Domestic Violence: Truth, Lies, and Consequences

If you follow discussions of gender issues around the interwebs, you are bound to run across this claim: “Women commit domestic violence just as much as men do.” Armed with statistics, reporters and bloggers will explain that female-on-male domestic violence is an underreported but prevalent phenomenon, but that all of the resources go to female victims while male victims feel too humiliated and stigmatized to seek help.

If you are wondering why you haven’t heard about the emergency rooms full of men suffering black eyes and broken bones inflicted by their wives and girlfriends, it’s because the reasoning behind the claim of parity is largely unattached to reality.

“Large numbers of women and girls seek care in emergency rooms for injuries due to violence by a male partner; however, no documentation exists of partner violence from female partners as the source of a significant portion of emergency department visits by men or boys” (Reed, et al, “Losing the ‘Gender’ in Gender-Based Violence,” Violence Against Women, 2010).

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics, as Mark Twain famously said. Let’s examine the evidence.

A Bureau of Justice report from 2009 reveals these facts:

• In 2008, females age 12 or older experienced about 552,000 nonfatal violent victimizations (rape/sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated or simple assault) by an intimate partner (a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend).

• In the same year, men experienced 101,000 nonfatal violent victimizations by an intimate partner.

• In 2008, 72% of the intimate partner violence against males and 49% of the intimate partner violence against females was reported to police.

• About 99% of the intimate partner violence against females in 2008 was committed by male offenders. About 83% of the intimate partner violence against males was committed by female offenders in 2008.

• Females made up 70% of victims killed by an intimate partner in 2007, a proportion that has changed very little since 1993.

• Females were killed by intimate partners at twice the rate of males. In 2007 the rate of intimate partner homicide for females was 1.07 per 100,000 female residents compared to 0.47 per 100,000 male residents.

So where does the claim of perpetrator parity come from?

The stats come from an assessment tool, called the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), widely used in social science research. The CTS is a questionnaire that asks respondents to identify specific acts that they have committed in the course of a “conflict” with a partner. Framed in neutral language, the questions do not elicit any information about motives, circumstances, behavior patterns, or history. Nor does it distinguish between minor and severe instances of the acts of violence. Therefore, acts of self-defense are counted as acts of violence and disparity of force is ignored.

Critics of the CTS note that it does not address the use of domestic violence as a terroristic means of controlling one’s partner, leaves out sexual assault, and demonstrates little to no correlation between the reports of couples describing the same incident. “On several CTS items, mainly the most severe ones, agreement was actually below chance. On one item, ‘beat up,’ concordance was nil: although there were respondents of both sexes who claimed to have administered beatings and respondents of both sexes who claimed  to have been on the receiving end, there was not a single couple in which one party claimed to have administered and the other claimed to have received such a beating.” (Dobash et al, “The Myth of Sexual Symmetry in Marital Violence,” Social Problems, 1992). Furthermore, other research has found that women tend to over-report their own use of violence and underreport their partners’, while men do the opposite. (Gilfus et al, “Gender and Intimate Partner Violence,” Journal of Social Work Education, 2010).

In an apologetic yet defensive article titled “The Gender Debate about Intimate Partner Violence: Solutions and Dead Ends” (Psychological Trauma, 2009), CTS co-author and royalty recipient Sherry Hamby acknowledges that CTS results indicating a 50/50 engagement in domestic violence by men and women makes little sense given that men are overwhelmingly more violent in every other realm. But, she insists, the CTS continues to play an important role in illuminating the dynamics of domestic violence. She does not address the damage done by creating misleading statistics that are used to argue for policy and funding changes that deemphasize the needs of female victims or suggest that male perpetrators should not be targeted for enforcement or treatment.

A quick scan of recent domestic violence news turns up this story: there were 106 domestic violence deaths in North Carolina in 2011. Of the total, 68 victims (65%) were female and 38 (35%) were male. And if we look a little closer, we learn that of the perpetrators or suspected perpetrators of those homicides, 81 (76%) were male and 25 (24%) were female. It is clear that men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. What are not clear are the circumstances surrounding the cases in which women were the perpetrators.

