Labor Day, 2017


Tomorrow is Labor Day, 2017, here in the United States.  The White House celebrates this milestone by creating a 37% gender pay gap within its own ranks.  This The Washington Post piece (7-5-2017) informs us that, “According to the Pew Research Center, the Trump White House gender gap is wider than the national gender pay gap stood in 1980.”  I haven’t been able to find data for pay gaps based on race in the Trump White House, presumably because there are not enough employees of color hired by Trump even to generate data points. (I do not know the statistics for the long-term staff who cook, clean, and organize the day-to-day needs of this big enterprise.)  Nevertheless, we do know (Politico, 1-24-2017) that 85% of Trump’s cabinet choices are white, and 75% are male.  Henry C. Jackson writes in the piece, “The numbers don’t lie: Trump’s Cabinet is older, whiter and richer than his predecessors.”  Jackson informs us, too, that there are “no Hispanics” at all in this “president’s” Cabinet.

The second graph (above) from the Pew Research Center shows 2016 statistics on the gender and race pay gap in the United States, which at least recognizes differentials between and among Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White women and men.  According to this chart, Hispanic/Latina women in 2016 earn 58% of white men’s earnings and 70% of white women’s, and Black women earn 65% of what white men earn.  The report also states that “Black and Hispanic men have made no progress in narrowing the wage gap with white men since 1980.”  This bleak picture of the pay gap is all too familiar and long-standing, and the current party in power in its public policies and its own hiring practices is reinforcing the inequities across race and gender.  The New York Times reported last week that, “even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago.”  These data underscore the challenges of access (for example, to elite schools, graduation from which catapults students into greater areas of privilege) and the resultant inequalities that continue to plague our economic systems.  Of course, the greater the economic inequality, the more difficult life is in other areas, and this maps generally unfavorably for those who are not white.  (Just check out statistics on, for example, mass incarceration and increased lack of security of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.)

Bryce Covert writes in today’s The New York Times that the Unites States’ drop in female labor force participation (6th highest in the world in 1990; 17th highest in 2010) is due in part to “the fact that other developed countries instituted and expanded policies like paid family leaves, subsidized child care and flexible work arrangements while the United States did barely anything at all.” Add to this the decrease in women’s reproductive rights, slowness in closing the gender pay gap for all races, and the increased reports in sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, and you have a workplace that continues to be at least unwelcoming, if not downright hostile, to women of all races, and especially to women who are not white.

As I watch the Trump White House send message after message that white men will continue to make money on the backs of men and women of color and white women, I see the same messages communicated here in the 6th District of Virginia.  Our representative, Bob Goodlatte, has not appeared in Lexington, Virginia, to address his constituents directly since 2013. This past Thursday, Goodlatte did visit Lexington for a closed visit with area veterans of the Vietnam war (all men, mostly white).  During recess from Congress, Goodlatte also touted his tours of Shenandoah Valley farms and agribusinesses.  Don’t get me wrong: it is perfectly fine to celebrate people who have served our nation and who produce the food we eat.  But it is not fine only to recognize the hard work of mostly men and mostly white people.  This is an elected official, with Trump as role model, who chooses only to speak to white men.

The 6th District is a lot more than veterans and farmers, and we workers of all genders and races need to have the ear of our representative.

Here I have parsed economic questions of labor according to gender and race.  In some ways, this moves against the prescriptions of the Occupy/99%/Bernie Sanders-inflected movements, which prescribe a more unified front based mostly (or maybe solely) on economic justice. Nevertheless, I do subscribe to Nancy Fraser’s argument (published here in The New Left Review, July-August 2016)  that “capitalist societies have separated the work of social reproduction from that of economic production,” associating social reproduction with women and free labor and economic production with men and remunerated labor.  Fraser suggests that we need to break this dichotomy in order to recognize and remunerate all forms of labor with a fair wage.  Given the statistics on gender and race wage gaps, we need to move in this direction, recognizing, as Fraser has said here (in Spanish; 8-23-2017), that we are all residents of this country who are capable of sustaining/earning and caring for people.

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