#AnonymousSpeaks

The Benefits Cliff

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"Ok, Screwnomics, here's a story of how the economy works against women. As a single mother, graduate student, I had more income from student loans, food stamps and fuel assistance than I do working full time as a mental health therapist. I fall into the gray area, the 'cliff' where people fall off - where you earn too much to qualify for assistance, and too little to pay the bills. So—am I being forced to share housing with a workingman, so that I can pay the bills? What if I prefer to be independent?"

Good question, Cliffhanger! We know some earnest souls believe the best welfare reform is marriage—your taxes even helped pay for programs, dangling this solution. But we’re with you. Even should you marry, you’re wise to want independence. Economic vulnerability is a gateway to other risks.

 One clue you mention is that word “mother.” There’s evidence that moms, especially single ones, are the worst paid of anyone, regardless of their field, regardless of education. Mom’s Rising names it The Motherhood Penalty. We looked up the starting pay for mental health therapists and found it was about $42,000 a year. Assuming a 40-hour workweek, that’s about $20 an hour, before taxes. Your contract could well be less.

Then we went to the MIT Livable Wage calculator that estimates basic costs for living, which varies in all 50 states. We looked at Vermont (where WE live) and saw an adult living with one child annually needs $13,511 for housing; $7593 for transportation; $8209 for childcare, and $6871 for medical insurance and copays. Your livable wage here would be: $45,660. Just losing your childcare alone costs an arm and a leg. Jana Kasperkevec at The Guardian suggests that minimum wage legislation needs always to be considered in tandem with the benefit “cliff” that too many learn about the hard way.

Are there ways to preserve benefits to help moms and young people bridge to better paying jobs? Are there some benefits, like food stamps or childcare, that should be more universally subsidized—and with living wages for child care providers? (They’re often on welfare, like fast food workers.) Could the government provide a universal cash allowance for the time and care families invest in readying the “next generation” of our nation? You can learn more about Eleanor Rathbone and England’s “Mother’s Allowance” and other solutions in Screwnomics.

Livable wages need to be more widely understood by state legislators and business organizations, the public and the private sector—and also by students who are taking out loans. Stagnant and shrinking wages have been the majority’s lot since 1970, and the recent tax cut for corporations? It should have been a tax cut for mental health therapists. If this keeps up, more Americans will need your help!

We believe EconoGirlfriend peer groups and problem solving can make a difference—thanks so much for sharing here.

Hey readers, can you relate? Do you have a story to share? Tell us here!

Anonymous Speaks: Master's Degree and $16/Hour

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“Even with a Master's in Accounting, I face the fact every day when I go to work that I'm not getting paid what I'm worth. I can't afford many things, including paying back my student loans because I've worked the past 10-1/2 years for a family-owned multi-million-dollar construction firm, making $12 to start and $16 an hour after 10 years. That's only a 40-cent raise per year.

I no longer have my medical benefits, because I can't afford my half, so my employer gets away with not even paying that benefit. I am too old to look for another job; I will retire at 70 in about seven years on only Social Security. Yes, I have the value of 10 years experience, but what good does that do me now? I'm nearly 63 years old, and no one is going to hire an aging, overweight, gray-haired woman!”

                                                                                                        —AnonymousSpeaks

(Got a story to share with other women? Click here and we'll share your story in confidence.)

Screwnomics says: You are not alone! A 2016 report from GlassDoor, which examines the gender gap in accounting in five countries, found it a fact in all five. The “unexplained” US gap between women and men is a whopping 30 percent difference. Here’s what GlassDoor says about the reasons for “explained” differences in accounting job placement (with boldface, ours):

WHAT’S THE MAIN CAUSE? The single biggest cause of the gender pay gap is occupation and industry sorting of men and women into jobs that pay differently throughout the economy. In the U.S., occupation and industry sorting explains 54 percent of the overall pay gap—by far the largest factor. For example, Census figures show women make up only 26 percent of highly paid chief executives but 71 percent of low-paid cashiers. Past research suggests this is due partly to social pressures that divert men and women into different college majors and career tracks, or to other gender norms such as women bearing disproportionate responsibility for child and elderly care, which pressures women into more flexible jobs with lower pay.

Others in the industry point to better prospects than usual right now. So don’t overlook the possibility of taking your ten years’ experience to another position. Even a small improvement plus benefits would make a difference to your retirement. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is a great resource for learning how to negotiate a pay raise with benefits! 

Why an #EconoMeToo Movement Matters

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Ten years ago, Tarana Burke began encouraging women to share their stories with each other. She knew they weren’t easy stories to tell. She herself had experienced sexual assault, and seeing how common it was, and how often women blamed themselves, she began #MeToo. Women learned they weren’t alone. Far from it. When they united, they became survivors and stronger. They could support one another to make change.

My book Screwnomics, more than ten years in the making, puts forward a similar idea. Screwing is not a woman’s word. It is a male vernacular made common in the world of money. It describes someone cheated, humiliated, and dominated. Most often we laugh it off.  But whatever your gender, or sexual preference, to be screwed means essentially to be made "female," or used against your will by a more powerful someone, who demonstrates he cares nothing about you. The use of this metaphor is now so common, we seldom think about its gendered nature.

Like Tarana, I encourage women to share their story with other women. Money tales are also difficult to confide. Money’s our last taboo, as loaded and shameful as sex—and often connected to sexual messaging and racial and gender identity. But together women can face what so often is painful and infuriating—and can be changed when we end our silence. Because of Screwnomics and  its workbook, Where Can I Get Some Change?, designed to help women claim their own economic story, women often confide in me. In the past month, I’ve heard diverse but similar tales. When asked if I can share them, they're afraid, and say no. They don’t want to go public, or be recognized. It feels too dangerous—and probably is. Until we unite.

That’s why we’ve introduced our new blog spot: AnonymousSpeaks. It’s an easy way to tell your story, which we promise to share in confidence, without using your name, unless you tell us you want to make specifics public on our website. How’s it work?

Just go to: https://www.screwnomics.org/ and you’ll see: What Is Your Economic Story? A big red button says: Click here to share!

We’ll respond and get your confirmation to make sure it’s really you. We may also request style edits, and reserve the right to publish only stories that our editors believe will be helpful to others. Feel free to share any solutions that worked for you, also. We’ll share it with our followers on Facebook and on Twitter, using #Screwnomics #EconoMeToo. Together, we are powerful.