Economic Update: Economics of Conflicted Mothers


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This week on Economic Update, Prof. Wolff delivers updates on the government shutdown's very important lessons, U.S. teachers oppose a declining capitalism imposing its costs on the people, and firing the big banksters leaves our big bank problems unsolved.

The second half of the show features Prof. Wolff’s interview with journalist Julianna Forlano on economic costs and effects of a working mom in U.S. capitalism todays.

Julianna Forlano is the host of Waking Up with Julianna Forlano on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City, weekday mornings at 7 am. She’s a Senior Correspondent for act.tv covering protests and political activism. Julianna writes and performs live and multi-media political and socially conscious comedy. Follower her on twitter @juliannaforlano


Transcript edited for clarity. 

RICHARD WOLFF: Welcome, friends, to another edition of Economic Update, a weekly program devoted to the economic dimensions of our lives. I'm your host Richard Wolff, and let’s get right to the economic updates for today.

I want to talk about the economic and sometimes the political consequences of that historic government shutdown in December and January just behind us. I think there were some things that happened and lessons to be learned that are fundamental to that historic event and to the future of the United States. I want to begin by pointing out that it revealed—that shut down did—the gap between the people who “lead” the United States, both its economy and its politics, and the actual condition of the mass of people. Nothing was as stark as that, in my mind. Let me just give you one example. The head of JPMorgan Chase—the country's largest bank, a man named Jamie Dimon—did an absolutely extraordinary thing midway through the shutdown with great fanfare. In front of the assembled cameras he promised one million dollars of his bank's money to aid the furloughed workers. Well, I'm an economist and I took my little pen and pencil and I figured out what one million dollars would do for the 800,000 workers without pay. It would give each one of them one dollar and 25 cents. In other words, here was a gesture that got lots of free publicity for a big bank director, made it look like he gave a damn about what was going on and would have meant to the 800,000 workers absolutely nothing. It wouldn't have helped them buy a cup of coffee.

Here's another lesson I learned: that there are people in the labor movement who understood that that shutdown presented them with an opportunity that was extraordinary. And even though they didn't grasp it, many of them, there were some who did and they deserve a recognition. And I was helped in this by Bob Henley, a person who appears on this program often and who wrote a really good piece in Salon magazine about it. The leader in question is Sara Nelson. She's the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, the folks who help you in the airplane when you take it. She got up in front of a meeting  of the AFL-CIO last January 20th, held in honor of Martin Luther King, speaking to union people about what they shared with Martin Luther King and she said something very profound. We should have a general strike, she said. We should ask the working people of America to go out in solidarity with the 800,000 members of our fellow working class to show our solidarity, to express our outrage, that a dispute between two distant political party leaderships should be worked out on the backs of a burden for a month of unpaid workers like ourselves. The unions didn't follow up with her suggestion, but her suggestion is very important.

And as if to drive the point home, one more lesson from the shutdown. There was enormous public support for those workers suffering, through no fault of their own, not being paid for weeks on end. Lady Gaga interrupted a concert she was giving in Las Vegas in order to talk about it and received an enormous ovation from an appreciative crowd that understood. Why do I mention this? Because we missed—you, me, and all those who understand—we missed a chance to mobilize an enormous public outcry. A movement, an American version of France's Yellow Vests, that could have been mobilized by the labor movement and by all the sympathizers who would have poured into the streets to their anger, their dismay at imposing such burdens on 800,000 people. It was a moment missed. But if we realize that, we won't make that mistake again.

