Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The End of Men and the Rise of Women

Hanna Rosin, The End of Men and the Rise of Women, (NY: Riverhead Books, 2012), 271 pages, $27.95

Think of The End of Men and the Rise of Women as a labor economics book with a narrow focus on gender and jobs. Rosin compares men and women as job seekers and job holders after 40 years of feminism and a decline of gender discrimination.

The book opens with an introductory chapter that defines plastic women and cardboard men. A plastic women is the stay at home mom of the 1950’s transformed into an assertive college educated women who keeps her old role as mother and homemaker while succeeding in a career and taking over the role of breadwinner. Cardboard man hopes he can hold on to the past. He wants to keep defining manliness from work and the role of breadwinner even though manliness defined that way only matter in the major league team sports. These become the stock characters to compare and contrast with the people and families we meet in narrative material divided into seven chapters and a brief conclusion.

In the chapter, Hearts of Steel, we meet young single women experimenting in a hook up sub-culture and what can happen to sexual roles in college and work when women compete for jobs and status formerly reserved for men.

The next chapter, Seesaw Marriage, explores old and new gender roles in marriage and family with more varied material than other chapters. There is discussion of gender in old and new television shows, the literary work of Sylvia Plath, Philip Roth, and the Richard Yates novel Revolutionary Road set in boring suburbia with a settled husband and a frustrated but adventurous wife. Of course it ends badly, but that’s the point.

Rosin also cites a sociology study from the 1930’s titled the Unemployed Man and his Family, an era when the men were either providers or failures. A few quotes come from the interviews with 59 depression era families. One wife said “What a woman wants in a husband is a good steady worker who will support the family.” When the interviewer asked how she felt about her husband’s unemployment she said “Certainly I lost my love for him.” Her husband accepted that he was a “fallen idol.”

Seesaw Marriage includes a mix of interviews with contemporary couples. David and his live in girlfriend Clare have degrees and jobs but David feels discomfort with the dads he sees at the playground. “Yeah it haunts me. It doesn’t matter how Brooklyn-progressive we are we still think he’s pitifully emasculated. I’m progressive and enlightened, and on an ideological political level. I believe in that guy. I want that guy to exist. I just don’t want to be that guy.”

Rosin finally asks David: Why? He says “It’s certainly not resentment.”

“And it’s not really confusion.”

“I don’t think I could categorize my feelings about my situation as either positive or negative.”

Then “It’s because our team is losing. All the things we need to be good at to thrive in the world we imagine existing ten or twenty or even fifty years from now are things that my female friends and competitors are better at than me. Than us. And I am loath to tell that to someone who is going to put it in print, but it’s true.”

The remaining chapters focus mostly on women, their career ambitions, how they cope with the responsibilities they are taking on, and how they deal with the men in their lives. We go to Alexander City, Alabama where many wives took over the bread winner role after Russell Athletic Ware Inc. closed up and left the country. The chapter titled Pharm Girls highlights the lives of some of the 64 percent of women earning pharmacy degrees. In Degrees of Difference we learn men make up a minority of college graduates while women pursue degree skills with a determined and single minded purpose.

Women wrestle with the trade offs of career and family in the last two chapters. A woman in a white house job got a call from her boss about 8:00 PM. He demanded to know why she was home and not at work. “I’m putting my children to bed.” He wanted to know if it was some sort of emergency. These last two chapters review the feelings of women confronted with those tradeoffs: American women in one chapter, South Korean women in the other.

The book reads easily as journalism with interviews and elements of academic research that includes citations of data and from previous work in books and journals. Except for a chapter on women and crime the narrative does not stray into other areas or topics. Some of the women interviewed for the book sound wistful and sentimental more than angry or resentful, but all sound determined to press on. I do not recall anyone looking backward.

Reading through the narrative I gradually decided the book is an invitation to think about gender roles in a service economy. The author ends the interview of David without comment, which I took as a hint to her own opinion, but the book primarily describes the declining condition of men and personal feelings of women without the heavy hand of instruction. Near the end Rosin tells readers she would not cook dinner while her husband drinks beer, but that is about it for advice.

There was a time when families depended on the physical strengths and skills of the mister, which helped define their masculinity. Those days are over but competition for money and status on the job was always a wearing and destructive substitute. The End of Men and the Rise of Women makes that much clear, but no answers on gender roles. Possibly real men drink beer before they cook dinner, but I’m not sure. You’ll have to think it over.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Virginia Money

In the Chicken Little folk tale, Chicken Little becomes hysterical along with friends Henny Penny, Lucky Ducky, and Foxey Loxey when they all agree the sky is falling. In Virginia, delegate Robert G. Marshall believes the Federal Reserve Bank will bring financial hysteria with hyper inflation like Germany after WWI. He wants to protect Virginians by having a new Virginia currency. [Virginia-only currency one step closer to reality” 2/6/13] He got the Virginia legislature to allocate $17,440 to study a metallic-based currency for Virginia. He was quoted to say “This is a serious study about a serious topic. We’re not completely powerless.”