Consider the case of Marissa Alexander, convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison earlier this year for firing a warning shot into the ceiling to ward off her violent husband. Though the man had a history of domestic violence and on this occasion had repeatedly attacked and threatened to kill her, her self-defensive actions tagged her as the perpetrator and took her away from her children.

It seems probable that a significant proportion of women who have been charged with committing domestic violence were in fact acting in self-defense. This is not to say that women are not capable of outright assault or that they should not be prosecuted in those cases. Nor am I suggesting that men who have been victimized do not deserve sympathy, care, and protection. However, gender-based domestic violence continues to be overwhelmingly a crime committed by men and women continue to be the vast majority of victims.

In an era in which the previously bipartisan Violence Against Women Act barely passed, it is critical to disseminate accurate information. Changes in the law based on bogus statistics can only lead to more women dying.

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Occupy Homelessness

All over the country, protestors are “occupying” public spaces.  They lounge on sidewalks, sleep in parks, march in the street, and show up, unwelcome, in banks.  They can be obnoxious.  They play drums at all hours, don’t shower as regularly as one might hope, and they just. won’t. go. away.

Others around them scratch their heads, puzzled by the intransigence and apparent pointlessness of the protestors’ behavior.  What do they want?  What will it take to get them to pack up and leave, get out of our faces, and stop that interminable drumming?  What?

It seems new and unexpected, their continuous presence in the polite company of Wall Street and other well-heeled locales.  But it isn’t new.  It isn’t unusual.  There have been people occupying public places in urban areas for decades.  They lounge on sidewalks, sleep in parks, wander down streets, and show up, unwelcome, in businesses.  They are the homeless.

If you’ve not noticed much homelessness in your city, that’s understandable.  But it’s not because the homeless aren’t there.  With the exception of the severely mentally ill, like the ones who make you uncomfortable on the bus with their nonsensical rambling monologues, homeless people tend to be invisible.  Does that scruffy young guy who brushed by you live in a car or in a dorm room?  Is that woman laden with bags heading for her apartment or a shelter?  It’s hard to tell.  Most disturbingly, the fastest growing segment of the homeless population is women with children.  Does that mom with two little ones you saw downtown have someplace to put them to bed tonight?  You don’t know.

When you have no home and no money and nobody really notices you’re there, you are the most powerless of people.  With invisibility comes inaudibility: you have no voice.  And likely, you feel ashamed.  Whether your homelessness is your own fault or not, you feel ashamed.

I don’t think the Occupy Wall Street protestors set out to emulate the homeless.  I don’t think it occurred to them, at the outset, just how potent a symbol of homelessness they would become.  Because the homeless were invisible to them too.

Not anymore.  All over the country, Occupy camps are coming to grips with this reality: the homeless are there on the streets and in the parks, too.  When the Occupy camps set up kitchens and use donated food to feed the protestors, the homeless line up for meals, too.  When the revolutionary hopefuls bed down for the night, the homeless are right there with them.

What to do about the homeless has become an issue for protestors, just as what to do about the protestors has become an issue for municipalities.  In general, the camps have embraced the homeless as neighbors and comrades.  But there’s some grumbling.  You can’t run a revolution when you’re busy running a soup kitchen.

And yet, the combined presence of the annoying, visible, loudly drumming protestors has made the homeless a wee bit more substantial.  Though the 99 percenters bemoan their lack of power, relative to the 1 percent, they are infinitely more powerful than the homeless brethren they resemble.  And they surely know just how short a fall from grace it takes to become homeless.  One lost job.  One foreclosure.

