Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
Guest Host: Jennifer Golbeck
One in three American women live in poverty or on the brink of poverty, according to a new report by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress. That’s 42 million women, plus 28 million children, in economic peril. We explore how the decline in marriage, a lack of employment benefits like paid sick leave and debates over raising the minimum wage are affecting family economics in households across the U.S.
- Heather Boushey Executive Director and Chief Economist, Washington Center for Equitable Growth
- W. Bradford Wilcox Director, National Marriage Project; Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
MS. JENNIFER GOLBECKFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Jen Golbeck from the Human Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland sitting in for Kojo. The figures are alarming. One in three women in the United States live in poverty or on the brink, even though two-thirds of women are the breadwinners or co-breadwinners in their household. But close to two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, many of whom get no paid sick days or vacation days.
MS. JENNIFER GOLBECKA new report by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress examines women in poverty and said they need help. These aren't affluent women who are trying to have it all. They're women who are trying to climb into and remain in the middle class. They have jobs. Many are single parents raising children alone. And their inability to lock in economic stability is dragging down the U.S. economy, according to Shriver.
MS. JENNIFER GOLBECKThis hour, we'll examine the economic hardships facing both women and men and explore how factors including the decline in marriage, a lack of employment benefits like paid sick leave and the debate over raising the minimum wage are affecting household incomes among poor Americans. Joining us today is Heather Boushey. She's executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Good to have you here.
MS. HEATHER BOUSHEYThank you, Jen.
GOLBECKJoining us from studios in Charlotte, Va. is Bradford Wilcox, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, director of the National Marriage Project and professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. It's good to have you, Brad.
DR. W. BRADFORD WILCOXIt's great to be here.
GOLBECKHeather, let's start with you. You wrote a chapter of the Shriver report called "A Woman's Place is in the Middle Class." Why is a stable middle class life so elusive for so many women?
BOUSHEYWell, quite frankly, it starts with jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. You know, we talked a lot in the Shriver report about whether or not all women have access to the kinds of jobs that will allow them to support their family in terms of the wages that they're earning. But also the kind of benefits that they have access to on the job or through other kinds of support services, right.
BOUSHEYDo they have access to the kind of flexibility that allows them to balance work and family? Do they have access to paid sick days or paid family leave? Do they have access to affordable childcare that's open in the hours that they actually need to be at work? Do they have the kind of predicable schedule that would allow them to use a childcare facility in a consistent way and pay for it?
BOUSHEYSo there's a lot of questions about both wages, are women earning enough to make ends meet to support their families, but also are they in a job with high enough quality so they can live their lives and be a good employee?
GOLBECKAnd so are you generally concluding that they're not necessarily having those opportunities?
BOUSHEYSo what we found in the Shriver report was that for far too many women, they are either not earning enough to make ends meet or they're not getting the kind of benefits or some combination of both. So we found that about more than one in three women are living on the brink where they're in poverty. We found that for too many of them it is much less likely for one of the women on the brink to have access to paid sick days or workplace flexibility.
BOUSHEYWe found that for many of them who are on the brink, they can't afford high quality childcare or elder care, other supports to care for their families. So there really are a lot of challenges, and it plays out very differently where women and their families sit on the income distribution.
GOLBECKWomen were reportedly three times more likely than men to be raising a family on their own without a partner. What did that mean for the economic stability of those families?
BOUSHEYWell, certainly two adults in a family is going to bring -- you have the capacity for more care and more work. You can spread the load in both ways. And we know that families that are headed by a single mother face different kinds of challenges. We know that it's hard for a single parent to balance work and family. It can make it hard for them to stay in that job, keep that job. But we also know that we're seeing demographic trends where it is increasingly likely that folks at the lower end of the income distribution are in single-parent families.
BOUSHEYAnd that's both -- that is because they have one earner rather than two. If you have two earners, you're higher up in the income distribution, but also because it can be harder to balance work and family. And so that is a cause, quite frankly, of so many women living on the brink.
GOLBECKYou can join the conversation too. What do you think is the most pressing economic problem for low-income households? Do you struggle to stay above the poverty line or do you know people who do? You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850 or email us at email@example.com.
GOLBECKBrad, if more women are raising children on their own then more men are disconnected from their kids. What's going on economically with those men? Where are they living and how are they doing?
WILCOXThat's a great point. I mean, that's one of the key things we have to keep in mind here as we talk about the rise of single motherhood in America. What that means basically is that more men, particularly men in working class and poor communities, not just in inner city context but also many outlying suburbs and many small rural communities around the country are not married to the mother of their kids.
