February 22nd, 2010

ramblings about people I don't know

I was at Julie's Place last night with T., who had, as usual, a waffle and chocolate milk while I had, equally as usual, vegetable soup, decaf tea and toast. The table across the aisle had two women and one man carrying on an earnest conversation about Life. One of the nuggets of wisdom offered up by one of the women: I start out thinking, I'm going to change, but then I do things I know I shouldn't be doing. [Hmmm. Wonder what juicy confession will follow? Drinks too much, maybe? Hopefully this isn't a small NA group; that could get a little weird. I mean, I'm _pretty_ sure T. has limited understanding of this kind of stuff, but you never know.] Like, I go into a casino. [Ruh roh.] And that's okay, if you have a little extra money [but dangerous]. I just have to remember that's not a way to get ahead.

This _is_ wisdom. This is _not_ dangerous, no matter how tender the ears. But yowza. Yeah, that's an important thing to know; I guess it always worries me when that's on the list of salient things to keep track of.

I remember reading, again, recently, that when The Grapes of Wrath (the film) was seen in Eastern bloc nations, viewers were puzzled. How can they be poor, they wondered. They have cars!

With that firmly in mind, I offer a link to the NYT's article "The New Poor", which is about the added fraction of people who will be chronically under- and un-employed going forward (this isn't new; it happens every time there's a recession; however the effect is probably a lot bigger and more national this time, instead of being isolated geographically to a region where all the jobs got up and ran away to pick on people who live further south).


At 4 pages online, the article is worth the time, but it weirded me out. Ms. Eisen (who is, I feel sure, a generally responsible and decent woman), has been unemployed for a couple years now, relying upon food from a church.

[quote begins here]When her name is called, she steps into a windowless alcove, where a smiling woman hands her three bags of groceries: carrots, potatoes, bread, cheese and a hunk of frozen meat.

“Haven’t we got a lot to be thankful for?” Ms. Eisen asks.

For one thing, no pinto beans.

“I’ve got 10 bags of pinto beans,” she says. “And I have no clue how to cook a pinto bean.”[quote ends here]

Her husband and her adult daughter are on disability. She has been unemployed for two years. True, her car broke down recently, but presumably before that she had the ability to get to a library. She says she's going to e-mail a couple job prospects, so she has some access to computers. And in all that time, with 10 bags of pinto beans, she couldn't be troubled to learn how to cook them? For that matter, her _husband_ couldn't be troubled to learn how to cook them?

My mother's excuse was growing up on welfare and the family being so poor they couldn't afford meat but only beans. And even then, they were better off than the family that sent their son to school with only lard between slices of bread for a sandwich (yeah, I really did write that). I think I've mentioned before (in positive tones) how my father's mother had a half acre garden because money was so tight that was the only way they could afford to eat. Once my parents had money, there was no way in hell they were going to eat beans (altho to be fair, I distinctly remember baked beans with hot dogs at least a few times). I came by my money issues directly from my parents; like my father (born in 1934, natch), I deal with the possibility of being poor by overcompensation.

I do think that we owe every member of our society some assistance when times are bad. I really do. I'm a big ole tax and spend liberal. But I also think that maybe it's okay to eat beans once in a while. For one thing, they're very heart healthy, thus improving the odds of avoiding high blood pressure and heart disease. Also, the fiber might help with colon health. And they're cheap. Also, reduces carbon impact.

Sorry. Just having a moment here.


I'm reading _The Unfinished Revolution_, and a review will follow. It's worth reading, if somewhat repetitive. The author's use of extensive quotations from interviews is particularly valuable. After (laboriously) drawing a picture of a world in which the cohort that (roughly) followed me is made up of men and women of all races/ethnicities/classes mostly want to have all adults making money, keeping (some of) that money under each person's own control, and sharing domestic/childrearing work, she then goes on to describe in detail how men's ideas of a fallback strategy if the ideal doesn't work out differs from women's. This is great, it matches my sense of reality, etc. But it also annoys me, because a lot of women's rhetoric about childrearing makes _no sense whatsoever_. Here's an example:

"Reliance on her own stay-at-home mom allowed Letitia to plan to work full-time, even as a single mother: 'I have it all planned out -- my mom's living next to me because she's going to take care of my kids while I'm working. So to have an unhealthy relationship with a man -- I'd never do that -- but as long as I've got my mom, I can be the provider, the mother and father.'"