By sleeping outdoors in the cold and wet, and by subsisting on handouts from sympathetic strangers, the protestors are living and dramatizing in a painfully public fashion the perils so many of us face.  Our comforts are transient and easily lost.  So widespread is the fear of sliding into ruin, both individually and as a group, that the movement has spread across the globe.  Some among us feel secure enough in their positions that the haunted looks of the Occupiers only puzzle them.  Others instantly and instinctively get it.

It is too soon to tell what effect the Occupation will have in the long or even short term.  There have been some victories—a lot of people decided to vote with their feet and stop doing business with the megabanks and invest their money locally instead.  There are signs, a persistent drum-beat, if you will, that the concerns of the occupiers will be addressed in a meaningful way in the upcoming national elections.

It may be too much to hope that the voluntary homelessness of the protestors will take away some of the stigma.  The protestors have other goals, ranging from jobs with decent wages to the overthrow of capitalism.  I don’t know if they will achieve any of their goals, but if the solidarity of the Occupation can take some of the shame from the faces of the homeless, I would count it a success.

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Can Feminism Save Men’s Lives?

In the world of bumper stickers, feminism is “the radical notion that women are people.”  In the media and on the bookshelves, however, feminism is increasingly seen as outdated, unnecessary, and anti-male.  Christina Hoff Sommers published The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men, in 2001.  It has been the feminism-is-for-man-haters bible ever since.  Susan Pinker continued the guys-have-it-harder theme with The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap in 2008.  Entries by Warren Farrell (The Myth of Male Power, first published in 1993) and Michael Gurian (The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life, 2007) also added alarm bells about the sorry state of men in the United States.

The message gleaned from these books and from many angry comments across the blogosphere: Sure, women had it hard once upon a time, a long, long time ago, but everything is cool for them now.  Any remaining problems, like unequal pay, are not real problems at all, just by-products of the choices women make.  And anyway, since the relentless advocacy efforts by feminists on behalf of women have been so successful, they should immediately stop.  Men have real problems, and feminism is making them worse.

A major male disadvantage across race and class lines: men die sooner.  Life expectancy at birth for US men is 75, for women, 80.

I submit to the authors of the books and the blogs that the feminism they dismiss, excoriate, and even blame for some of men’s problems is the very answer to many of them, including the truncated male lifespan.

There is not a single reason for the longevity gap; there are many.  Biologically speaking, females outlive males in nearly every country and in nearly every species, too.  Differences in hormonal makeup and cardiac activity at least partially explain the male propensity to drop dead of heart attacks.  Testosterone increases levels of harmful cholesterol, while estrogen lowers them.  And girls just seem to be stronger.  In developed nations, mortality for baby boys is nearly 25% higher than for baby girls.

The news gets worse for the men.  The primary cause of death for men under 60 can be summed up in one word: stupidity.  That’s right, guys.  Your own idiotic behavior is more likely to get you dead than any biological weakness.  Smoking, excess alcohol consumption, playing with guns, reckless driving, jumping off of cliffs for fun, and other “extreme” recreational pursuits all contribute to an elevated male death rate.

Another hazard men face disproportionately is the dangerous job.  From fishing in arctic waters to descending into the dark of the coal mines, if the job carries a significant death risk, that job is more likely to be done by a man.  In 2008, men accounted for 93% of workplace fatalities in the US.

The gender gap in longevity increased steadily from 1900 to 1970, largely due to improvements in obstetric care that dramatically reduced childbirth-related deaths in women.  But since 1970, the gap has been shrinking.  While both men and women have gained years, men have gained more, primarily because they are smoking far less.  However, researchers do not expect any further narrowing of the gap from smoking reduction, because smoking rates among men and women are now approximately equal.

What’s a guy to do?

If the longevity gap went the other direction, women’s health advocates would be screaming bloody disparity.  They would examine all of the factors that disadvantaged women, from access to health care to cultural expectations that resulted in untimely deaths of women, and they would demand change.  This strategy can be applied to male disadvantages as well.

