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Nanette Fondas's picture

I’ve been on a one-woman campaign to resurrect the phrase, paycheck job, used by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique forty years ago.

Friedan was referring, of course, to jobs outside the home for which people receive money.  She recognized that the unpaid job of caring for children and home was also “work”—as do most people today.  But by placing the adjective “paycheck” in front of “job,” she implicitly elevated the status of stay-at-home mothers’ (and fathers’) equally important job.  Words have power.

Now Karen Kornbluh and Rachel Homer write in Ms. Magazine that we need “Paycheck Feminism.”  They argue that public policy must better value women’s work—in both paycheck jobs and at-home jobs.  They take us on a walk through the history of the employment deal in America in which we learn how New Deal era policies still in place today fit an ideal worker of the mid-1900s who was male, working full-time, and who had dependents relying on him only for wages and retirement, health, and educational benefits.

Over the past 40 years the work force has changed dramatically—with immigrants, women, single mothers, and Generations X and Y moving in.  Yet the country has not updated its policies accordingly.  Kornbluh and Homer lay out a succinct agenda for revamping U.S. work-life policy to take into account a variety of ways women work across their life course.

My favorite recommendation is this:

Although women now make up almost half of the workforce, the average woman spends 12 years out of the paid workforce, often to care for children or elderly relatives. Since workers’ benefits are calculated based on their 35 highest-earning years, that means seven more years of zeros to figure into the benefit calculations of a woman whose worklife spans 25 to 65—which substantially lowers her Social Security benefits. Instead, caregiving years should not be entered as zeros, and either be taken out of the equation or given a dollar value.

Others include changes in health insurance, family and medical leave, childcare, and payroll taxes to bring us up-to-date and aligned with today’s workforce realities.

You can check out the article in the Fall, 2009 issue of Ms. on the newsstand or they'll send you a copy.

Cross posted from the Huffington Post-- feel free to leave comments here or there.

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