Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Are We Heading Back To The 50's?

My mother and grandmother

If there's a silver lining in the Great Recession (and the loss of so many higher paying jobs and the nearly 16% unemployment/underemployment rate among recent college graduates) it's that we may be heading back to the 50's. A time when less was more. Where one parent stayed home and the other brought home the bacon. Because there just might not be enough good jobs to go around anymore.

Mom in her garden in our backyard

Research from the 1950's showed that people were not just happy, they were very happy. (Check out Top 10 Reasons Life Was Better In the Fifties - http://listverse.com/2013/02/27/top-10-reasons-life-was-better-in-the-fifties/.) 

One significant difference between now and the 1950's is that today more women than men graduate from college. So it's not that far-fetched that it will be the women who work outside the home. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that women will also wind up doing most of the cooking and cleaning. Even so, it could be such a nice change for children to have one parent home after school to help with homework, orchestrate play dates, schlep kids to and from activities. Family life must be significantly less stressful when you don't need to rely on daycare or nannies. And according to Elizabeth Warren, we'll have more spending money if we go back to having just one-parent work outside the home.

"The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke" was written by Elizabeth Warren along with her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi. One of the most eye-opening statistics in the book is that a two-income family earns 75% more money than its single-income counterpart from a generation ago, but they actually have 25% less discretionary income to cover living expenses. And it's not because of overconsumption. The book noted that two-income families are twice as likely to face financial hardship since either parent could have a medical setback or lose their job. At least in the case of a one-parent working family the other parent could step up and hopefully find employment that could help support the family. This is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the underlying research.

One key to replicating the financial stability of the 50's is that we really do need to scale back our expectations. We need to spend less and save more. This was easier in the 50's when credit cards barely existed. Living large back then was going to a movie for twenty-five cents. Now it costs closer to $10 and that's without any snacks. A cup of coffee in the 1950's cost around five cents. Today, a latte from Starbucks costs around five dollars. A smaller home was the norm for most families. Now it's unthinkable for a family to live in a 983 sq. ft. home. But think about how much money can be saved on taxes and utilities if we downsized? People are having fewer children now so it's not such a terrible idea to think small.

Another book worth reading is by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell called "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead." The authors encourage women not to leave the workforce just because they have children. One theme in the book is that women are needed in leadership roles because we offer a valuable and much needed perspective in the workplace and in government. So true. It's kind of interesting to note that you can't find a woman named in any Top 20 List of Dictators in the world. In fact, I can't think of any woman who was ever considered a Dictator. (I know, men around the world are rolling their eyes, my husband included.) It makes you kind of wonder how the war in Afghanistan would have gone if we just armed their women. Maybe world peace would have a chance if women around the world ran the show. Anyway, as much as I agree with Sheryl Sandberg, I'm still of the mindset that to each her own when it comes to career vs. family. We don't need anyone heaping guilt on us for our choices. And that's actually a sentiment Ms. Sandberg expressed in her book.

In my perfect world, I love the idea of having it all. Capable women leading a peaceful world along with access to great part-time jobs where the hours happen to coincide with school hours. Corporate America, take note. There is an enormous untapped talent pool of super bright moms (and dads) capable of contributing to your profitability if the hours are family friendly. A happy employee is an outstanding employee. And while world peace seems so elusive (and off topic) we shouldn't give up.

At the end of the day, all I know is that the world as we know it is changing. I'd like to think it's ultimately going to be for the better. And maybe the challenging economy and questionable job market is going to lead us down a path that turns out to be ok. And I really do love the idea of women taking on leadership roles. Maybe we'll actually see a woman become President of the United States during my lifetime. I hope so.

What do you think?

Taking a margarita break from cooking and cleaning with my sister, Gay Wood-Albrecht

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