Consider the access issue.  While men as a group have greater economic means than women as a group, they often have less time.  Men spend more hours at work than women do, and visits to the doctor may be delayed or skipped due to job demands.  Cultural beliefs about male stoicism may also cause men to ignore their symptoms and “tough it out.”

Authors Chloe Bird and Patricia Rieker have developed a theory of “constrained choice” to describe the barriers that men face in accessing health care.  While care is ostensibly available to them, men may find it far more difficult than women to make the choice to attend to their health care needs.  The same constraints also factor into other health-impacting choices men make.  Decisions about diet, for example, may be constrained by cultural beliefs about what real men eat.  And in spite of the constant drone of warnings about the health costs of excess pounds, recent evidence suggests that men are actually rewarded for being overweight.  Heavy guys earn more than normal-weight or thin guys.

Constrained choice also plays a part in the risky activities men engage in, especially when young.  While a man is free to choose not to take risks, he may face social censure from his peers and others if he appears cowardly.  Similarly, over-consumption of alcohol is expected of males in the US and takes a heavy toll in rates of accidents and alcoholism.  The cultural insistence that men ignore their health and safety is sometimes called “toxic masculinity” and is attracting more media attention lately.  As Hugo Schwyzer explained on Alternet recently, macho men die early.

Here’s where a feminist approach can work to male advantage.  Just as women have found it difficult to advance in the work world because they shoulder the bulk of the home and caregiving responsibilities, men have been unable to escape the non-stop demands of work to participate equally in their children’s upbringings and prioritize their own health.  Lose/lose.  Imagine, for a moment, a broad systemic change—the stuff of feminist fantasy.  Imagine a world in which a meaningful, lucrative job can be done in 40 (not 60 or 80) hours per week.  Imagine men and women spending equal amounts of time working and caring for children.  Imagine a culture that values men enough to help them stay alive longer.  The willingness to die young to impress one’s friends is not a sign of bravery but of disposability.  When men care for others with their hands and their hearts and not just their paychecks, they have a reason to take better care of themselves.

Author Warren Farrell, the guru of the men’s rights movement and author of The Myth of Male Power, has noted that our society seems to care little about men’s safety.  When women enter male-dominated dangerous professions, he claims, the jobs are made safer.  Clearly, then, removing barriers to female entrance into those occupations would benefit men.  Furthermore, if women’s lives are viewed as more valuable (perhaps due to their primacy in ensuring the survival of the next generation), eliminating the rigid gender roles that serve to make men seem disposable will also benefit them.

Though much has changed in the last 40 years, cultural perceptions of feminism are stuck in the 70s.  In fact, there’s very little bra-burning going on in the feminist movement, but lots of discussion about intersectionality—the interwoven experiences of members of different groups—and an effort to integrate them all into a unified progressive front.  Oppression may be related to gender, race, class, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and many other variables.  Looking through an intersectionist lens, modern feminism addresses all of these.  In other words, in a feminist worldview, men as well as women should have flexible work schedules that accommodate family- and self-care needs.  All workers, male and female, should be safe on the job.  And all individuals should be able to make choices that are free of culturally determined, gender-based limitations.

The time has come to roll up our sleeves and complete the revolution.  Women have been freed from some of the boxes that have traditionally constrained them.  Others remain firmly in place, keeping men out as well as keeping women in.  When we tear down the walls that prevent everyone from living the fullest range of human experience, men and women will benefit, and maybe men will live longer.  Win/win.

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Why On Earth

Since I’ve been doing some work for an organization that serves homeless women, many of whom have children, I’ve done a lot of thinking and reading about poverty in the last few months, particularly as it relates to women.  Like many middle class people opining from comfortable couches in warm houses in safe neighborhoods, I have wondered why on earth, in a country where condoms are handed out on street corners and abortions are still legal, sort of, for the time being, a woman in precarious circumstances would choose to have a child. 

