Tuesday, July 11, 2006

America's Family Crisis: Another GOP Gift

"When you have kids, you'll understand."

It's one of the oldest and most infuriating arguments made by "family values" Republicans to young Democrats like myself in order to justify their homophobia and race-baiting.  I've heard this disgusting drivel from friends, acquaintances, and even my own relatives.  They ply this line with that tired air of knowing condescension which is supposedly the realm of the liberal elite--a paternalistic smear on the maturity of silly uneducated children who just don't know any better.

There are so many things one can say in response to this ridiculous drivel, but my favorite line of response is that it's the people with children who should understand better than anyone.  "Family Values" are being destroyed left and right by Republican corporatist policy.  

And there's a new study coming out of UCLA to give that idea further credence.

The new article Fractured Family: Struggle and Stress Threaten Today's Home really says it all.  A team of UCLA researchers headed by UCLA anthropology professor Elinor Ochs set out to do an in-depth study of 32 Los Angeles households.  The families were videotaped, their homes measured out, pictures taken, and even saliva samples taken to measure stress levels.  The findings were sadly predictable:

The question to be answered here was basic: How was this particular pack of two-legged animals doing?  With both parents working "and working a lot," says Ochs, "how do families manage?"

The answer seems to be "not so well."...Finding suggest that family life endures in the 21st century, but it's different than it used to be, and neither our social institutions nor our expectations and fantasies ahve adapted.  The result is struggle and stress.

And what about those who would say that we should just go back the "good old days" of Leave It To Beaver?  What about the conservatives who, when asked what they are actually conserving, point to the 1950's family?

No one who seriously studies the family would suggest we look to the overly romanticized historical blip that was the 1950s for an archetype, but even those with a long-term perspective agree that the family has changed enormously of late.

The article goes on to mention the decline of arranged marriages starting in the 19th century, and the entrance of women into the workforce beginning in the latter half of the 20th century, as the two main motivators of change in family structure.

The end result of these trends, however, is that in the 2000 census, the traditional nuclear family represented only 24 percent of American households.  The traditional American family is disappearing.  But why?

Well, for starters, people are getting married later and later, while more and more children are growing up in divorced households.  As the article points out:

"The median age for first marriage has risen to an all-time high of 25 for women and 27 for men," says Megan Sweeney, an associate professor in UCLA's sociology department who studies family-related issues.  "The divorce rate has stabilized, but it's still very high; as many as a third of all young people will live in a stepfamily at some point in their lives."

So what is the problem?  Well, we might want to start with the fact that dual-income parents are working over 90 hours a week combined, with some of the most draconian labor laws in the industrialized world:

Also unresolved: how to manage the dual-career family time crunch.  In fact, in that arena, we've gone backwards, taking on more to do in less time, with research showing that dual-income parents now work more than 90 hours a week combined.

Hmmmm...backwards.  That's pretty much the opposite of progressive, right?  But corporate America, ally of the "family values voter", is doing its part!  The wonderful free market, provider of all that is good and wonderful, is stepping up to the plate to solve America's problems.

Or not.

Work demands are up, too.  And men and women who are well aware that they have little job security are reluctant to complain.  The business world is rife "with labor practices built on the assumption that the dominant family structure is still the single-earner father," says Stewart Friedman, director of the Work/Life Integration Project at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

No kidding!  But of course, now that we have the Internet and cell phones, people can start spending more time working from home, right?  I distinctly remember Nextel-man Mark Warner say something about that at YearlyKos.  The free market rules again!

Or not.

For instance, he points out, corporate culture still rewards employees for how much "face time" they put in at the office, rather than what they actually produce--encouraging longer hours away from home.

Well, maybe not.  But we're the greatest country on earth!  We've got it better than those damn Japs and Frenchies!

Or not.

"Of all the major economic powers, aside from China and Russia, only Australia and the U.S. lack subsidized parental leaves, and Australia at least guarantees parents a year off," adds Stephanie Coontz.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 entitles American parents to only 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

The result: overwhelmed parents.  Elinor Ochs notes that more than a third of the fathers observed in the CELF project "worked more than 50 hours a week," with others bringing work home or checking e-mail late at night.

Damn that Clinton for his America-hating socialism!  He had the gall to institute the stingiest child leave act in the industrialized world, damn him.  The cuts that meant to corporate profits will ruin this nation and turn our hard-working citizens into featherbedding commies before this liberal tyranny is through.

And of course, his Oval Office blowjob is destroying families by the dozens every second.  Which is why we protection from gays getting married.  Yeah, that's it.

But the best is yet to come:

The image of the post-revolution family seems less new and reimagined than people just holding fast to Ozzie and Harriet images while slowly drowning.

This about sums it up.  And the article doesn't even mention what these families are drowning in: debt that will cause 1 in 7 families to declare bankruptcy by 2010.

But the sad story continues.

Togetherness is almost impossible to come by.  The CELF team used video cameras to see how often families actually shared space while at home.  The discouraging result, says CELF fellow and UCLA antrhopology graduate student Anthony Graesch...was that "family members we all together in the same room only 14 percent of the time."  Parents spent even less time with each other.  "In some families," says Graesch, "they never were alone in the same room as long as the kids were awake."

It's OK, though!  All they need a few moments at the end of each evening.  After all, the family that prays together...</snark>

Fortunately, however, people are starting to wake up:

The good news is that families still care--and care very much--about being families.  A 2001 study by Rutgers University and the University of Connecticut reported that 90 percent of working adults were concerned that they didn't spend enough time with their families.

And, in the strongest statement I've seen out of any piece of academic writing on this subject:

Finally, though academics are notoriously reluctant to predict the future, there's a sense that modern families feel sooverwhelmed that a rebellion may be brewing.

Today, workers under 30 cite the ability to maintain a balance between cwork and home life as the most important consideration in deciding whether they will join or stay with an employer.

That would be people like me.  People like me who prefer to undergo some financial hardship in exchange for temporal freedom by (in my case) starting my own business.  So that, you know, I can maybe have a family one day.


The statistics are all out there.  The studies have been done.  The facts are obvious for all to see.

This corporatist economy that works Americans' fingers to the bone, sends them into massive debt, leaves them without health insurance, and allows them no time to spend with their children is the greatest threat to family values that the world has ever seen.  All too often, people are left with two choices: a) have kids and live in poverty, stress, or both; or b) don't have kids.  This a truly terrible choice, and it is one that is encouraging unnaturally long postponements of conception while parents wait for better economic security--or even a decision not to have children at all among couples who would otherwise have wanted children.


And this is why I have such undying scorn for those racists and homophobes who tell me that when I have kids I'll somehow understand; these people who are so blinded by their own fear, hatred and ignorance that they would gladly cut off their noses to spite their face.

On the contrary, my GOP friends; I understand perfectly: people like you are the reason I can't afford to have kids yet.  Your "family values" make it so I can't have one.  And the sooner you and your ilk are removed from power and national influence, the better it will be for ALL our families.

[Cross-posted from My Left Wing]  


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