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COVID is Supercharging the Patriarchy

COVID is Supercharging the Patriarchy
By Gordon Chaffin • Issue #140 • View online
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I’m job searching – – and I could use your help finding a job in DC or SE Michigan. I’m looking for a mid- to senior-level role in an organization that serves the public interest. A role in public policy, media/journalism, or communications/marketing. I’d appreciate any leads/referrals. Please reply to this email!

Important Meeting Tonight: Follow-Up from Friday's Post
On Friday, I wrote about a last-minute change DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson made to DC’s master land-use map. He ruled out housing and commercial uses for important industrial land. I – and other Ward 5 residents – want the land re-purposed; it’s right next to WMATA Metrorail, the Metropolitan Branch Walk/Bike Trail, and in the walkable Eckington neighborhood where more housing is desperately needed. There’s a public meeting tonight with Mendelson and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie. I hope you will log on with me and speak as a resident or neighbor stakeholder in favor of reinstating FLUM amendments 2419.2 and 2419.3.
  • TONIGHT at 6:45 PM ET: Eckington Civic Association ft. Chair Mendelson & CM McDuffie in re Eckington Land-Use [Agenda and Log-In]
$16 an hour, but how many hours per week and how long into the future will workers know their schedule? Will those workers get health benefits and paid-time off for family caregiving including childcare leave?
$16 an hour, but how many hours per week and how long into the future will workers know their schedule? Will those workers get health benefits and paid-time off for family caregiving including childcare leave?
Your Bosses Aren't Changed by COVID
All stories of proletariat revolution begin when a wealthy white woman living in Potomac, Maryland – North Arlington, VA or somesuch – writes at length about people poorer, browner, and less civilized than she. I celebrate CEO of Washingtonian Media Cathy Merrill for volunteering evidence for my strong suspicion: America’s business leaders, by and large, have not been made enlightened on labor rights by COVID-19’s forced alternative working arrangements.
The current news media discourse blames lazy job seekers for unfilled service work openings. Stories quote small business owners who mostly aren’t willing to re-structure how they treat employees. Merrill feels this way, as do business advocate groups – the Chambers, BIDs, DDAs, Main Streets etc – who aren’t in a position to publically criticize their member businesses.
The Average Voter doesn’t read high-quality reporting on the current labor shortage/mismatch dynamics; they don’t know how well Laura Hayes’ captures the nuance of reality. The social media headlines and clips from local news say it all, even when “it” is an economy that demands labor for less than a living wage, for work arrangements that prevent planning families more than two weeks ahead of time, where there’s no paid parental or caregiving leave, and involves absolutely zero job security.
Unemployment insurance does not dissuade people from applying to jobs that offer them reasonable bargaining power and a wage to live on. Ask Janet Yellin about this. Ask the academic studies on that trade-off: UI recipients wait longer to take a job, but “perceived UI generosity was related to increased reemployment quality, both directly as well as indirectly through lower time pressure and financial strain, and subsequent higher mental health.”
People don’t go back to work before they feel ready unless they’re desperate. They’re mostly not desperate now, which is good – this is a frustratingly rare moment of improved social safety net. Much of America’s inequality problem is built on a fallacy that you work alone can get your way out of poverty. I have vivid personal experience taking jobs that won’t pay my bills just because bringing in some money feels productive. But, that’s a black hole and no amount of work ethic or willpower makes a $900 net take-home pay cover $1,200 rent.
Cathy Merrill’s privilege pamphlet deals directly with the struggle of the hour: powerful people in the economy are usually not receptive to labor that wants to change paradigms coming out of COVID where even and especially the hourly workers, the gig/contingent labor, and “low-skilled” Americans demand and deserve self-determination on the when, how, and why of work. The most powerful people in our economy are taken aback by new realities of workers with improving options and resist the adapt, like Principal Skinner denying the kids’ moral high ground. Joe Weisenthal writes on this:
“Many people (business owners, but also economists and general observers of the world) just take it for granted that there’s always going to be a virtually unlimited supply of cheap labor. Just like people assume that when you turn on the faucet water will come out, people assume that if a restaurant or a store puts up a Help Wanted sign, they will be inundated with applications. … numerous modern business models are predicated on there being a pool of precarious workers with minimal bargaining power. Whether it’s fast food, gig-workers, e-commerce warehouses, their existence is assumed. … We might be getting a glimpse of what an economy looks like where that can’t be taken for granted, and businesses actually have to scramble for labor, or in some cases maybe it isn’t available at all.”
I think there’s an important connection between the thoughts of the Washingtonian CEO – our bad manager and villain du jour – and the same small business owners your local news quotes that exclaim astonishment that a $1,000 signing bonus and $1-$2 raise isn’t filling up their ZipRecruiter inboxes.
As Charlie Warzel explains, business leaders will probably eventually adapt to the way workers are starting to demand to be treated. “the business case for remote work will be made — by the same high paid consultants and pundits who sneered at it — as soon as the societal pressure for flexible work reaches a tipping point.” Remote work will normalize when enough high-skill employees quit for better arrangements and company leaders start seeing P&L numbers from reduced office supply costs. I’d complain about you having to use your own laptops for white-collar work, but the company-issued ones come with mouse and keystroke trackers.