WILCOXThey're not really involved to a great extent with their children. And that's partly a consequence of the fact that, you know, many of the decent paying stable jobs that we saw in the U.S. in the '50s, '60s and '70s have become more difficult for working class and poor men to find and to keep.
GOLBECKBrad, you direct the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. What role does marriage play in the economic fortunes of American families?
WILCOXWell, as Heather just eluded to, what we're seeing in the country is a growing marriage divide in America where basically folks who are college educated and relatively affluent or at least sort of stable when it come to their income, are much more likely today to get and stay married and to raise their kids in the context of marriage. By contrast, working class and poor couples and communities are much more likely to see gravitation, single parenthood and family instability more generally.
WILCOXSo part of what we're seeing in the country is, you know, this great marriage divide, which unfortunately only deepens the kind of economic inequality that the Shriver report is pointing to.
GOLBECKHeather, the first Shriver report came out in 2009. It examined how for the first time women had become half of the American workforce and made up about two-thirds of the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in American families. If most mothers now work outside the home, why are so many still struggling financially?
BOUSHEYThat's an excellent question and, you know, I think it's something that we have been struggling with and trying to figure out for quite some time now. And that has been the purpose of this set of Shriver reports that have been done, and this one really focusing on those women on the brink. You know, it is true that women are working more. It is true that women are now about half of all employees. And it's true that women are breadwinners for their families. Really it comes back down to this question of jobs.
BOUSHEYAnd I think, you know, Brad has a -- you know, Brad has, you know, elevated, you know, the role of men in families and the role of good jobs for both men and women and how that's sort of allowing families to make ends meet. I mean, what you're seeing is that even though women have entered the labor force in large numbers, and some women have been able to take real advantage of that, you've seen among -- within women you've seen an increase in equality where some women have been able to just thrive.
BOUSHEYThey've gotten those college degrees, those advanced degrees and they're outpacing men at the top in terms of educational attainment. They've gotten these fantastic jobs and have really pulled apart. And you've seen a lot of women left behind. You see similar trends among men as well. So this bifurcation that we've been seeing in the economy with growing inequality is something that is playing out within American families. And so even though so many women are working more and some women are making a lot more, too many women just simply aren't. They're not seeing those wage gains and they're not seeing the kinds of workplace structures that allow them to keep those jobs and move up the ladder.
GOLBECKLet's take a call from Mary in Falls Church, Va. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYOh, hello. First time for me. That was quick. I have always wondered why we don't talk about the importance of young girls and how powerful their choices are and help them understand that they shape the next generation and that they are picking who they have a baby with. And if we could just teach them how powerful they really are and that if they could somehow at least try to pick someone who's competent and kind, they just would be so powerful. And, you know, who looks flashy when you're 16 is the guy who's cool and may not be all that great. So how do you get the girls to understand how powerful they really are?
GOLBECKI'll have you both answer that but Heather, let's turn to you first.
BOUSHEYWell, you know, Mary, I'm really glad you asked that. That is such an important question. And it is something that we spent some time in the report -- Maria Shriver and CAP spent some time in the report talking about it. Like, how do you have personal solutions? How do you focus on encouraging girls to make good choices in terms of investments in their own what we economists would call quote "human capital," that is what normal people would call education, but the kinds of skills that are going to help them get that good job.
BOUSHEYBut also the kinds of personal skills that are going to help them choose the right partner so that they can, you know, have all the things that they want in life if they, you know, of course want to have a partner. And, you know, so we talk about some of those personal solutions and that we need to -- that it is -- we have to think both about the ways that we're educating girls and the lessons that we're teaching them about how -- what they can do in the economy, but also empower them to know that they have options in terms of finding the right partner. And that they have options in terms of when they're going to start a family and how they're going to do it.
BOUSHEYAnd that these are things that we need to be sort of starting, you know, from the beginning and teaching them.
GOLBECKBrad, what are your thoughts?
WILCOXWell, you know, I think it's important that we recognize that, you know, a lot of our conversation in schools, particularly in universities and colleges, focuses on work and education. And those things, of course, are important. When you look at kind of what's most predictive, people's long term happiness and satisfaction and meaning in life, it's their family and their friendships. And I don't think that our institutions, our schools or colleges and our popular culture is doing a very good job of preparing, not only girls but also boys, teenage girls and boys for a future built around strong friendships and strong marriages and strong families. And that's part and parcel where we also have to move in this conversation.
GOLBECKIn the 1990s, welfare reform helped get single mothers back into the workforce. So now 20 years later, what impact has that had for low-income families? Heather, would you like to comment first?