I want to talk next about a closely related matter and that is how in our declining capitalism that we are now living through, there are signs everywhere of change—just like that shutdown gave us signs of the sort I just mentioned. The different set of signs, just as important, includes action by school teachers. The strike that we talked about it an earlier program of the Los Angeles teachers has now been won. And there are  strikes planned or in the planning process in Oakland, California and a particular one that interests me in Denver, Colorado. It's spreading and that's very important. Teachers are learning from the pioneering efforts of the teachers in West Virginia, whose representatives we had on this program some months ago, and the others in Arkansas, in Kentucky, in states—six or seven of them—that were big victory states for Donald Trump. The public school teacher said no more cutting public services, no more paying us less money than a person gets who parks cars in a movie theater lot. Give us the recognition of the importance of what we do—which is not to say that parking cars is not important, but that training the children of our society is extremely important. Recognize that, support that. Those teachers took real risks and they discovered in all those red states enormous public support, which is what the Los Angeles teachers discovered and what is being discovered right now by the teachers in Denver. So this is an important lesson—the wind shifting. There's a kind of waking up, as if from a long slumber, of public employees in this society. And the teachers are taking a leading position, which has happened before in history and is very important, because the teachers who are active are already models for their students and the lesson will not be lost and the long-term effects are profound.

There was even another dimension of the struggle between the teachers and the city in Denver that is also a lesson to be learned. In Denver, the school board threatened the union—that if they went on strike the city would report the immigrant teachers to the immigration authorities. This was obviously done to intimidate, to scare, to split the teachers between those born in the United States and those with one or another immigrant status. Here's an important lesson, actually two lessons here. Number one, it should remind you that employers are the ones who are very interested in immigrants. They’re interested because they can often get the immigrant to work at a lower wage or salary than a native-born person, but that's not all. They're also interested in the immigrant because they have a hold on the immigrant, they can intimidate and scare the immigrant, just like the authorities in Denver did, and split them away from other workers and use them against the other workers. That's why the second important lesson is not only to understand how immigrants are used and who's responsible, but to understand that solidarity between immigrant workers and native-born American workers is very important for both of them. It is very important. And don't lose sight of the following fact as well: threatening an immigrant in this case is threatening a person, an immigrant, who's teaching children. Not Mr. Trump's image of an immigrant who’s got a crime problem or a drug problem or a disease problem—that’s a hustle, that’s a fakery. We're talking here about threatening a teacher who has given himself or herself the enormously important task of educating the next generation of our fellow citizens. That's who's being hurt by the scapegoating of immigrants, who are not the cause and not the solution to the problems of a capitalism in decline.

I want finally to mention briefly that an extraordinary event happened that I think also needs a moment's commentary. Elizabeth Warren, a candidate for president, has been going after a fellow named Tim Sloan, who's the CEO of the Wells Fargo Bank. She believes that the bank, having been caught doing literally every unethical and many illegal activities over the last several years—really, even beyond what the other big banks did, which is saying a lot—that he wanted to be the head of a big bank. He has shown that he's not the one you want in such a powerful position. And while I understand her anger and I agree with her impulse, I must say I regret that she doesn't take it further. If you got rid of Mr. Sloan, but left in place all of the system that Mr. Sloan works in, whoever replaces Mr. Sloan will face the same set of inducements, the same set of rewards, the same set of risks that he did. And to expect a different outcome, to expect that the next one will not behave like all of the others did, strikes me as strange. Whatever you do to the people in charge now, if you don't change the system replacing them with other people will not solve the problem. It never has.

Well, we've come to the end of the first half of Economic Update and I want to ask you and remind you, please make use of our websites. We update them and we add material to them all the time—democracyatwork.info, that's all one word democracyatwork.info. And our second website, rdwolff.com. Pease also subscribe to our YouTube channel. It's a way of following and being able to access this program when it fits your schedule. We also remind you that by going to our websites with a click of the button you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And I want to particularly thank the Patreon community that supports us in ways that give us the resources and the support that enable us to produce this program—patreon.com/economicupdate will get you there. Thank you very much. Stay with us, an interesting interview is right around the corner. 

