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A Nerdy Policy Interlude for Your Daily Politics-Watching

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

We were sitting in the House Gallery the other night when some sh*t went down after 10pm. We're still trying to process how best to talk about that and what lessons to take away from it. So, in the meantime, here's some nerdy policy stuff for you. (With apologies to those of you who follow us on twitter and have maybe already seen some of this.)

We're pretty excited about this report from Oren Cass at the (conservative thinktank) Manhattan Institute: The Cost-of-Thriving Index: Reevaluating the prosperity of the American Family. Though there is a lot that we want to say about the analysis on an economic basis, we're not focused on that right now. Right now, we want to talk about gender and policy.

The report's author uses *male earnings* as the basis for the entire analysis. The great part of that? It foregrounds (and describes) a set of cultural assumptions about gender and economics.

"Here, the question is how well the typical male worker can provide for a family."

Cass constructed his index around male earnings "because men historically were more likely to be sole breadwinners." Plus, polls (like this one from Pew in 2017) show that Americans still view men as the primary provider. (Even though that’s increasingly no longer the case.)

"The Cost of Thriving Index (COTI) uses men’s earnings for sociological as well as statistical reasons. Sociologically, a substantial body of empirical research has identified the unique importance of work to men’s well-being and to both family formation and stability."*

"The normative question of whether we *should* care if the typical man can confidently provide for his family is beyond the scope of this paper. The information presented here establishes only the descriptive reality that once he could and now he cannot."

Our elected officials are (almost always) operating out of this same paradigm--one focused on the male breadwinner.

But our electeds are making decisions without enough information. This report shows that the male breadwinner's "ability to provide for his family has degraded dramatically." (Btw, they could--and should--be using the excellent and newly updated Wyoming Women's Foundation Self-Sufficiency Standard. More on that in an upcoming post.)

It shows that men earn enough to pay for 53 weeks of expenses. Which doesn't leave a lot of room for error in a year comprised of 52 weeks.

Again: This report is only talking about male earners.

And we think that is a *good* thing because it helps highlight the ways in which talking about men as sole breadwinners is our collective default--even when we don't identify it as such. For example, nowhere in Figure 5 (the chart above) does it explicitly say "men" or "male". It just tells you how many weeks of earnings are needed. You, as a person, might assume that this chart applies to you.

As a female person, you would be wrong.

But you might look at it, nonetheless, and expect to see yourself reflected back, and then experience significant cognitive dissonance when you realize that your current (full-time, year round) wages only cover 40 weeks of major household expenses.

That's true of most charts, most reports, most policy discussions. Because here's the truth--and it underscores a fundamental belief of ours at WWAN:

When people, especially elected officials and policymakers have discussions, they usually have an imaginary, default human in mind--whether they foreground it or make it explicit or not. (We have some other thoughts on how this comes into play in discussions centered on women and women's bodies, but that's for another post.)

Our job here is to point out and surface those assumptions and figure out if they match up with the data and the lived experience of Wyoming women. Too often, that imaginary, default human is a straight, white, able-bodied, married, Christian, man who works and has children. And while we do not begrudge him any of those qualities, we do not all resemble that. Some of us are some of those things. Some of us are none of those things.

And policies that require an individual to be all of those things in order to succeed do a disservice to--or even create structural disadvantages for--the majority of people in the Equality State.

We have to remember that there is *always* a default human in mind. Every debate, every discussion, every policy decision. If that default human doesn't look like you or live a life that bears resemblance to yours, the policies enacted won't either.

We'll hop off our soapbox now and get back to some listening in the House Gallery. Hope to see you there.

*We have so many thoughts on and rebuttals to this that we could fill several volumes. Suffice it to say that we do not accept this as an accurate--or even settled--foundational premise.

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