This morning, we women woke up to the terrific news that we have finally achieved professional parity with our male counterparts. For those of you who missed it, today's New York Times headline read "Women Are Now Equal as Victims of Poor Economy."
The article, based on a new Congressional study, points out that "women in their prime earning years, struggling with an unfriendly economy, are retreating from the work force, either permanently or for long stretches." The story went on to say that we women are "being afflicted on a large scale by the same troubles as men: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut. And they are responding as men have, by dropping out or disappearing for a while."
Which tells us what? It's finally as bad for us as it is for them.
So what else is new? Well, not this story for starters. The Times itself ran something strikingly similar on the same subject. ("Stretched to Limit: Women Stall the March to Work") which made the point, "The decline in participation rates for most groups of women since the recession of 2001 at least partly reflects an overall slowdown in hiring, which affected men and women roughly equally."
These are hard economic times, and we are all affected, perhaps not equally, but to a greater or lesser degree. Yet if you single out women - and make the professional hardship of blue collar workers the big front page story on the plight of all professional women, you might be accused of being a little heavy-handed. The story of the declining number of women (and men) in manufacturing is a solid one, as is the story of the struggles of welfare-to-work women. But the effect of this heavy-handedness on the rest of us is disheartening, particularly those of us who have chosen to stay at home. What's the point, we wonder as we try to entertain our children on a hot summer's day. We panic, as we struggle with the dishes and fill up the car without daring to look at the price, that we are stuck here forever, unable to pay for expensive daycare, or get another job. We fear we'll never have enough money, never return to a career, never be able to try something new. And what about those of us who work? Do we dare stop? Do we even have the choice?
Tough times mean tough choices for everyone, women included. Which is not the same thing as women in particular.
In full disclosure, I should point out that when I retreated from the workforce for my own long stretch, it was the New York Times that picked up the slack via my husband, executive editor Bill Keller's paycheck. But as is often the case in a marriage, sometimes we disagree on certain subjects and today was one of those days. The truth is, women don't need more headlines like the one from this morning--we'd be much better off with some of the other (less visible) ones from the Times like: "M.B.A. Programs Pay Off for Women Seeking a Return to Wall Street" (Oct 5, 2007) and "Boss in the Corporate Jet Is Likely to Be a Woman" (July 8, 2008), or "Why Dad's Résumé Lists 'Car Pool'" (June 12, 2008). Though I suspect our overall favorite would probably be from a Sunday Business story that ran just three weeks ago, "Would You Hire Your Husband?" I know it's mine.