A new manufacturing office park near my parents' home in Shelby Township, MI -- Macomb County, home of the Reagan Democrats and Obama-Obama-Trump voters.
A new manufacturing office park near my parents' home in Shelby Township, MI -- Macomb County, home of the Reagan Democrats and Obama-Obama-Trump voters.
Audrey, Start the Revolution (By Not Having Babies)
Most of what people say about others that they attribute to laziness or self-interest is really about an extremely complicated system of structures where many of the marginal incentives are perverse, power architectures demand contradictory requirements, and endogenous social costs are rarely accounted for. Free will and self-determination are extremely attenuated and meritocracy is almost entirely a myth privileged people use to retroactively absolve themselves of injustice.
I got abstract there to connect the worker “shortage” and work from home dynamic with the giant hailstorm our economy is pounding down on women. America’s birth rate continues a decades-long decline and – literally – all the jobs created in the U.S. last month were filled by men. Anne Helen Peterson writes extremely well about this:
There’s no one, fixable issue undergirding the U.S.’s birth rate decline. It’s our work structure — and our lack of childcare infrastructure, and our student debt, and our general lack of safety nets, and our decline in collectivism, and our hostility towards women, and our ever growing consumer debt loads, and declining religious affiliation, and birth control, and climate despair. All of these factors overlaps and compound and it’s straight up bad analysis to suggest otherwise.
The Japanese example Anne cites is instructive:
Take the situation in Japan, where many women are opting not to have children because their work and familial culture refuses to shift in a way that doesn’t make motherhood miserable. Is that a crisis — or is a reckoning? And just as “crisis” rhetoric around what’s happening in Japan has to do with nativist and exclusionary understandings of who gets counted as Japanese, the United States wouldn’t have a “replacement rate” problem (or burgeoning worries of “who will take care of our aging boomers”) if we welcomed more refugees and immigrants. The fear, in other words, is of our own making, and deeply rooted in narrow understandings of how a nation can and should sustain itself. We’re so wed to the principles of exponential growth — of the “right” sort of American — that we can’t even envision how fewer births might be part of the way forward.
I have radical opinions on many public policy issues. That’s because the most important socio-economic challenges of society during my lifetime haven’t been fixed. I want mandatory, paid paternity leave for all American men in the workforce. I want zero gas cars sold after 2030. I think we should legalize 4-unit dwellings by-right across the United States.
American governments have done barely more than nibble at the edgges. We did reduce teen pregnancy, but less-than-ideal family formation structures just shifted to a different demographic: unmarried whites without a college degree. The 2004 Prescription Drug Supplement and 2010 PPACA/Obamacare didn’t fundamentally change the broken healthcare system in America. In the span of my life, world governments haven’t so much as made progress on our climate emergency as acknowledge it and have serious conversations where rhetoric laps legally-binding action. California is at once the best example of climate change policies on energy and pollution *while* demonstrating probably the worst possible example of housing and land-use governance – sprawl and NIMBYism that makes climate change much worse.
So You're Saying There's a Chance for Change?
I don’t have a closing here, other than to say I’m not optimistic about the labor movement. The Alabama Amazon defeat was tough, but reflected what seasoned labor organizers and media have been saying for years: it’s extremely hard on a structural/legal level to restore the bargaining power of labor. Republicans are canceling unemployment payments instead of improving worker conditions. Like with climate mitigation, corporate action like marginally higher Chipotle pay is a band-aid at best and probably a vacuous marketing action. Chipotle is a crap job that doesn’t implement labor rights laws and zero job security. Those pay raises are the $10,000 donation to Ward 5 Mutual Aid when the developer will put only 8% affordable in new apartments vs. 25%+.
My philosophy on these big issues that intersect is that it’s hard to see more than marginal positive movement when we need transformative change – revolution. I keep doing the work of change because I believe in meaningful struggle. Hard work will never betray you, even though it’ll mostly be an accident of history if the revolution happens. My parents wish I’d just take a comfortable, stable job and stop worrying so much about the world vs. worrying about myself.
Let's go bowling
The entire planning profession can be boiled down to "how do we fix the problems caused by cars and apartment bans without banning cars or allowing apartments"
Lee Cain
First Green Boats haul from volunteers on the 7-9am shift today. We’re weighing, counting and sorting, but this visual shows clearly the biggest trash problem is plastic bottles. More spaces opening to volunteer this week.
Dan Hopkins
Here's a new #polisciresearch working paper & a 🧵.

We all know about 1/6 and the threat to American democracy that crystalized that day.

Were there *changes* in American public opinion in the years before that foreshadowed the threat?

Not really.
Know of Any Job Opportunities?
I’m job searching – – and I could use your help finding a job in DC or SE Michigan. I’m looking for a mid- to senior-level role in an organization that serves the public interest. A role in public policy, media/journalism, or communications/marketing. I’d appreciate any leads/referrals. Please reply to this email!
Gordon Chaffin's Resume
Gordon Chaffin's Resume
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This is Gordon Chaffin's newsletter. Gordon is a multi-talented creative and quantitative professional. He's also a civically engaged resident of Washington, D.C. This email newsletter features writing about Gordon's life and observations about current events.

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