic Guilt. Fear. Lots of fear in the early years when I started (during the last high unemployment cycle in CA in 1981) I knew that “real people” (aka Standford grads) were having problems finding work. I wasn’t as smart as a Standard grad so all I had was hard work.

At one point the scale shifted where I was providing more value than I was getting financially and the economy was better, people weren’t begging for jobs, so I was able to ask for more money, instead of time off (which is what I really needed).

The same environment that I entered in 1981 in CA is replicating itself today, companies know that they can get better workers for less money who will work harder until they die. That’s great for the “shareholders” but not so great for the physical health of the workers.

If the economy improves people who keep working hard won’t start relaxing. They, like our grandparents during the Depression, will hold onto that “work till you drop” mindset. Some of us worked until we had to drop out. It was that or die from early stress related diseases.

spocko November 7th, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Sorry about the mispelling. I’ll bet a Stanford grad wouldn’t make those!

RevBev November 7th, 2010 at 5:22 pm

This is core message in the Superman movie…very depressing.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post