RICHARD WOLFF: Welcome back, friends, to the second half of Economic Update. For this show, I’m very happy to welcome to the microphones here Julianna Forlano. Some of you will remember that she's been on the program before, but I want to briefly introduce her once again. She is now the host of Waking Up with Julianna. It's a program on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City, every weekday morning at 7 o'clock. There she is, bringing people on with telephone calls, bringing guests on. It's a remarkable program and I recommend it to you if you're in the Greater New York area. She's also a senior correspondent for act.tv, covering protests and political activism for that station. Julianna also writes and performs live and multimedia, political and socially conscious comedy. You can follow her on Twitter at juliannaforlano—that’s with two N's, all one word.

Welcome to the program.

JULIANNA FORLANO: Thanks so much for having me on.

WOLFF: Well, as I've told you and as I want my audience to know, I am really interested in exploring not just big formal questions of economics, but all the things that make an economy work—or not work—that people don't talk about, although they should. And the one I want you to talk about are the problems that beset working mothers. Our  society more and more demands that mothers work, that they don't stay in the home, that they add a whole set of responsibilities outside the home, usually adding them to the already long list of responsibilities inside—all the more, if they have children. And the tensions and problems of that shaped their lives, shape the economy, and that has to be talked about more than anything. So I want to open it up by asking you, what are the problems of what in Europe is called work-life balance. You know, how do you balance the competing demands on you.

FORLANO: Well first of all, thank you very much for having me on the show and I hope can do justice to the working moms’ plight these days. And thanks for even bringing this topic up as something that's important to talk about. I don’t hear about it enough and every time I do hear about it, I—it helps to have this conversation, because it's so secretive and then moms, we feel guilty about everything. It just comes along, it's like you suddenly—you give birth and also guilt comes out. And we’re always wondering, am I doing something wrong? Is this OK with my child? Am I doing the best I can? So there’s always that guilt. And I think it’s really important to recognize what pressures the system is putting on and, you know, if we’re falling short as a parent or if we’re not, how much of that is on my plate or how much of that is contingent upon society. And when you were doing the introduction question, you reminded me of my parents’ work-life balance. My mother and father both worked, because they needed to do that in order to support the family. And my father had a heart attack early and then was unable to work. So my mother was supporting our family from the time I was maybe 12 years old until he died and the rest of the time. So, working as a woman has always been something that’s been on my agenda.

WOLFF: Something you saw in your mother every day.

FORLANO: Exactly. And I saw, oh—you can be a mom and you can be a worker, but it wasn’t until I had my own children that I could see that the stresses that she was under, how they flowed back onto me. And now I’m a working mom and now those same stresses flow onto my children and it’s really hard to see that.

WOLFF: You know, in our society it’s still the case, right, that somehow without it ever being said, the woman has the major responsibility for the child or the children, which means that even if you’re both husband and wife—or partners—are both working outside, and maybe let’s say equivalently, it’s not equivalent when you come home. So that, you know, the extra work that the female of the species is asked to do puts all kinds—I would assume—puts all kinds of strains. You hear women talking about the anxiety they feel relative to the child, if they’re busy working, and you hear that a lot more in my experience then you hear a man doing it. So I kind of wanted to pull out from you some sense of your feelings about whether men and women are managing these conflicting tendencies.

FORLANO: No, it’s absolutely different. I mean, I can’t speak for every group obviously, there’s gonna be—

WOLFF: No, of course.

FORLANO: But I think that women have the emotional burden of being that emotional connection in that special way that is a to the child, and that burden continues around the clock—you don’t go to work and leave it at home. It’s with you all the time. And it’s not a burden, I mean, that’s a terrible word. Like, ah! it’s killing me. But, you know, it’s there, and it changes you as a human being.

WOLFF: Your baby is how old?

FORLANO: She’s two and a half.

WOLFF: Two and a half.

