By June Carbone, Nancy Levit and Naomi Cahn
Photos: States Pause Reopening
We study families, employment, corporations – and gender. We are tracking how the coronavirus pandemic is underscoring the disproportionate financial burden women bear when states slash their budgets in times of recession.
We are examining this issue and others more deeply in a book we are writing called “Shafted: The Fate of Women in a Winner-Take-All World.” It explores the jobs women do from public schools to Walmart or hedge funds and demonstrates that the forces that have produced a highly unequal economy have undermined women’s well-being.
What we’ve found so far is that women in almost every field have lagged behind men in pay, promotions and leadership opportunities. And in K-12 schools, this issue can appear starkly.
Historically, the federal government has implemented policies aimed at keeping the economy afloat during recessions.
Nationwide, education spending averages about 30% of state budgets, with two-thirds of the funds supporting K-12 education. More specifically, the average state expenditures are 21% on elementary and secondary education and 10% on higher education.
During recent decades of squeezed state budgets, the percentage of K-12 teachers who are women has grown, rising to 76% in 2018 from 67% in 1981. Therefore, the refusal to fund state budgets has fallen disproportionately hard on women.
We believe the low pay and relatively low status of teaching help explain the increasingly high percentage of women in teaching and the declining percentage of men who join their ranks.
That won’t happen, however, without greater political recognition that the federal role in state budgets is essential to the health of public schools – and the national economy.
The strikes, however, address pressing local issues, not the broader – and, we argue, more critical – role the federal government plays during downturns in school budgets. That requires making the connection among congressional action, the nation’s economic well-being and the health of its educational system much more visible.