BOUSHEYWell, certainly. You know, the mid 1990s when we implemented welfare reform, that was an era in which we had one of the strongest labor markets for low-wage workers in generations. It was one of the times in which you actually saw wages at the bottom end of the labor market rising. We had full employment. So it couldn't have been better timed in terms of if you're going to make a big policy change and get people into work, a time when there's a lot of jobs and a lot of wage growth, it's a good time to do it.
BOUSHEYAnd I want us to remember that when welfare reform passed in 1996, there were a basket of policies that passed at about the same time that improved employment opportunities. We raised the minimum wage. There were expansions in the children's health insurance program so that more children could access health care, expansions in the earned income tax credit. So some of the success that you saw was because of the strong labor market and some of the other things that were going on at the same time.
BOUSHEYWhat we've seen as we've moved through the past few decades -- and especially during the great recession in the aftermath, has been that while safety net programs have gone a long way in pulling people out of poverty, we have seen them working as unemployment has risen. We've also seen too many people being left behind. So while welfare reform was focused on work, when there aren't jobs available we don't have a lot of options. So people still need that support, especially if they aren't eligible for the more generous programs like unemployment benefits because they don't qualify because they have nontraditional employment patterns.
BOUSHEYReally we've seen a lot of holes that low-income families have been falling through because we have not had the kind of safety net that we need to.
GOLBECKBrad, what are your thoughts on welfare reform and its affect on the plight of single mothers?
WILCOXYou know, I think that before welfare reform was passed, there was obviously a lot of concern about the ways in which it might foster tremendous suffering on the part of single mothers. But in the main, I think it's most reminded observers, you know, would accept it's been linked to increases in work and increases of income, you know, for most single mothers. So on that front, I think it's been a success.
WILCOXBut it's not been a success on the marriage front. One of the goals for welfare reform was not just increasing work, but also increasing marriage. And on that score the country and the federal government has not really identified any ways to strengthen marriage in the low-income communities that we've been talking about today.
GOLBECKWe'll continue our conversation about women, poverty and family economics after this short break. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Jen Golbeck sitting in for Kojo.
GOLBECKWelcome back. I'm Jen Golbeck from the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." We're discussing women, poverty and family economics. You can join us at 1-800-433-8850, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or check us out through Facebook and send Tweets to @kojoshow. Heather, before the break Brad was talking about welfare reform and the fact that it hadn't really increased the marriage rates. And I'd like to hear your thoughts on that and how it relates to the economic realities that we've been discussing.
BOUSHEYThank you. This is such a fascinating question. I was really intrigued with the way that, you know, Brad was talking about how, you know, what we've learned from welfare reform was that, you know, it did -- you had these employment effects. But, as he pointed out, we were also -- part of the policy was trying to promote marriage yet we haven't seen that take hold in the right way. And there's some question marks about how you do that.
BOUSHEYOne of the things that I think we can pivot back to is, what kinds of jobs people have, and the impact that those jobs and economic security have on family formation and on the capacity people to have the kinds of relationships that they need to be having to build strong marriages and to build strong families. One of the things that you see in the low-wage labor market is a high prevalence of jobs that have nonstandard work schedules. You know, we have a 24/7 economy which means that you've got some people, especially at the low end in retail and other sectors, that are having to work at odd hours.
BOUSHEYSo they -- you see a lot of lower income couples struggling to find time together because their schedules don't match. It's not like everybody has the 9 to 5 in that labor market. And that creates a lot of challenges for families. So you have a large literature that shows that that kind of nontraditional schedules or schedules that don't match aren't good for marriages. They're not good for sort of family cohesion. And at the same time the economic instability, the cycling in and out of work, the higher unemployment and the lower wages, these all lead to stress which also has an impact on the capacity to build a strong family if you don't have that economic security.
GOLBECKWe're talking with Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and Brad Wilcox, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. Let's take a call from Heidi in Springfield. Heidi, you're on the air. Go ahead.
HEIDIHello. Thank you for taking my call. Being both an economist and a feminist, this topic is, you know, something, you know, that my work life is on. And the problem is that the discussion of if you have more marriages or better marriage that something would happen is a fantasy. It doesn't have -- the only relationship productive with -- can you hear me?
GOLBECKYeah, we can hear you fine.
HEIDIYeah, the only connection to economical relationship is in marriage and being single is that, you know, double income makes (word?) a better economic place. But the fact that not only in America but all over the world, the rate of marriage is falling and people get married later. but have children deal economically with the actual data. The only way to improve the chance of mothers and children for a better life is to have social programs, which at this time the United States working completely opposed to that.
HEIDIBecause in the socialist country, you know, like in Europe, it doesn't affect as much the life of children whether the mother is single or not because they have complete, you know, childcare available, the wages are higher. And also women or fathers, a long time often they have children to take care of, so that there is a lot of economic social welfare provided by the government to protect the children's needs economically.
