Family Wage Jobs: The Missing Plank of the GOP Platform

I have recently come across a very well-written and informative essay about our modern-day economy and the need for a family wage. The essay is a little bit lengthy so down below I have highlighted some of the key concepts for those who might not want to read the entire thing. 🙂

“Charts 2, 3, and 4 illustrate this marginalization of “red-state” mar­ried-parent families, and their breadwinners, unappreciated yet indis­pensable builders of the nation. Married-parent families (with depen­dent children) that rely exclusively on one male-wage earner saw their median income hit a peak in 1973, at $50,083, in 2010 dollars. Prior to 1973, these households enjoyed steady income growth, keeping pace to a great extent with GDP growth, increasing by a respectable 98 percent in real terms between 1950 and 1973, as GDP increased by 145 percent in real terms. After 1973, these same households saw their median income remain essentially flat or decline. From 1980 to 2010—when the GDP increased by 124 percent—those same families struggled to keep up, seeing their median income increase by merely 2 percent. That financial pressure may explain, in part, why many married mothers traded having more children for joining the labor market. Yet even when mothers with part-time or full-time jobs are added to the mix, the median income of all married-parent families rose just 24 percent, a modest gain compared to the income growth that single-earners with larger families enjoyed in the immediate postwar era.”

“A collusion of many factors explains this reversal of fortunes of Middle America. The Spring 2012 issue of this journal explored social, economic, and political aspects of “the vanishing American middle class,” a devel­opment that many observers, liberal and conservative, lament. Without ignoring these other factors, The Family in America has historically highlighted the mischief sowed by the abandonment of the “family wage” by government and business during the 1970s. A social and economic ideal upheld throughout most of the twentieth century, the family-wage construct enabled the vast majority of married fathers not only to fully support a wife and three or four children at home but also to secure, for retirement, adequate health-care and pension benefits for two adults.”

“This did not mean that wives never worked outside the home; many did, although generally not as family-wage earners. But there was no nor­mative expectation on the part of employers, labor unions, government, or the public that the average family would need both parents working outside the home full-time from the time they married until retirement, the current presumption in Western Europe and of influential bureau­crats of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as well as many social-policy theorists in the United States. However, in an economy where the family-wage doctrine prevails, a single earner—the father in the vast majority of cases—is sufficient to sustain the average household. Under this economic order, the house­hold arrangement made possible by the family wage is not considered a luxury available only to highly educated breadwinners such as lawyers or physicians; no, that arrangement was considered such a social neces­sity that virtually everyone recognized the need for a family wage that enabled even blue-collar workers to enjoy the American dream.”

“Nor was the arrangement devised, as the feminists imagine, to keep all women barefoot, pregnant, and out of public life. The American archi­tect of the family-wage system, Theodore Roosevelt, fully supported edu­cational and career opportunities for women: “It is entirely right that any woman should be allowed to make any career for herself of which she is capable, whether or not it is a career followed by a man. She has the same right to be a lawyer, a doctor, a farmer, or a storekeeper.” At the same time, the twenty-sixth president understood that the enormous demands of raising a family—to him, the most important work of both men and women, of greater value than any professional accomplishment—make it difficult for the “average” mother to meet those demands while also pursuing a career. He did recognize in his own day that “exceptional women—like Julia Ward Howe or Harriet Beecher Stowe” were “admira­ble wives and mothers,” as well as “workers of genius outside the home.” But he cautioned that “such types” are exceptions, “rare whether among men or women.”‘

“No-fault divorce legislation further reinforced feminist rent-seeking. By favoring the spouse who wants to dissolve a marriage, the legislation indirectly pushed more women into the labor market: among the married, women would seek employment as a form of divorce insurance; among divorcees, women would seek employment out of necessity.”

“As a consequence of these policy reversals, Americans lost the mid­dle-class norms that had long strengthened the nation’s economy, norms that simply disappeared in a sea of unwed parenthood, full-time mater­nal employment, abortion, no-fault divorce, and non-marital cohabita­tion. Moreover, Americans who followed the old rules found themselves carrying new burdens in the form of higher taxes to fund an expanding welfare system, further marginalizing the average, normal, and ordinary.”

“The assault on the middle class didn’t happen in a vacuum. Concocted in the 1970s, these social policy “innovations” were enacted at the worst possible time, when the economic vitality and industrial prowess the country had enjoyed since World War II started to wane. A new global economy was emerging, soon to be greased on the skids of free-trade agreements advocated by the elites of both parties, a new world order in which China would become an industrial giant and America an industrial weakling. The pace for this economic “restructuring” was set when President Richard Nixon dealt his tricky hand on monetary policy in 1971, and broke the Bretton Woods international gold-exchange agreement of 1944. Economist John Mueller claims that after the deci­sion—pushed by the dean of free-market economics, Milton Friedman (although with second thoughts thirty years later)15—America would never be the same, suffering from chronic episodes of inflation, declining take-home pay for workers, endless federal deficits, and unsustainable trade imbalances.16 In essence, the new monetary regime invited coun­tries like Japan and China to manipulate the dollar, strengthening their hand and weakening America’s.”

“Even before triggering the dislocations of 2008, this deadly mix was outsourcing family-wage factory jobs while further reducing the real wages, and labor-force participation rate, of men.”
“Yet the “creative destruction” of the past forty years, coupled with feminist social policies and environmental regulations redefining every factory as a threat to the natural habitat, has left Main Street American families not only struggling but also furious about what has happened to their country.”

“Given the disproportionate influence of the libertarians, adversarial feminists, and environmentalists, the policy deck may be stacked against any attempt to reverse the current state of affairs. Yet the protracted Great Recession, now four years young and showing no signs of ending, makes it clear that the country can no longer afford to marginalize industry while moving bourgeois families and their men to the sidelines. In the spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the country needs policies that once again recover TR’s “preferential consideration” for average breadwinners and their families. The country cannot wait for the free market or free trade to reverse the malign effects of forty years of bad policy.”

“A new approach requires, like never before, initiatives that create pro­ductive family-wage jobs for men and fathers, certain to give Americans something far more effective and popular than the bloated welfare state.”

“For budget hawks, here’s a better option: cut welfare spending deeper so that a 3.3-percent cap would include the $187 billion transfer. In either case, any successful program would have to grant state governments— not Congress, the administration, or the courts—total discretion over how the money would be allocated, specifying only that 75 percent of the jobs would pay a family wage—at least $50,000 a year plus benefits—and would be reserved for married fathers without a college education.”

“All these recommendations may seem like pie in the sky. The attempt to reclaim premium-paying, family-wage jobs for married fathers will certainly send the $927-billion-per-year welfare industry,36 as well as the legal and political establishment, into shock. They will whine and scream that the whole project is discriminatory and unconstitutional, despite the promise such a project holds for Middle America, ignored by both parties for too long. That promise reflects the way all three recommendations are rooted in principles that have worked. These are the principles integral to the forgotten American System that Michael Lind has brought to light. These are the principles that informed the social policies of Theodore Roosevelt and that found embodiment in the New Deal. In short, these are the principles that reinforced the child-rich, married-parent family as the foundation of the nation’s social and economic well-being.”