I have _zero_ problem with what Letitia has in mind (assuming her mum has agreed to this, and assuming mum's health is supported adequately); I know other people who have made similar arrangements. What I _do_ object to is the idea that this Letitia under these circumstances is "the mother and father". She isn't. She's sharing (and that may be generous, depending on the job she's got in mind -- grandma may be doing the vast majority of it) the caretaking/nurturing work with grandma. In this rhetorical assignment of roles, Letitia is "father" and grandma is "mother". And suggesting otherwise is just Letitia doing to mum what everyone else has done to mum: taken her hard work for granted and/or treated it as their own doing.

I'm halfway through the book, and I just want to wave my hands in front of a lot of these young'uns and say, wake up! The whole milk-and-cookies thing when coming home from school is _not_ the part of child care that is tricky to outsource or even to do oneself. _That_ part you can successfully delegate to the kids themselves (at least after primary school), if you don't want to use the aftercare programs supplied by many school districts. It's the years before the kid is _in_ school that are tricky. I think the problem lies in the relatively small families most of these kids came from (already down to 3 or fewer per family on average for that cohort). One does not remember one's pre-K years with any reliability, and with a tiny number of siblings, the odds are good you won't remember your siblings pre-K years with much accuracy either. Career compatible child care looks damn easy if you have only your own raising for reference. These are also cohorts that (what with the small family size and all) didn't necessarily do a ton of babysitting, either, which aggravates the problem.

I do recognize there are tremendous risks/problems with letting school-age kids fend for themselves between when school lets out and when the adults arrive home from work. I do. But if you try that with pre-K kids, the state will take them away from you.

great analysis

From _The Unfinished Revolution_ (really a great book):

"In an ironic twist, middle-class married women with good job opportunities and access to high-quality child care are chastised for pursuing careers, while poor single mothers with few job prospects and limited child care are required to take marginal jobs. The implied message is that women should not depend on others for their livelihood, but they also should not work for personal satisfaction or compete for the best jobs."

I'm hoping that _somewhere_ in this book, there will be some discussion of stay-at-home dads. There have been references to 2/3rds type solutions (where each parent is working a non-standard work week so they can split caretaking evenly, perhaps with non-parent assistance, paid or familial) in at least one quotation.

ETA: Altho it continues to drive me nuts that the author and every single interviewee conflates paid employment with access to independent funds. Does everyone _really_ want jobs? Or do they just want the money-independent-of-other-person? I'm sure there's some of both, but I'd really rather see the two ideas separated, because once you separate them, you can start talking about things like paid maternity/parental leave, a la Scandinavian countries, and mother's checks a la the UK (IIRC). If you treat them as inseparable, you inevitably suck child care into the debate as well, making it a horrible knot.

ETAYA: Closest approach to stay-at-home dad so far:

"Whether or not they prefer the outcome, an earnings advantage and more promising career prospects lends an air of inevitability to men's reliance on women's caretaking. Yet almost every young man rejected the idea of staying home, even if it were possible." Citation here sez:

"The percentage of couples relying on a wife as the primary provider (defined as earning 60 percent or more of total couple earnings) remains low, although it increased from 4 percent in 1970 to 12 percent in 2001 (Raley, Mattingly, and Bianchi, 2006)."

Recently, there's been some additional data on this number (I've forgotten the details), but I think the author was a teensy bit dismissive of this trend. This may be because such a high percentage of people I personally know belong to this group.