In the past 24 hours I've come across three items in two major newspapers that are totally unrelated, but in light of each other, suggest to me that women's status in the US may be sliding back faster than it is moving forward. Maybe you'll agree?
The first is an column by Dana Milbank, a political writer at the Washington Post, entitled Courts Reap What They Sow. The primary message is that recent decisions of the US Supreme Court have allowed those with wealth and power to exert tremendous influence in elections, the selection of candidates, and the shaping of policies. This ocean of cash flows towards a single goal -- decreasing the oversight of governmental authorities, through regulation, law enforcement, and the operation of the courts. Now the federal courts can't get the money they need to operate properly because of the focus on budget cutting, unleashed and empowered by their own decisions.
Those with the means to buy influence are interested in strengthening their own position rather than promoting equality of opportunity and increasing social mobility. It does not serve their purposes to diversify the interests represented in decision-making entities like corporate boards, state and local governments, federal agencies and the US Congress. Milbank writes, "The unchecked flood of cash goes to fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and even liberal groups, but the bulk goes toward electing candidates devoted to shrinking the federal government. That, and partisan redistricting also blessed by the Supreme Court, has created a situation in which Republican lawmakers in Congress know that they’ll lose their jobs only if they get beaten in primaries for being insufficiently militant about shrinking government."
The second item I found was a slideshow in the Sunday New York Times entitled Making a Living (And a Life) Abroad. Five people were briefly profiled, giving their reasons for deciding to work outside the US. The one that caught my eye was a 30 year old mother from Cincinnati. She explained why she'd taken a job with a software firm in Brussels. “As an employee and single mother, I always wonder what would happen if I became horribly ill in the U.S. and could not work. There is a certain amount of comfort and security knowing that if I were to become really ill in Europe, the health care system and social welfare system would help prevent me from losing my income.” (emphasis added)
The final bit which got all my wheels turning was tiny snippet from the Washington Post called "By the Numbers ", which contained the following factoid: "More abortion restrictions were passed from 2011 - 2013 than in the entire previous decade." Almost half of these 205 new state laws did one of three things: imposed new requirements on abortion providers, prohibited abortions after 20 weeks, and placed restrictions on medical abortions.
So, what is the effect of each of these events on the others?
While the intersection of money and politics may not be news, the money is getting so very much bigger than ever before. The effect of this cash on government is readily apparent - congressional paralysis, sequester cuts in programs that feed and house the homeless, the unemployed, and the education of very young children. What should we expect in our next chance to use our influence on the government by casting our votes? Long before you walk into the voting booth with your kids next November to exercise the ultimate right of representative government, the issues have already been framed, the media has been saturated, and the campaigns have been paid for by people you never see. Your ability to evaluate the arguments of each party and the effectiveness of each candidate is compromised because the information you've been given is neither complete, accurate or objective.
What may happen to women? We don't appear in sufficient numbers on policy-making bodies to broaden the issues and widen the field of possible solutions. Can we hope to change policy regarding our economic prospects and propel ourselves to positions of power? The pro-business interests have shown little enthusiasm for the imposition of workplace standards that we will need to level the playing field, like paid leave, paid sick days, access to affordable and high quality child care, and equal pay. Perhaps by shrinking the government, "big money" stakeholders hope never to have to confront these challenges to their control over the workplace?
There is one exception to the "shrink the government" drumbeat. In dozens of states, governmental involvement in determining a woman's maternity has increased dramatically as those 205 new bills attest. It does not stretch my imagination at all to see moving abroad where paid maternity leave is available and child care affordable and excellent. It could be a savvy move for any mother desiring economic stability. After all, nearly half of all births now in the US are to unmarried mothers. Facing the headwinds of a culture in which they do not share power, or wealth, and encountering restrictions on fundamental decisions affecting themselves and their children, might be enough to blow those with talent, education, and good prospects over the border. The consequences for the economy and quality of life in this country could be appalling.
Losing workers is bad. Losing workers with children is much, much worse. Are we sure this is the direction we should be headed?
'Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
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