February 6, 2014

JAMES TARANTO: American Idle: Work was supposed to be liberating. Now nonwork is.

The decline of marriage among poor and working-class Americans is a result of a variety of social and economic changes. Among them, as Lowrey notes, are “tidal economic forces,” namely “globalization, the decline of labor unions [and] technological change.”

She ignores the tidal social changes that have also contributed, namely the sexual revolution and the expectation that women will spend most of their adult lives in the workforce, which, as we’ve argued, reduced the incentives for both men and women to marry. It is no more feasible to turn the clock back on globalization or automation than on contraception or female labor-force participation. All of these developments represent progress, in that they were solutions to the problems of the past. All of them contribute to the problems of the present.

A fixation on past problems may be making present problems worse. Lowrey quotes W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project: “Unless we improve the fortunes of poor working people, particularly poor working men, we aren’t going to see marriage coming back.” That’s a modest claim–note that he’s describing a necessary condition, not a sufficient one–but it’s hard to disagree: Why should a woman marry a man who doesn’t offer some economic security as part of the bargain?

But President Obama is committed to reducing male wages relative to female ones. In his State of the Union address, he declared: “Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.” Actually, it’s an embarrassment that the president perpetuates this myth–which Slate, in the headline of a 2013 story by feminist author Hanna Rosin bluntly called a “lie.” . . .

Given the high deductibles and narrow networks that make ObamaCare policies unattractive, we wonder if the CBO’s estimate might not turn out to be on the high side. And here’s another puzzlement: Working for pay is supposed to be liberating for women because it frees them from dependency on men. How can one square that with this new claim that dependence on the government is liberating because it allows people not to work?

They told me if I voted for Mitt Romney, our government would be focusing massive efforts on getting women to stay home with their kids. And they were right!

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