FORLANO: She’s in what the Norwegians, I think, call the testing phase—they call it the terrible twos here—the boundary-pushing phase. But, you know, my husband is very helpful around the house. He doesn’t have sort of an old-time idea of division of labor. He cooks, he cleans, he does the cat box, I mean—God bless him. And so—but still, there’s this division of labor that he cannot do, because he’s the father and I’m the mother. So that labor is always with me. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I’ve always felt that way. Also, you know, it’s not like he’s gonna breast-feed. He would, my husband, if he could have—but he couldn’t do that. So there’s this connection that’s just something that’s innate to it and you don’t get to leave it at home.

WOLFF: How does it—can you tell us a little more how it affects you. I mean…


WOLFF: That you take it with you to your job… Impacts your work life how? Sort of wondering…

FORLANO: I don’t want to do a disservice to women who are mothers in the workplace.

WOLFF: For sure.

FORLANO: I think it actually expands us as people, and I think to create the opportunity for further compassion, you know, could make a workplace actually far for wonderful then… It doesn’t necessarily have to be a drag. But when I walk out of the door, I feel bad. I feel bad and I’m lucky, because I have two part-time jobs that allow me to be home two full days out of the week and then on the weekend. And it’s not always like that, because as it turns out activists tend to protest on the weekend. So I often get a lot of weekend work, because that’s what I cover on my other job. But, you know, a lot of my friends had to make a choice: either lose half of the family’s income or not see their kids for 40 to 60 hours a week and basically have someone else—a whole other economy of nannies, of daycares, whatever the case may be—raising their children. This is another problem that comes down to economics. I moved out of Syracuse, New York because the job economy in Syracuse, New York is pretty abysmal especially for journalists. I think there’s like three up there and that’s it. So moving to another place, now I’m far away family—don’t see them as often. There’s no one to call for help, basically, that you don’t pay, who’s not just hopefully a friendly neighbor or something like that. But it’s not the same and that is driven by economics. I mean, you know that whole Upstate New York area was just destroyed by NAFTA.

WOLFF: Still is.

FORLANO: I think that really affects the children, too. They don’t have access to their grandparents as if they were another parent or an aunt, as if it was an additional person…

WOLFF: Who lived around the corner, or—

FORLANO: Exactly.

WOLFF: Or elsewhere in the building.

FORLANO: I do have some family members in Queens and we go there quite a bit, and you know in Brooklyn people… There is still the opportunity, in some ethnic enclaves, to all live on the same street or have multi-family home or something, where you can do that. But it’s really rare and far between and there’s an emotional toll on me, because I was brought up with Nonna ten minutes down the street. Grandma half an hour away. Uncles, aunts, cousins all around—not right in the house, we lived in like the suburbs, but not far away. And here we don’t have that and that increases tension level for a mother, because I think mothers want to know that their kids are gonna be safe and protected and enveloped in love beyond what the mother can give. And, you know…

WOLFF: You said something interesting to me before we went on the cameras and on the radio—part of the program—about part-time work. This society leaves that up to companies to decide whether its profitable or not, but if I hear you correctly there ought to be a consideration about part and full-time to accommodate the conditions of working mothers, to create opportunities and flexibilities that would make your life much, much easier.

FORLANO: Absolutely. Right up until last week I had three part-time jobs. I had to make a choice: go insane, with three part-time jobs, and then—you know, when you’re exhausted you can’t be a good mom; the kid picks up the stress—or, you know, choose to let go of a significant amount of income in order to be present and be physically able to be present, you know, sleep deprivation comes with the job of motherhood and then you gotta go to work and perform. You know, it’s a stress. And making that choice, you know, you just don’t know what’s right.

WOLFF: What did you do with your three jobs?

FORLANO: One I was an adjunct professor teaching media studies. I’m the host of a WBAI show and I cover—this is the hardest one, because I cover activist action, which isn’t a regular job. It’s like, when it pops up you run for it. And because it’s irregular, you don’t know how much you’re going to make in a month. This month could be a lot, this month could be very little and so economic instability and insecurity is part and parcel of that. I have the other job that kind of brings in the baseline check, but economic insecurity—because, I mean, how good of a mother can you be when you’re terrified that you can’t feed the kids or bring in the diapers or even if you’re a middle-class mom, there’s still economic insecurity, because the minute the kid is born you’re saving for Harvard or SUNY or whatever college you’re gonna try. You want the best for them. And people in my situation, I still carry a debt burden that is almost six figures from my own university education.

