I'm back from hiatus, with a BIG topic today. It is so big, it will probably spill over to other entries on other days.
As oft pointed out on The Rational Radical website, blaming the poor for their own poverty is a popular right wing technique. This survey shows how prevalent these views are. I believe this goes even farther - blame the victims. Many ultra-conservatives blame minorities for racism, blame women for sexism, blame the third world for colonialism, blame murder victims for being killed... it goes on and on. What's next, blaming children for child abuse? It's only a small logical step away.
This is a pretty big topic, so I'll only discuss a few highlights today.
Firstly, let's examine the blame the poor argument as it applies to women.
There is a rather strange prevailing thought which assumes that poverty is the direct cause of specific negative personality traits, such as laziness. Often a moral correlation is also assumed, so that wealth can be seen as an indication of moral worthiness. The "blame the poor" argument often stems from this. It is assumed that money is EARNED by those who deserve it. Therefore if is poor, one does not deserve money. Poor people are lazy and morally corrupt.
The poverty rate among women in the USA is higher than the poverty rate among men. In 2001, 11.6% of adult women compared to 8.5% of adult men (ages 18-65) live in poverty, and, significantly the disparity increases among senior citizens: 12.4% of women compared to 7.0% of men (65 and over) live in poverty. Is this because women are lazy? They don't work as hard as men? Women are morally corrupt? They do not deserve to have money? Any woman reading this is likely laughing right now. On average, women work at least as hard (some will say harder and longer hours) than men. The idea that women are morally corrupt hardly is worth commenting on. To those who believe that, there isn't much to say.
So let's look at some real causes of poverty among women.
Unequitable pay. Women employed full time still make less than their male counterparts, approximately 75% of the wages men make. (excellent article on this).
In 2003, the median income for men was $40,668 and for women was $30,724. Why? One reason is that often women are unlikely to be promoted, and stay at low wage jobs much longer than men. Middle management positions are much more likely to go to men rather than women. Most employers treat women who are mothers very differently from men who are fathers. Women may need maternity leave, which highly reduces the likelihood of promotion.
Also, the jobs in which women are overrepresented are traditionally low paid. Cashiers, housekeepers, receptionists, waitresses, child care, etc. are still overwhelmingly female. Many of these jobs pay minimum wage, which in most parts of the USA, is well below what is needed to keep a family out of poverty. Can you truly say that a male office worker in middle management works any harder than a female cashier at walmart? That a female housekeeper is lazy compared to a male janitor? Could the pay disparity be reflected in the value of their work? Is a nanny's work, caring for our future generation of kids, less important than, say, a welder's work? Is the nanny lazy or morally corrupt while the welder is a hardworking upright citizen?
The working status of women. Families headed by a single woman have a 26.4% poverty rate. That means more than 1 in 4 of all single mother headed families are poor. Being the single female head of household means often choosing between caring for the family and gainful employment. Without adequate and affordable child care, the choice actually becomes moot. Even if they want to and are able to work full time, single mothers are often stigmatized, and have hard time getting well paid employment, even with high levels of education and experience.
Does any of this mean that women are more lazy or morally corrupt than men? If anything it means women work harder for less! It is an unjust and meaningless argument.
I've hard arguments with people who say that being a single mother is a choice. They point to the high divorce rate, and teen pregnancy as a cause of women's poverty. While statistically this is absolutely true, does it not mean that these unfortunate individuals should be helped? Are they less deserving of a decent existence than a woman married to a wealthy husband?
The effects of poverty among women are serious, and as so often happens, children are disproportionately affected. The crime rate is far higher among children from poor households. Health is far worse. Education levels are lower. All of these things only perpetuate the cycle, as it is statistically very difficult, nearly impossible, for children to rise far beyond the economic level of their parents.
When ultra-conservatives say they are pro-family, I wonder why they are against policies to help the majority of families (who are low and middle class). Policies to help poverty among women, such as inexpensive child care, more progressive taxation, stronger wage laws, national health care, and housing subsidies, are frequently blocked. The "blame the victim" strategy simply provides a smokescreen for the greed that truly lies behind the blockage of these policies.
(All stats from US Census, 2003 and 2004)
To be continued (next to study "blame the minorities")
More on Poverty and Class Issues and Family & Women's Issues.