January 14 2014
According to Beyoncé, “Gender equality is a myth!” “It isn’t a reality yet,” the superstar – who together with her husband Jay Z brought in $95 million last year – tells us. This is the central essay and the core message insideThe Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, released this week in partnership with the progressive Center for American Progress.
As the title suggests, Shriver’s newest report on the economic status of women focuses on the financial hardships that plague many of America’s working women and their families – low wages, limited paid sick leave, a steep rise in single-mothers, and the perennial “wage gap” statistic that women continue to make only 77 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earns. Unsurprisingly, it also pushes “modern solutions” (read: new government-centered policy prescriptions) as the cure-all for women. Far more than simply a catalogue of challenges, The Shriver Report is a political campaign that includes essays by stars like LeBron James and Eva Longoria, an HBO documentary, a full-day event hosted by The Atlantic, and an official presentation of the findings to President Obama. The report succeeds at exposing just how vulnerable many women – especially unmarried women – are, and sheds light on some of the legitimate challenges they face. But the study does little to explore the driving forces behind these challenges, and instead focuses on perpetuating the myth that American society is inherently unfair to women and girls today, and only a growing state can change things.
The feminization of poverty is a real problem. No one can ignore that the number of single-parent households where women are the sole breadwinner have risen dramatically in recent decades. In 1960 the majority of single-mothers were divorced, separated, or widowed – only 4 percent were actually never married. Today the picture is just the opposite, with 44 percent of single mothers havingnever been married. Add to this the rising levels of divorce and it’s not hard to see how women can quickly be left alone and destitute with only the government to turn to.
The Shriver Report, however, disregards how government has created perverse incentives through a ballooning welfare state, government-run schools, and disincentives to marry, which have worsened the lives of many American women. Nor does it consider how new workplace policies – like Sen. Gillibrand’s FAMILY Act – would further limit economic growth and opportunity. LeBron James offers an “appreciation” for single mothers that is touching, but that fails to engage in a deeper discussion about how the loss of marriage is so tightly connected to the problem of poverty in America.
The report uses big names to repackage old ideas; but behind that glitz is a gaping hole where the price of this intervention ought to be considered. Those costs are not just measured in dollars and cents, but in terms of government debt, fewer jobs, a less dynamic economy, and lost freedom. Helping low-income women does not require a vastly expanded state, trillions more in spending, and more onerous regulations, which will limit economic growth and opportunity. Instead we need to focus on smart government, with targeted assistance programs, but which lessen the burden on the economy to encourage job creation and a more flexible workplace, and increase opportunity for all Americans, women and men alike.
Sadly, the report was a missed opportunity to explain how improving the lives of women requires greater educational freedom so more girls (and boys) have a real opportunity to learn, a streamlined tax system that allows families to keep more of what they earn, a dynamic marketplace that offers high quality goods at affordable prices, and stable families and communities.
The only thing new in the Shriver Report was how openly political it has become. With the midterm elections less than a year away, this is the newest stage in the “War on Women.” It urges readers to “support laws that can add half-a-trillion dollars to the national economy by closing the wage gap.” And to “vote for women and men who want to modernize the relationship to women and their families.”
It’s not terribly surprising, that the report ignores that the wage gap statistic is grossly overstated, and that even liberal feminist groups like the AAUW admit as much. It’s not unexpected that the report ignores the impact laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act or the newly proposed FAMILY Act would have on the economy or women’s pocketbooks at home. There is a faith in top-down, one-size-fits-all government solutions that can only be politically motivated.
In the end, this is “Julia.” Shriver and the Center for American Progress understand these unmarried, vulnerable women – which President Obama won by a 45-point margin in 2008 – they’re discussing are the ticket to winning future elections for Democrats. But how tragic to think that their victory should come at the expense of creating a large segment of women who are wards of the state.
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forumand co-author of Liberty is No War on Women: How Big Government and Victim-Politics Undermine America’s Progress.