HEIDIBut like American Enterprise Institution does not, you know, emphasize if marriage is good or better. Of course it's better to be not single if you have a child. It's easier, but that's not the reason for the economic problem. Because if you're very rich, it doesn't matter even if you are single.
GOLBECKThanks, Heidi. This is a great -- oops, we lost Heidi. This is great point. Let's let Brad respond. Go ahead.
WILCOXWell, you know, I don't think it's sort of appropriate to say it's a fantasy. It really is a reality that, you know, even in countries like Sweden, what we see basically is that kids are more likely to flourish in an intact two-parent home. It is true that the economic inequality that we've seen in the United States is much less pronounced in Sweden. But even in Sweden single parents -- single mothers have less income and more poverty. And more importantly, the kids are more likely to experience things like depression, substance abuse and other psychological problems.
WILCOXSo the point that I make on the family from the marriage front is that, you know, if we really are about advancing opportunity to America for everyone, advancing in kind of, you know, basic equality for all Americans on some important social goods, then we're going to have to address, not just the work issues that Heather I think has been so articulate about, but also the family fragmentation that now is dividing our society.
WILCOXAnd I think what's ironic about this conversation, this discussion is that it's often, you know, well educated Americans who would say that, you know, marriage isn't necessarily important part and parcel of addressing this problem. And yet it's this very same group of people who are overwhelmingly having their kids in marriage and enjoying the benefits of lifelong marriage, both for them and for their partners and for their children. And so my basic point here is that unless we address this growing marriage divide in America, we're not going to be able to address, you know, some of the fundamental concerns that Heather has identified in her work and that are articulated also in this new Shriver report.
GOLBECKHeather, would you like to comment?
BOUSHEYWell, I think Brad is right. We do see -- I mean, the data show, and it is a very important social trend that marriage has become an increasingly more elite institution. I mean, not always of course, but that you are seeing that it is increasingly the case that folks at the higher end of the income distribution are married when they have children. And folks at the bottom are less likely to be so. And I think that the real nugget there is why and what we can do -- and, I mean, you know, of course I'm an economist so I really -- I think very deeply -- we think very deeply that what is happening in the economy really matters.
BOUSHEYBut it's also something that we can do something about. I think that Heidi's point that, you know, in the United States, we support families far less than in other countries. And, in fact, one of my friends and colleagues often says that America is one of the most family hostile developed countries, that we don't have the set of policies that do make it possible to find a sane balance between work and family. And that's not good for children. It's not good for adults. And it's certainly not good for marriages. It causes a lot of stress and anxiety.
BOUSHEYSo I think that, you know, really rethinking what it means to support families and that it's not just sort of trying to push them into coupling, but it's trying to find all of the ways we need to support them economically and socially with childcare and with access to leave and with good jobs. I think that's a big piece of the puzzle.
GOLBECKOn that note let's take a call from Kevin in Washington, D.C. Kevin, you're on the air. Go ahead.
KEVINHi. Thank you for having me on. Earlier you were mentioning that women should be empowered and educated to make the right choice about partners. But I'm of the opinion that the socialization of men in this instance has, I believe, even more to do with social -- more to do with this problem than the socialization (unintelligible). For example, what you've seen after the great recession has been women making (unintelligible) a lot of their unemployment gains, mostly in the service economy, whereas men remain more highly unemployed than women.
KEVINAnd Hannah Rosen suggested this might be because men have been socialized to not take service (unintelligible) jobs. So I think we should start talking about that and I wondered what you guys had -- about that.
GOLBECKThanks for your call. Heather, did you want to comment?
BOUSHEYThat's a great question, Kevin. I mean, one of the things that you see is that the labor market's been really tough on men. It's been tough on women and that's what this report is about. And we've talked a lot about that today. But it's certainly been really tough on men. And, you know, if you want to talk about families and you want to at least talk about heterosexual families, there's a man and a woman in there. And you have to be thinking about what's happening with those.
BOUSHEYSo I am really glad you brought that up. I'm sure Brad will have some comments on this too. But whether or not we're creating the kinds of jobs that allow men to kind of get on their feet and become economically stable is a really pressing issue. One of the things that we've been seeing is a slow steady decline in the share of men who have a job. Of course, it dropped dramatically during the great recession. And we are seeing employment rates among men that are at lows that we've not seen since we began recording the data on employment patterns and at the end of World War II.
BOUSHEYSo this is a really pressing issue and we do need to be thinking about jobs for both men and women.
GOLBECKBrad, do you want to comment?