WOLFF: And you’re worrying about the next generation.

FORLANO: Exactly. Free college education would bring that stress level down. Free healthcare would bring that stress level down. Not having to worry about—I mean, part-time jobs don’t usually give healthcare. I work for a liberal, you know, news organization…

WOLFF: In Europe it’s a standard thing. You give everybody healthcare. It doesn’t matter whether they have a job, don’t have a job, whether they have a part-time, a full-time—you separate the healthcare, as a human need, from the conditions of the economy’s bouncing up and down, and that strikes everybody there as the normal, natural, humane thing to do. Americans find it amazing.

FORLANO: It’s a very strange thing we live under here, where you have to earn your right to be care for.

WOLFF: It’s also an economy that makes things work for profit. It’s the profit-making employer who decides part-time or full-time. The idea that you ought to arrange work-times to accommodate something as fundamental as bringing the next generation into the world doesn’t seem to compute.

FORLANO: Corporations, if they’re not gonna get your own kid to work for that corporation, what do they care? They don’t care about your kid. I’m sorry, I don’t see that very…

WOLFF: So, because we’re running out of time, I wanted to make sure—because it goes so fast—gives us a sense of your wishes. Let your mind go. What would you like to think of a better economic system would be able to offer women, particular mothers—particularly mothers who work.

FORLANO: As I’ve said before, particularly free education and a quality education, a supported public education. The mothers I know in New York City are scrambling to figure out how to educate their children, because the public schools have been undermined. So that’s a whole other issue. But a quality, free education and free college education and free healthcare. But also, how about paid maternity leave for more than six weeks? How about—six weeks, six weeks! You barely, like, you know…

WOLFF: But you know, we’ve done programs—we’re the only advanced industrial country, the United States, that gives no guaranteed, legally-required, paid maternal and paternal leave. It’s unbelievable. There are countries out there, much less rich than we, who give a year or who give six months or who give it to both parents, etc., etc. It’s an extraordinary willingness of the American people to forego something which obviously families and working mothers needs, but everybody needs. 

FORLANO: The child needs to be with the parents and especially in those very young times. It’s just inhumane and I think it puts specific burden on the mother, that you should be emotionally and physically ready to go back to work in six weeks or some people have a couple of moths—that’s not enough either. And there’s an enormous emotional toll. The first time I dropped my daughter off with a different caregiver, I started crying and I took a YouTube—I took a video, I didn’t post it. But I took a video of it, because it just struck me as this is what all moms do. The first time you have to drop off your child, away from you, is incredibly difficult. And it becomes less difficult, but it’s still hard every day. And that emotional toll is going to spill over onto your work, I’m sorry. We’re not compartmentalized as human beings. And the treatment of workers all sectors as cogs and not human, it’s not very productive, first of all—it’s counterproductive to getting the work done that you want done.

WOLFF: Really, it’s the old question that we deal with on this program all the time: is the economy there to serve what people need or are people there to serve what the employer needs? I mean, sooner or later you have to make that choice. And I think you’ve been very eloquent about making clear the costs of not organizing the economy around the needs of working mothers as a basic part of our population.

FORLANO: I know we’re out of time, but the mental heath care and the mental stress of it and the emotional part—it needs to be considered.

WOLFF: Thank you very much, Julianna.

FORLANO: Thank you so much.

WOLFF: Thank you all for watching. I want to remind you all, please support us by signing up on YouTube, to follow us—looking at our websites and remembering that we have a Patreon community as well. And I look forward to speaking with you again next week.


Transcript by Christian L.

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