As every good capitalist knows the value of money is determined by the supply of it relative to its demand for needed transactions. Obsessive worriers like Delegate Marshall think money has to be a supply of something they can pick up and store: commodity money. In this worry Delegate Marshall acts like everyone else: the worriers all want their metallic base to be gold.

To protect themselves from inflation and rising prices with a metallic-based currency, Virginians will need to be able to exchange their inflation devalued currency for gold at a fixed price. If Delegate Marshall could exchange a unit of Virginia currency for an ounce of gold at a known price he would have gold that might hold its value, or rise in value, to protect from the rising price of cars, clothes and corn flakes that devalues his currency.

If Delegate Marshall was a little more curious he would ask himself how the Virginia treasurer happens to have an inventory of gold ready to exchange with a line up of worried citizens. If Delegate Marshall would ask himself how Virginia could remain ready to exchange gold at a fixed price if the market price of gold goes up, he might notice a problem with a metallic standard. After all gold is a commodity like cars, clothes and corn flakes, all subject to rising prices.

If the market price of gold starts to rise there might be someone who would show up at the Virginia treasury to exchange their currency for an ounce of gold to resell it for a profit at the higher market price. The line might be long and drain the gold out of the Virginia treasury ending the metallic-based standard.

I wonder why Delegate Marshall wants to worry so much about something that is not happening. Inflation rates are low, generally below two percent where they have been for over a decade. I wonder why Delegate Marshall wants to worry about the Federal Reserve Bank when it bailed out the rogues and scoundrels who engineered the financial collapse of 2008. I am certain though this piece qualifies as a study of the metallic based standard, which is why I expect to receive that $17,440. My bill will be in the mail shortly.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A 2013 Job Review

The Bureau of Labor Statistics published its January report showing a seasonally adjusted December increase of 155 thousand jobs. The increase for the 12 months ending December 2012 is 1.836 million jobs, a respectable, but hardly spectacular increase for the year. The job totals for 2012 will be subject to review and possible revision next month, but the end of the year totals gives an opportunity to make an assessment of job growth for the future.

During the recession jobs declined 8.78 million from January 2008 until February of 2010. After the turnaround beginning March 2010 jobs are up 4.78 million to just over 134 million for December 2012. If we have 26 months in a row with 155 thousand new jobs, America will have just over 138 million jobs, which will bring jobs in March 2015 up to jobs in January 2008.

Through the recession months government employment and the share of government employment in total employment continued to rise while manufacturing employment and the share of manufacturing employment in total employment continued to fall. Manufacturing had its highest employment in 1979 followed by nearly unbroken decline until the end of February 2010.

After March 2010 when jobs started to recover manufacturing and government service reversed their long term employment trends. Government including education lost 546 thousand jobs while manufacturing gained 526 thousand. In 2012 manufacturing gained 180 thousand jobs while government lost 68 thousand jobs.

The unexpected increase in manufacturing helped provide a higher job total for the year ending December 2012. The increase in manufacturing gives a reason to be optimistic for 2013, but unfortunately much of the other 2012 gains came in service sectors that also did much better than their long term trends. For example, wholesale and retail trade added 260 thousand jobs for the 12 months ending December 2012, but their average annual increase for the last 22 years including 2012 is 94 thousand. The last 12 years including 2012 did not have job gains, but losses that averaged 65.1 thousand a year.

Trade uses computing technology that holds down job growth, but other service sectors like finance, insurance and real estate also have long term trends with slow growth as a result of computing technology. In the process of recovery from the 2008 recession all of them did much better in 2012 than their long term growth rates. Finance, insurance and real estate gained thousand 80 thousand more jobs than their long term trends would suggest.

If all sectors of the economy in goods production, private service providing industries, and government return to growth at their long term trends then 2013 job growth will have only 1.475 million more jobs, 360 thousand below the gains for 2012. It will be a slow year for jobs if that happens.

If manufacturing repeats last year’s gain and adds 180 thousand jobs and government does not decline further, while the rest of goods production and service industries grow at their long term trend then 2013 with have 1.691 million more jobs; better but still 144 thousand jobs below the 2012 gains.

Health care has been a mainstay of job growth for two decades, but last year’s increase of 391 thousand new jobs was below long term trends. Health care will add 477 thousand new jobs by December 2013 if health care industry jobs grow at their 1990 to 2012 growth rate of 2.78 percent. Lately though, health care has slowed down and last year jobs were up only 2.15 percent for the year. The time to assume health care will contribute the largest share of replacement jobs may be coming to an end. Other sectors like manufacturing and professional services will need to play a bigger role in job growth if America can meet the job needs of the future.

The recent decision on federal taxes that was part of the fiscal cliff negotiations will not help job growth. The two percent reduction in social security taxes ends. Social security taxes go up 2 percent, but the new rate schedule for the personal income tax does not reduce rates enough for a reduction in combined federal taxes. Based on the tax rate changes published in the Washington Post wage earners earning up to $60,000 will pay as much as $1,000 more in 2013 than they did in 2012.

The fiscal cliff solution makes another year with 1.836 million new jobs a doubtful forecast. Americans will need more buying power to keep the job mill going another year. To match last year’s performance for 2013 will be problematic without a continuing recovery in manufacturing, and without an unexpected boost from another service sector or sectors. Expect less.