WILCOXYeah, I think one concrete thing that we need to also bear in mind here is that so much of our educational focus in the country and the policy that has been really in targeting college education. And when you look at kind of the family dynamics that we're talking about today though, the issue I think in large part is that many young men who don't have a strong orientation or just in college, but who would do great at middle skill jobs, you know, like plumbing or being an electrician or in some kind of advanced manufacture or IT activity, are not getting the kind of vocational education. They're not getting access to apprenticeships that you would see in a country like Germany for instance or Japan.
WILCOXSo I think one part of the solution to this problem that we're talking about today is doing much better at recognizing that there are a variety of paths into the middle class. And they don't all go through college. And that particularly for many men who may not be kind of bookish or academic in their orientation, we need to identify better paths for them educationally that will bring them into these middle skill jobs that will both interest them and engage them as men, but also provide them with the kinds of economic resources that make them better prospects as husbands.
GOLBECKWe'd like to hear from you too. What should the government do to help families find economic stability? And what role do you think the decline in marriage and the rise of single-parent families plays in the number of households that live in poverty? You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850 or emailing email@example.com. Let's take a call now from Bill in Washington, Va. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead.
BILLHi. I think we're going at this all from the wrong direction here. All these longitudinal studies helps blacks and whites and Hispanics and men and women and things like this, they're not really productive. What we have is a poverty problem. Nothing will try marriage like poverty. Nothing will try marriage like the inability to have a job, to be able to work out your problems. The answer is education. And we've got to be a lot less parsimonious with the way we educate our people.
BILLWe fall into 28th in the world in terms of educational outcomes. And all the countries that are taking over from us are people who are putting everything they got into education. This is the poor people educate them. This is an untapped resource that we have got to get into. These people are -- they're being wasted. We need to educate everybody. We need to do it for free and we need to do it as quick as possible. Get jobs, get people -- people -- most marriages break up because people can't understand each other.
BILLThey're frustrated because they can't express themselves and they become angry. That's the source of most anger in society. We've got to educate these people, everybody free.
GOLBECKSo let's -- thank you, Bill. Let's hear from our guests on this. Brad, on the same note as this caller, President Obama has said economic inequality, the gap between the rich and poor, is the defining challenge of our time. But you also believe that education is a crucial component in this.
WILCOXYeah, I mean, I think a kind of more balanced approach, as Bill Galsner (sp?) articulated earlier in the week in the Wall Street Journal, is one that basically acknowledges the left has something to say when it comes to the importance of addressing poverty as Heather has been talking about. And I think both the left and the right have become more creative in thinking about education reform as one important ingredient here. We’re not going to solve this sort of mobility puzzle, this sort of cycle of poverty puzzle that we're facing as a country unless we improve our schools.
WILCOXBut I would also add that we need to look to civil society and to families. You know, Hillary Clinton once observed that it takes a village to raise a child. And I'd further add that it takes a two-parent family on average to raise a child in the most ideal way. And as Heather knows, there's a very interesting new study out from Harvard and from Berkeley that looks at the community context that are most likely to facilitate a rags to riches mobility for poor kids in America.
WILCOXAnd what this new study from Harvard and Berkeley finds is that the single most powerful correlate of rags to riches mobility in America is the percentage of single mothers in a community. And that is the communities that have more single moms or fewer two-parent families are less likely to lift poor kids up from poverty. So as we think about kind of where do we go from here, I think a kind of holistic bipartisan agenda should recognize that we need to strengthen not just work and not just education as many on the left would argue, but also family and some societies as many on the right would argue.
GOLBECKHeather, what are your thoughts?
BOUSHEYWell, I wanted to go back to a point that was made a couple -- you know, that Bill the caller brought up and that Brad had brought up a couple moments ago about making sure that we are creating employment opportunities across the -- for not just people who have a college degree but for workers that don't have a college degree. One of the chapters in the Shriver report by Tony Carnivali (sp?) and Nichole Smith focuses on making sure that we are creating educational opportunities that are not just about people getting to college, but about making sure that we're giving folks the kind of training -- you know, it remains the case today that only about a third of workers in the U.S. labor force actually have a college degree.
BOUSHEYSo we do -- so that is a real -- we need to attend to that in a really deep and important way. So I was glad to hear, Brad, you bring that up. And I wanted to sort of underscore just how critical that is, especially when we're thinking about families on the brink for both men and women, that making sure that they're getting the training that they need. And that it may not be college training but that that is connected to a job path -- an upper mobility path in jobs.
GOLBECKLet's hear from Lavinia in Washington, D.C. Lavinia, you're on the air. Go ahead.