One of the books I picked up challenged a previously unexamined tenet of my belief system: Homeless Mothers: Face to Face with Women and Poverty, by Deborah R. Connolly.  The author, doing a stint as a social worker with an agency serving homeless families, presents the stories of some of the women.  She details their circumstances by way of debunking the narratives around poor women who have children.  The political right’s view of poor mothers as irresponsible welfare moochers touches only a tiny corner of the truth.  The left’s view, according to Connolly’s analysis, only covers another bit of corner.  In particular, the left’s insistence that poor women and girls get pregnant and have babies they are ill-prepared to care for because they lack access to sex education, contraception, and abortion fails to consider certain realities of life in poverty and underestimates the agency of those who live it.

Delaying childbearing until one is better prepared to take on such an immense responsibility is an inherently middle class concept.  A 17-year-old who expects to go to college if she doesn’t have a baby has a reason to get an abortion.  A 23-year-old who knows she will be promoted to Regional Manager if she puts in 80-hour weeks for the next two years will decide not to have that baby.  In contrast, a woman who sees no particular opportunities available to her, who expects next year and the year after to be same as last year and the year before, does not have the same motivation to wait to have a child.  There is no reason to delay childbearing if you’re poor and are likely to always be poor, and that is true of millions of women in the United States.

Allow me a brief digression.  The woman’s prospects are actually of little importance anyway, because in the US, women with children are supposed to be dependent on men.  The structure of our cultural, political, and economic world is predicated on this expectation.  Mothers belong at home, tending to the daily, hourly, or minute-by-minute needs of the children.  The work world demands unencumbered adults, also known as “fathers,” to put their whole, undivided attention into their jobs.  School occurs a measly 180 partial days per year.  And no one (except me, apparently) seems to think that we, as a society, ought to have universal, affordable, high-quality childcare available.  Why should we?  Children should be home with their mothers.

That tending children and supporting them are incompatible is okay, because women are supposed to be dependent on men.  And that works, in an uncomfortable sort of way, for middle class women who have access to men with good, family-supporting jobs.  It sometimes works for lower class women who manage to marry “up.”  But for large numbers of poor women, the future includes neither college nor career advancement nor a husband on whom one can depend. There may be a husband who is prepared to help support the children, but men are notoriously unreliable about helping.

So here we have a conundrum.  Most women want to have children, but we, the smug ones on our couches, have decided that an entire population of women ought not do so, because they are poor.  And while America is the Land of Opportunity ™, escaping poverty is exceedingly difficult and for many, impossible.  (Read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed for an examination of life on the minimum wage.)  Poor women cannot reasonably believe that if they just wait a while, things will be better and then it will be time to have a baby.  Things, most likely, are not going to get better.  Telling a poor woman she should not have a baby because she’s poor is tantamount to, no, is identical to telling her that she is not good enough to be a mother and that she will never be good enough to be a mother.  To which anyone with an ounce of self-respect would say, “F&^% you, I’m having this baby.”

Since the women in question do not have men upon whom to be dependent, and the world is structured in a way that prevents mothers from supporting children themselves, mothers in marginal economic circumstances often find themselves depending on Uncle Sam instead.  In exchange for the assistance, they must accept the scorn and derision of others. 

At this point I must note that the most scornful among us are also those most likely to oppose reproductive freedom in the form of abortion.  The message to the woman who has the unmitigated gall to be both pregnant and poor is clear. 

If you have a baby without a man to support you, you are a bad, bad person. 

If you terminate your pregnancy, you are a bad, bad person.

And so it goes.  More recently I read Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform, by Sharon Hays.  Hays notes the contradictory demands underlying the current “workfare” system.  Women are supposed to care for their children while men support them.  In the absence of supporting men, women are supposed to support themselves and the children.  But the way the world works makes it impossible to do so, because women are not supposed to support their children, they are supposed to be dependent on men.  And so it went.

This is the concluding paragraph in which I’m supposed to write the solution to the problem of poor women having babies when they can’t afford them.  But I don’t have an answer.  I am writing this only to say that the problem is not women, or babies; the problem is poverty. 

