A Moment with Dr. Moore

August 23, 2023

Feeling Good About the Early Learning Field

James Brown hit the top of the Billboard charts in 1966 when he howled “this is a man’s, man’s, man’s world.” The song’s title was drawn from a popular comedy film from 1963, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Brown was inspired to write it during a discussion with Betty Jean Newsome, his girlfriend at the time. She was also a singer and songwriter with her own ideas about the role women played. When she heard the song, she disagreed with its message and suggested it was a woman’s world instead. Still, Brown insisted that “man made the cars to take us over the road, man made the train to carry the heavy load, man made the electric light to carry us out of the dark.”

At the same time, he did concede that the world “wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl” in his 1966 hit. And a few years later women got mad enough to go on strike for what they deserved. On August 26, 1970, the National Organization for Women organized protests nationwide to mark the 50th birthday of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The largest rally took place in New York City, where 50,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue calling for equity in education and employment, repeal of anti-abortion laws and universal child care. Working-class women and wealthy housewives linked arms as they called “Come join us, sisters” to women on the sidewalks. Blacks, whites and Latinas banded together in the joint fight against gender bias. And their shared sense of commitment sparked New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug to lead the charge in establishing Women’s Equality Day in 1971.

Women have come a long way since those days. In 1970, women earned about 4 percent of family income in this nation while today, they earn more than 40 percent. Since 1980, women’s average weekly pay has jumped 26 percent as more women entered the labor force, while men’s pay has increased only 1 percent. Women make up 60 percent of graduating college students and an even higher percentage of graduate students. In the last two recessions, the typical person who lost a job was a man who had a high school diploma and worked in a blue-collar job, such as manufacturing or construction. In the last two recoveries, the typical person who gained a job was a woman with a college degree who worked in service fields, such as business support, health care or education.

Despite these gains, the pandemic derailed career trajectories for women in recent years. For example, in New York, where Abzug had campaigned to lift women up, the march for women’s equality at work stopped in its tracks. the pandemic caused the unemployment rate for women to nearly double from 4.2 percent, with 209,000 women unemployed in 2019, to 8.2 percent, with 405,000 women unemployed in 2021. Equality for women in the workplace took a big step back as they shouldered most of the burden of child care as centers closed. “One out of four women who became unemployed during the pandemic reported the job loss was due to a lack of child care,” according to a 2020 report from the Brookings Institute. “And that was twice the rate of the men surveyed.”

Men as a group even gained 16,000 jobs in New York by December 2020 while women lost 156,000. Most of these losses were among Black and Latina women, who were also over-represented in jobs that were deemed essential and had to be done in person. These same women working in “essential” jobs risked their health to help other New Yorkers stay safe and keep the economy going. According to the state’s labor department, women of color made up almost two-thirds of the state’s essential work force—1.45 million women out of 2.25 million frontline workers. Yet they earned nearly 25 percent less than their nonessential counterparts in other jobs.

And that’s the case for our early childhood teachers, many of them women of color, despite the essential role they fill. Our educators’ families are twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers’ families, so most can’t afford to put their own children in child care. They carry a heavy load as they help light the way for young learners to succeed. And their issues played a prominent role in a call to action issued by the YWCA of the National Capital Area on Women’s Equality Day 2022.

The YWCA’s WomenVote Survey explored women’s concerns nationwide and the types of policies they would like to see in place. What the YWCA found is that the concerns of women, especially women of color, deeply reflect the continued inequality of our country. Most women were united in their concerns surrounding gender-based violence, domestic terrorism and access to reproductive health care. In addition, 70 percent of the women surveyed agreed that we need policy solutions to provide affordable, high-quality child care, and 72 percent agreed that we need to ensure living wages to the child care professionals who help other women claim their rightful place at work and in the world.

“The child care crisis is the singular issue that dominates current discussions, and it is the one that demands urgent, decisive action,” according to a report on the gender pay gap released by the New York Department of Labor this year. “This is an issue that has deep implications for the whole of society and one with the potential to impact the state’s economic standing.” Investing more money in the child care field will certainly help. And it’s a step in addressing a broader issue that continues to hold women back. We as society need to value what has traditionally been called “women’s work” as much as we value “men’s work.”

James Brown might have disagreed, but he knew the value of having a woman’s love and support. In his 2005 autobiography, I Feel Good, he said, “You know how it goes: It’s a man’s world, but you wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl. To that end, it’s important to be with someone who understands your life.” And for many young children, their early childhood teacher is that someone who provides the love, support and understanding they need. And that’s something that should make the many women in the early learning field feel pretty good.

 

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