LAVINIAHi. Thank you so much for having me on the show. I am a woman studies minor at Trinity University. And I am actually a woman of color. And I think that a lot of this inequality and single motherhood has to do with -- well, us being lower economically has to do with our heritage and our style. Because in my culture, you take care of the parents and you usually have a lot of kids. So we have a lot more responsibility than others. And then in addition, the Latina woman makes, I think, 63 cents of the white male dollar. So we have a lot less working with us.
LAVINIAAnd then we do have a lot of jobs that -- my daycare is from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. If I have a job that's at night, I don't have anyone to take care of and I don't have the ability to pay for a babysitter. So I lose out on a lot of employment opportunities and things like that. So I think a lot of it has to do with race. I really do think it has to do with race. And one more point, like, Ward 7 and 8 has the highest amount of single parents -- parenthood. And it has -- I think 80 percent of the children live in poverty. And until -- I live in Mt. Pleasant and Mt. Pleasant used to be pretty bad education. And then gentrification happened and suddenly our schools are getting better.
LAVINIASo I feel like -- I don't mean to be blunt but until white people start moving in, your schools are going to be really bad. So that was just my comment.
GOLBECKThank very much for your call, Lavinia. Heather, what are your thoughts on this?
BOUSHEYWell, I think Lavinia's raised a really important point about race and how it plays into this issue. I mean, one of the things that we document throughout this report is how women of color are more likely to be living in families on the brink. They're more likely to be heading single-parent families, which adds to the challenges that they're facing. And that, you know, what we see in the labor market is that women of color are likely to be earning at the tail end of wages. And all of these are big problems.
BOUSHEYAnd so we spent a lot of time, you know, the editors spent a lot of time on the report making sure that we were elevating that and documenting it and trying to figure out how it is that we can craft policies and solutions at the public level, private level, and for individuals that are inclusive and that say, hey, we actually need to deal with this in every community. It's not enough for just rich people or white people to have access to good education or good jobs. That's something that everybody has the right to.
GOLBECKWe'll continue our conversation about poverty, women, and family economics after this break. I'm Jen Golbeck, and you're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
GOLBECKWelcome back. I'm Jen Golbeck from the Human Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and Brad Wilcox, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, about women poverty and family economics.
GOLBECKIf you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 1-800-433-8850. I'd like to take a call now from Mack in Salisbury. Mack, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MACKOh, thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to express the viewpoint that, you know, what most of the caller -- one of the previous callers said about education is very important. But I also wanted -- I wanted to mention that one of the problems that we're having with family poverty in this country is the family welfare system that we have is geared -- it's mainly one-sided. You have -- and it's based on money. Take for example the child support system. The child support system creates more problems that what was actually intended to solve.
MACKYou have a lot of guys who go through the system, through the child support system, and instead of them having would be a reasonable equal justice, the justice system turned against the male, and men, and totally, you know, tear their life up. I mean, just totally destroyed their lives, and they have this huge uphill battle that they have to go up in order to, you know, go through, meeting the child support requirement and keeping the roof over your head, and then when you do have time with your son, you have to provide for your son, you know.
MACKWhen you put all that together, you know, some of the guys they just -- they just throw their hands in the air and said, you know, I can't -- I can't deal with it. And then now you have -- then -- there you go you have the mother that's, you know, at home with -- with the kid and no dad, and he's -- and that dad is probably somewhat on the run. You know, family welfare should not be -- should not turn into family warfare. It should be somewhere where you go and you get education. But people who don't want to pay child support, they need to be educated about, you know, their moral responsibility when you bring a child into the world.
GOLBECKOkay, Mack. Let's hear from our guests. Heather, do you want to answer that first?
BOUSHEYWell, I mean, I think the child support question is very critical. You see a significant share of families, women, don't actually receive the child support that they need, and that is, of course, directly connected to the economic wellbeing of women and families. So, I mean, I do appreciate, Mack, your stressing just how important that issue is, and how important it is for men to step up and to play their role in the families. But that, you know, if he doesn't have the kind of job that allows him to do that, then that, of course, creates a lot of challenges.
GOLBECKBrad, your thoughts?
WILCOXYeah. What's interesting though, this call, it signals once again that when we're talking about the challenges facing poor families, including poor single mothers, one of the issues here is a family breakdown, the fact that as Andrew Cherlin has written about, he's a sociologist at Johns Hopkins, what we're seeing is a kind of relationship carousel emerging in many low income communities, and unfortunately, now many working class communities in America where parents are having kids with multiple partners, and that makes it harder for them to keep everything together.
WILCOXThat's one major reason why more and more low income couples and kids and families are on the brink is that they're having kids with different partners and that creates a whole host of both practical and economic difficulties for all parties involved in this.