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Women as the Court Jesters of the GOP

It has been a long presidential campaign season already, and the election is still 18 months out.  This time the Democrats get to sit back and smirk while the Republican hopefuls twist themselves into the preferred shape of the week—moderate enough to beat Obama, extreme enough to please the base.  It’s a tough mark to hit, but there are some candidates who don’t have to try.  Their job is not to win the nomination or the election, but to dance, juggle, and say all the things the more “realistic” candidates believe but can’t say out loud.  These are the women.

Back in the days of Olde England, it was the job of the jester to dance, juggle, and give the monarch what-for.  Jesters also insulted other influential people for the amusement of the court.  A successful jester pushed it just far enough, but not so far they got the boot from the king of queen.  Jesters relieved tension by saying what others were thinking, allowing the crowd to laugh and dismiss the fool while quietly agreeing with his words.

The apparent (few have made formal announcements yet) contenders for the 2012 Republican nomination include two women—Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.  Both command a great deal of media attention and the acclaim of the party faithful.  Both spout over-the-top rhetoric and engage in the kind of attention-hounding behavior that marks the jester, not the ruler.  (Notably, Donald Trump took a spectacular turn as GOP jester, but flamed out early by playing his role with a bit too much alacrity.)  Palin and Bachmann are playing it a little cooler and so have greater staying power.

Perhaps the mark of the modern jester is the collected sayings website.  Bachmann’s top ten list of crazy appears on HuffPo.  Sample: “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter. And I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.”  Palin is so prolific there’s a whole department devoted to her on Slate: Palin Meter 2011.  All of which is great news for the other GOP candidates.  The jesters do the dirty work by making all the bizarre, racist, paranoid remarks, thus getting that material on the air without tainting the men who really have a shot.

It looks like progress, sort of, to have women in the Republican field who are (sort of) taken seriously by the right-wing masses.  Have the conservatives finally accepted that a woman’s place is in the White House?  So they claim, but if so, why are the only women in the field jesters?  There are Republican women with substance, gravitas, and decent name recognition.  Olympia Snowe.  Elizabeth Dole.  Kay Bailey Hutchison.  None of them are running for president.  Instead, they send in the clowns.

Deliberate strategy or transitional step?

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Teen Trauma

My daughter and I take part in a mother/daughter book club, and as the girls have gotten older, the books have gotten more…disturbing.  In my middle school days (back in the dark ages when it was still called “junior high”) the edgiest book I recall reading was The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton.  You may remember the tear-jerking movie starring a young Patrick Swayze and that boy from The Karate Kid.  Well, the war between the Greasers and the Socs seems downright quaint compared with the subject matter of today’s teen fiction.

Recently we read Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson.  There’s not a single light-hearted moment in this story, which traces the experiences of eighteen-year-old Lia in the wake of a friend’s sudden, unexpected death.  As if Lia weren’t already messed up enough with divorced parents, strained filial relationships, and an eating disorder that has landed her in the lock-down ward several times already, the dead friend called her cell phone thirty-three times the night she died, and Lia didn’t answer.  Oh yeah, the dead girl’s ghost is harassing her, too.

It’s not that it’s a bad book.  The story engaged me and the details around Lia’s anorexia rang true to me (I have some personal and professional experience with that disorder).  I’m just struck by the darkness.  A while ago the book club read Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher) in which a girl commits suicide and sends an audiotape explaining herself to the peers who let her down.  To their credit, the girls in the club had a thoughtful and worthwhile discussion about it.  I didn’t realize at the time that was only the first in what is likely to be a lengthy series of teen trauma novels.

Searching these novels on the Barnes and Noble website, I found the subcategories go like this: teen fiction –> choices and transitions–> suicide and death.  The “suicide and death” category has 331 listings.  Some of them are varying editions of the same book, but still.

