Articulating what it takes to live full lives as single people is what I have been doing for years, with much more thinking still to come. Here, I will point to three examples from Stephanie Coontz’s article, and show how her arguments can be broadened to include single people.
#1 Women are paid less than men
Noting that “women are still paid less than men at every educational level and every job category,” Coontz locates the implications in marriage. Wives are more likely than husbands to give up their jobs to care for kids.
For single people, the problem is more daunting. With no spouse to pay the bills, quitting work is not an option. And as Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell pointed out in their Atlantic article, The high price of being single in America, to be single and disabled is to be especially vulnerable, financially.
Until men and women are equally able to support themselves economically – and some children, too, if they wish – there is no gender equality among the unmarried.
#2 Part-time workers get screwed
Coontz reports that:
“A 1997 European Union directive prohibits employers from paying part-time workers lower hourly rates than full-time workers, excluding them from pension plans or limiting paid leaves to full-time workers.”
Wow, wouldn’t that be nice!
Here’s the next sentence: “By contrast, American workers who reduce hours for family reasons typically lose their benefits and take an hourly wage cut.”
Single people sometimes work at part-time jobs not because they have chosen to “reduce hours for family reasons,” but because part-time work is all they can get. With only their own employment package to live on, and no spouse as a back-up economic plan, getting screwed on pay, pension, and paid leave is all the more devastating.
To the extent that part-time work is disproportionately disadvantageous to women vs. men, then singles are facing gender inequality as well as unmarried inequality.
#3 Family and Medical Leave is unpaid leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, Coontz says, “guaranteed covered workers up to 12 weeks unpaid leave after a child’s birth or adoption or in case of a family illness.” She believes that we should be more like the vast majority of other comparable countries that “offer guaranteed paid leave to new mothers” and sometimes new fathers, too.
For people who are single, the deficiencies in FMLA are far more formidable. Single people do not have the same opportunities under the law as married people do to give and receive care – not even unpaid opportunities. Under the Act, eligible employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave “to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition” or to deal with “a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.”
The married person’s spouse is covered under the Act. There is no equivalent person covered for single people. That means that single people cannot take time off under the Act to care for an important person in their life, such as a sibling or close friend; nor can such a person take time to care for them.
If the need for care, or the need or desire to provide care to others, is different for single men than for single women, then, once again, single people are doubly discriminated against – they are targets of unmarried inequality and gender inequality.
Some great comments:
#3 (unpaid leave)
Submitted by Psyngle on February 18, 2013 – 8:37am.
In the new economy, too, there are lots of people like me who lost their jobs and are eking out a living as self-employed contractors, and we have no benefits, no paid sick time, nothing. If I didn’t have a compassionate ex-husband who was willing and able to float my mortgage for 2 months, I’d be out on the street now. The world of unmarried equality is still out of reach for me; I’m working on parity with people with “real jobs.” For me, paid disability means having at least $20,000 in savings. What I pay in health insurance alone would rent me a 1-bedroom apartment or provide the car payment for a vehicle much nicer than the one I own. There are so many people like me out there, the world we were booted out of is becoming irrelevant to us. Musing on parity in the workplace is an exercise in nostalgia.
Submitted by Rachel on February 18, 2013 – 1:47pm.
Universal health care is another one of those issues that would remove relationship questions from the table and ensure that we can be free to quit a job when our boss harasses us (for example).
To me, then, unmarried equality leads to (more) human equality.
The sentence that got me
Submitted by Simone on February 18, 2013 – 4:17pm.
Was that people shouldn’t have to get married in order to survive. I’d never heard it put that way before. That’s what it is, though. (Not spoken is that those people who have to get married to survive are 99.9% of the time women.) You could change it, too–no one should have to get married to have health insurance, to accumulate wealth, to work in certain fields, to live in certain places, to have physical safety, to be accepted socially.
Interesting way to think about it.
#2 (Part-Time Workers Get Screwed)
Submitted by UpperWorks on February 18, 2013 – 5:14pm.
Last week, a coworker, single woman working part-time, collapsed twice on the job 30 minutes a part. She refused ambulatory services and the first responders were sent away. When the paramedics were called the second time they called law enforcement for assistance. She refused medical services because she could not pay for an ambulance or medical treatment in the ER. And she couldn’t afford to lose the part-time job by missing work due to illness. She preferred to risk dying instead of incurring medical expenses. She kept saying over and over again, “I have bills I gotta pay. I can’t miss work.” This is America – the real world we live in. Politicians talk a good game. Universal Healthcare . . . yeah, right.