GOLBECKSo Heather and Brad, let's look at public policy and proposals that could help get people out of poverty. There's a lot of debate about an even movement on the minimum wage in different states in DC. Where else are we seeing public sector initiatives and who's leading the efforts? Heather, let's let you answer first.
BOUSHEYI'm glad you asked about that. I mean, we are seeing a lot of movement on the minimum wage, that's great. A lot of people are coming out of the woodwork to support it. We've also seen a lot of movement on the kinds of policies that can really help working parents and working caregivers more generally balance work and family. Rhode Island just a couple of weeks ago became, yes, the third state in the nation to implement to statewide program for paid family and medical leave following on the heels of California and New Jersey.
BOUSHEYWe've seen active paid sick days campaigns that have been successful in cities and in Connecticut, the first state to have a statewide paid sick days. So these are policies that give workers in these places the right to either, in some cases, earn paid sick days or contribute to a social insurance fund so that when they need to take time off to care there's funds available and they can take a few weeks off in order to do that. So these are very important and exciting new developments, and we're seeing some energy at the federal level both around paid family leave, but also around paid sick days.
GOLBECKBrad, what are your thoughts?
WILCOXWell, you know, I think my concern about some of these policies is that they're, you know, there is a trade-off when it comes to providing workers with more security and higher minimum wage, and, you know, obviously flexibility in the labor market as Heather well knows. And, you know, my biggest concern here is that if we raise the minimum wage, we're going to be shutting out some low income workers from opportunities to get jobs as businesses may cut back on employment. And I think a better way to help increase income for low income workers is to expand the earned income tax credit rather than to raise the minimum wage.
WILCOXThat would be one, I think, pointed disagreement we might have. But I think we have to sort of recognize here that, you know, that there can be a tradeoff here between more security more generally for our workers and flexibility in the labor market that kind of brings more people into the labor force. Another issues that I think here that we haven't talked about is that when we look at sort of the role of public policy and the family United States, because of the construction of our means tested policies, policies like, you know, for instance, Medicaid or policies like housing aid, they're basically based upon income thresholds.
WILCOXAnd if you fall below these thresholds, you qualify for these programs, and if you fall above those thresholds, you can lose a portion or all of the benefits associated with these programs. Neither party intended them to penalize marriage, but in effect, in reality many of them end up penalizing marriage among low-income couples. So I think one of the sort of challenges, one of the tasks ahead of us is to basically level the playing field, and to make our tax and transfer policies, particularly for low income couples who have seen the most dramatic declines in marriage to statistically see our public policies not encouraging them to steer clear of marriage when they're thinking about family formation or thinking about remaining together as a couple and as a family.
GOLBECKLet's take a call from San Luisa in Washington DC. You're on the air. Go ahead.
SAN LUISAYes. Thank you for taking my call. I want to share -- I am a real estate broker, and I work with women who are Section 8, which means the government pays their rent to women who can afford to buy a half a million dollar house in a week. The first group has -- I see that there is a high emphasis on instant gratification. They have children way before they start thinking about marriage and family and all. They have sex. It's not children. They have sex early. The children that are more affluent families delay having sex.
SAN LUISAThey -- and consequently they start having their children after they start thinking about family formation and all. And I think that's the -- there's some way we need to have some kind of program to help young girls and their parents because there are young girls who are having children, their children are having children, and that's what the problem is. They're having children way before they think about the consequences, and it's delayed gratification versus delayed gratification -- I mean, instant gratification, I'm sorry, versus delayed gratification.
LUISASo if we can -- if we could solve that problem, I think it will solve the problem, and historically that's been the problem.
GOLBECKThanks for your call, San Luisa. I'd like to follow that up with a call from Laura from South Riding, Va. Laura, you're on the air. Go ahead.
LAURAHi. Just to piggyback kind of on what she was talking about, I was wondering if any of the studies had looked at access to birth control and education about birth control for the women that are having these families, because -- especially the ones that are having families with multiple partners. I doubt that most of these pregnancies were planned, and that definitely plays into, you know, lack of education and lack of choice in whether you're going to have a child or not. It's, like, oops, I'm here, I've got three kids, how am I going to make a living and support them.
GOLBECKThanks for that comment, Laura.
GOLBECKBrad, yeah. Go ahead.
WILCOXYeah. We have a report that the National Marriage Project released called When Marriage Disappears. And what we do in that report is a couple of things, but one thing we find in the report is that less educated kids, I mean, kids from households that are less educated, where mom is the education, are less likely to use contraception consistently. So that's, I think, part of the story here. But we also find in that very same report that kids from less educated homes are less likely to report that they would be embarrassed by a pregnancy outside of wedlock.
