Biden and Adams’ “Get Back To Work” Will Widen Gender Pay Gap

President Biden’s “it’s time for Americans to get back to work” comment at the State of the Union address followed only weeks after a bizarre “it’s time to get back to work” uttered by NYC’s Mayor Eric Adams at a state Democratic nominating convention. Both are a mere two years following our first “women’s recession” and just as we’re kicking off likely the first Women’s History Month to see so many American women working from home under their terms. Oh my.

If you put aside the concerning parroting in both quotes that obviously points to urban coastal elite Democrats leading the discourse on national employment conditions I’ll put aside the months I and other economists at the Mayor’s office spent trying to convince our middle managers to pivot downtown spaces into affordable housing. With that we can focus all our energy on the levels of backwards these suggestions are coming from people who otherwise seem concerned about inequality in general and the gender pay gap in particular.

Liberals and Democratic liberals in particular have been concerned about income inequality for years if not decades, at least linguistically. Inequality and poverty in the US is concentrated in urban centers as I’ve discussed on camera before, and much has been made about how many of these jurisdictions are Democratic strongholds that seem incapable of shaking their segregation or unequal outcomes. At least in NYC this is in part because REBNY has its hands in the pockets of most NYC Democrats and the City’s major flaws fuel its most lucrative monopoly: real estate.

And although the REBNY dollars have been viewed with more repulsion recently Mayor Eric Adams is a notable exception when it comes to declining them. Protecting land monopolists will continue to be an agenda item for City Hall (and likely anyone seriously trying to be a City Hall contender) and those downtown parcels are a prime source of property taxes (not to mention their transferable value is another tax opportunity for the locality) so keeping them valuable is in the interests of both bedfellows. Of course nothing says valuable office space than clamoring demand and high occupancy rates.

So who’s on the chopping block to potentially keep NYC – and presumably the nation’s urban centers – topped off? Well it’s going to be any worker with an in-office-optional job, whether an administrative assistant making $30k or a managing director averaging $400k before cash bonuses and stock vesting. My concern is broad – a threat to any worker’s self determination is a threat to all of them if you ask me – but in the context of COVID-19 it’s specifically jarring how this back-to-the-office push will harm progress on the gender pay gap.

Will Pres. Biden’s “Back To Work” Call Worsen The Gender Pay Gap?

Women And Post-Pandemic Employment

Women, especially women of color, took the brunt of the pandemic-related employment catastrophe. I watched week to week as the City reported new unemployment claims disproportionately among thousands of Hispanic and Black women. You can just take a look at this graph of unemployment rates by race and gender below to get an idea of how this played out: unemployment spiked nationally among Latinas the most, followed by Black men who traditionally fair the worst during any employment crisis.

After a while unemployment came down, slowest for Black men, Black women, and Latinas. As we’ve been recovering telework or remote work became a more popular option for Americans. In the latest week of data available from the Census’ new Household Pulse Survey only 52% of New Yorkers working in the metro area worked from anything close to an office in the prior week. For America as a whole that’s around 58%. I think it’s safe to say some of us are over the commuter lifestyle. And as a native New York lifetime commuter, I entirely understand why. Few imaginable things are as disconnecting from your humanity and family as commuting 1.5-2 hrs one way from the mostly Black and Brown outer-boroughs of NYC into the heart of American capitalism, likely to work for someone too filled with liberal white guilt to admit they probably would have passed on your resume if your name didn’t sound so Anglo-Saxon on paper. It is to say the least, exhausting for anyone let alone people who would rather work than socialize with each other.

Percentage of adults in households where someone worked onsite at a workplace in the last 7 days

Admittedly the women who lost their job during the pandemic were disproportionately low income. In NYC many of those who fell into unemployment had an average implied income of $33-$37k annually from 2020-2021. Census data suggests teleworking was by far most popular among high earners making at least six figures. If anything that validates the gender wage gap concern even more: women in general during the pandemic were thrown back into their homes, either due to lockdowns closing their office or all out job loss, and saddled with domestic responsibilities. In aggregate women almost certainly experienced disproportionate income losses compared to men, even before considering their uncompensated increases in domestic work.

BLS Weekly Median Earnings in 2020. Even high earning women experience a pay gap, sometimes a proportionately larger one than low income women.

But women who retained their jobs while working from home got the chance to rebalance how their time was spent between work and caring for loved ones or the household. And that level of flexibility is actually critical to fighting drivers of the gender wage gap like the motherhood penalty, which more or less amounts to penalizing women for having to seek time-flexible employment or entirely drop out of the workforce often due to dependent care challenges at home. Actually I’ve argued on camera that labor statistics support an association between pay equity and job traits like schedule flexibility and self-determination that may allow women to earn high, male-comparable wages and achieve care progress while maintaining the parts of their identity related to family and dependent care.

Basically working from home has given a unique opportunity to probably half of America’s working women to finally have the chance to shape their work around their lives rather than pitting both against each other, with the outcome being reduced pay, employment loss, or reduced attention to loved ones. Despite that, the housing and equity opportunities being created by emptying out offices, and the alleged goals of Democratic liberals, President Biden and Mayor Adams clearly think it’s more important to protect the physical monopolies of well off landowners. And another day passes in America.

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