I thought maybe the teen trauma phenomenon was limited to girls.  You know how those queens love their drama.  And indeed, many of the books in “suicide and death” were cross-listed in “girls and young women.”  But I checked out “boys and young men” and found plenty of trauma there, too.  The first one I clicked on, Ellen Hopkins’ Tricks, deals with teen prostitution (girls and boys).

There have always been traumatic adventure stories full of bloody battles and long odds, but the prevalence of urban social ills in young adult fiction seems new to me.  The issues aren’t new, of course, but we didn’t used to talk about them so loudly and insistently.  Is that good?  I don’t know.  Traipse through the YA shelves at your local library and you might come away wondering how anyone survives adolescence these days.  But some kids just bop through their teen years and go to school dances and work as popcorn makers at movie theaters and go off to college and come out the other side none the worse for wear.  Right?

Please say yes.

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Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity for the Already Prosperous, or, Budgeting for Boys

The GOP’s go-to guy for swinging the budget hatchet fearlessly at the middle class, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (it would be Wisconsin, wouldn’t it?) has released the House majority party’s budget plan for the future.  He calls it the “Path to Prosperity,” but it would be more accurate to call it the “Path to Continued Prosperity for Wealthy Men at the Expense of Everyone Else.”

The biggest losers in Ryan’s plan?  Women.  Let’s look.

The plan calls for an end to Medicare as we now know it (but not until later.  We wouldn’t want to piss off the current crop of seniors.  They vote Republican.)  Specifically, instead of guaranteed health care coverage for the elders among us, Ryan will provide health care vouchers that they can apply to private insurance plans in a federally regulated exchange.  (Does this sound a lot like the Republican-reviled “Obamacare”?  It’s different when they do it, I guess.)  Of course, the vouchers will cover only a small percentage of the cost of care for seniors, so a huge chunk of their income (or all of it, according to some analysts) will be taken up with medical costs.  Cat food for dinner, anyone?

Here is a chart showing the gender breakdown of Medicare enrollees.  Nationally, it is 56% women, 44% men.  In some states the skew is even greater.  In Washington D.C., 63% of Medicare enrollees are female.  Women live longer and are more likely to live in poverty.  Of course, that life-span gap may close when Mr. Ryan leaves elderly women without health care.

Medicaid would also be fundamentally changed under Ryan’s Path.  This critically important safety net provides health care for poor people below retirement age.  The feds will distribute block grants to states to spend on Medicaid, a fixed amount, rather than the more responsive formula now in place.  This shifts the burden of providing care to the indigent further onto the already-strapped states.  The only possible result is reducing eligibility and shoving people out of the program.

Who depends on Medicaid?  Women, mostly.  Here’s a fact sheet from North Carolina, for example.  Medicaid recipients are 61% female.

Further details about the plan have been sketchily reported, but Ryan’s axe hits every social service and safety net.  America’s poor have been living cushy lives, and the GOP is going to make sure they sacrifice for the common good just like the middle class and…well, that’s it.

One big expenditure left untouched is defense.  You can argue whether defense should or should not be cut in all sorts of ways, but I just want to point out, for the record, that the government workers who fall under the defense category are primarily male, while the majority of government workers who are going to lose their jobs under the Path to Poverty for Government Workers are female.

Now, the news isn’t all bad.  There’s good news for the highest income earners—the top marginal tax rate will be cut from 35% to 25%!  Mr. Ryan helpfully explains that tax revenues will remain stable because “loopholes” will be closed.  What loopholes, where?  He doesn’t say.  Shall we guess?  Perhaps the deductions that help middle class and working class families—like mortgage deductions and childcare credits?  Do I need to point out that most earners in the top tax bracket are male?  No, I didn’t think so.

Don’t worry about this too much, because the result of throwing hundreds of thousands of government employees out of work, plunging old ladies into poverty, and helping rich men get richer will be, according to the Heritage Foundation, a robust economy and an unemployment rate of 2.8%.  And if you make a circle with stones in your garden and wish very hard, the fairies will bring you a pony.

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