WILCOXSo, you know, the point that I would make here is that when we're looking at this issue of kind of education, contraception, and non-marital childbearing, we have to recognize too that sort of how much value we place as parents and communities on having your kids at the right time with a partner that you can trust and who will be there for you, is also part of, you know, part of the equation here. It's not just looking at things like education or job opportunities.
WILCOXIt's creating a culture where, as is the case in Northwest Washington, as is the case in much of Fairfax County, as in the case in, you know, much of Montgomery County, well-educated, affluent parents, be they liberal or conservative, religious or secular, basically expect their kids to have their kids in marriage and, you know, they encourage that I think. And unfortunately, that same expectation, you know, is no longer found to the same degree in many working class and poor communities, and that's part and parcel of why we're seeing this growing marriage divide in America.
BOUSHEYYou know, one of the things that, of course, is a part of the Affordable Care Act, is greater access to birth control for women and making it more affordable. That has to be a part of the insurance coverage that people can get thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and I think that will play -- I'm very curious, quite frankly, to see what kind of role that plays. Because if you make it easier and more accessible and more affordable, especially for lower income women and their families to access birth control, hopefully that will go a long way in helping people be able to control their fertility.
GOLBECKI'd like to follow up on that with a call from Marlene in Silver Spring who was talking about this issue at a higher policy issue level. Marlene, you're on the air. Go ahead.
MARLENEHi. Thank you for taking my call. You know, often when we're -- poverty is a big issue these days, and often when we're talking about poverty in this county, I see conservatives drilling to the smallest possible unit, the individual. It's true, we all have agency, but let's look in context. Conservatives have vigorously opposed family planning information for young people. Family planning. They've opposed legislation for equal pay for equal work. They consistently oppose and stand with business -- they opposed maternity and paternity leave.
MARLENEThey oppose affordable insurance, and yet -- and yet they want to insist that individuals should do things differently. I say that if we're going to have this dialogue with integrity and honesty, that we need to look at the broader range. How are our actions, how does the legislation that conservatives uphold, how is that helpful to a family? It has not been.
GOLBECKThanks very much for your call, Marlene. Heather, go ahead.
BOUSHEYSo I'd like to touch on a couple of things on that topic. I mean, you know, first, for example, the idea that if you give people a higher wage is somehow in the end bad for them because it will have some negative economic effects, is not only supported by the weight of the evidence in terms of the economic research, but it's also trying to sell people a bill of goods. Like, I'm going to pay you more, but somehow through some magical cycle, you know, that's not going to be good for you in the end. I think it's really amazing that we've been able to convince people that things that are good are families, that are good for workers, and that actually economists show are actually good for the economy, that we can twist that around and say, no, no, no, that's actually not good for you.
BOUSHEYAnd I think, you know, another thing that I wanted to pivot off of about what Marlene, the caller, said, you know, you do have to look at the big picture, and you always have to take things in context. I want to touch back on one of the things that Brad said about how some of these income thresholds penalize marriage. You know, the flip side to that is that those income thresholds support single parents. We've had a long conversation here today about how to support single parents, and yet it's either one or the other.
BOUSHEYIf you craft a policy where married folks, quote unquote, "aren't penalized", that by definition means you're not giving a little bit more to the singles.
GOLBECKBrad, do you have about a one-minute response?
WILCOXWell, you know, I think it's true that many conservatives have taken an overly libertarian approach to a lot of these issues, but there's a whole range of reform conservatives who are trying to basically craft -- create public policies that don't unintentionally undermine those core institutions of work, marriage and civil society and that work is going on now at the American Enterprise Institute.
GOLBECKGreat. So let's fit in one final caller who I think just has her own suggestions. Nicole in Baltimore, thanks for waiting. You're on the air. Go ahead.
NICOLEHi. Thanks for having me. I was just listening to the program, and I love that we, you know, bring up these topics with suggestions of what could really make things better for low-income wage earners, but I think we look at it so nebulously. It would be better if we took a practical stance and thought, what, as listeners can we do? One thing that -- well, universal paid sick leave, or paid sick leave is already in DC, but in Maryland the paid sick leave bill will be coming up in the next couple months, and one thing we can do is write to our senator, or we can go on petitions.
NICOLEFor example, for paid sick leave there is a petition on change.org where people can go on and say, hey, I do support this, but we'll support low-income wage earners, and that's just simple things.
GOLBECKNicole, thanks. I'm going to have to cut you off there, but we'll put a link to that up at the website. I'd like to thank our guests, Heather Boushey and Brad Wilcox for joining us. Good to have you here.
WILCOXThanks Jen. It's been a pleasure.
GOLBECKAnd I'm Jen Golbeck sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening.
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