Families and Hope
by John Hebenton
Families are important. Very few would dispute this. They are important for the children who grow up in them. They are important building blocks for society. The government's appreciation for the importance of families was seen in the code of social responsibility, which held families accountable for many things. Yet despite families being seen as important, how well do we support families? Is this a family friendly society, or not?
The Third Revolution:
The present economic revolution has been described as the third revolution. The first was the move from gatherers and hunters to agriculture. The second was the Industrial revolution, which moved many peasants off the land and into the cities for work in factories. Home based cottage industries were largely closed down. The third is the present development of microelectronics and robotics. But unlike the industrial revolution that enhanced human energy, this revolution is replacing human energy.
A positive outcome has been the reversal of the move for people to have to work away from home. With a computer, modem, fax and mobile phone, people in certain industries can work from anywhere, and many are once again working from home.
A negative consequence of this revolution, especially over the last 15 years, has been the decrease in the number and variety of jobs available. Secretaries are being replaced with computers; bank tellers with money machines, eftpos and phone banking; postal workers with faxes and email. Factory workers are being replaced with robots that are more efficient and reliable. In the U.S.A., while manufacturing productivity has increased 400% since 1947, there has been only a 17% increase in the work force (Olson and Leonard 1996). From 1970 to 1990, there was a 121% increase in people working part time jobs, with wages for those jobs at about 60% the level of those paid to full-time workers.
In New Zealand, this is seen in the problem of the disappearing middle. Middle income jobs have been vanishing in great numbers. (The Listener August 8 1998) As these jobs disappear, those with medium skills are pushed downwards displacing those who are less skilled. Gordon Campbell describes this as a deskilling of the workforce (The Listener August 8 1998). At the same time, many fill time jobs have declined in monetary reward. In the U.S.A., between 1949 and 1973, the average male between 20 to 35 could expect real wages to increase by 110%. 40-50 year olds could expect an increase of 30% over the same period. From 1973, twenty five-year-old males could expect an increase of only 16% over the next ten years and 40-50 year old males a decline of 14%. In 1991, the real weekly earnings of the production and non-supervisory workers, who make up 89% of the workforce, had declined to below the levels of 1960. (Olson and Leonard 1996)
For the first time, children can no longer expect to earn more and have a higher standard of living than their parents have. "The conventional wisdom which has dominated American thinking has been that anyone who works hard, develops skills and applies himself can and will enjoy economic success in the long run. Though this has always been somewhat of a myth, by the beginning of the 1980's the rapid growth of structural unemployment had begun to shatter the dreams of Americans, denying them the promise of upward mobility" (Lowenstein, in Olson and Leonard 1996, p.7). The statistics are very similar for New Zealand.
The deskilling of the workforce has driven down income levels for many workers. Professor Srikanth Chatterjee of Massey University recently published research that found the top 5% of income earners had increased their share of the national wealth by 25% over the last 15 years. The next 15% had barely stayed level. The bottom 80% had dropped. (The Listener August 8 1998) The lower you are on the scale, the greater the drop. The Hon. Bill Birch described this as reflecting how people with skills, work experience and effort were receiving substantial rewards, the top 5% of them anyway. Others have described it as the captains of industry capturing the major rewards for the team effort of their staff, and creating huge inequalities. While some applaud this trend, others, including the conservative US Business Weekly are beginning to express concern.
US Health researchers Clyde Hertzmann and George Kaplan are now showing how such growing inequalities in income are reflected in the health outcomes across the developed world. This is much more than access to medical help. It is about diet, housing, stress and quality of life. Chatterjee points out that the degree of inequality also impacts on social cohesion and general goodwill. Because of this some economists are even beginning to state that such inequalities are bad for the economy.
Bronfenbrenner has described how the development of an individual is heavily influenced by the systems in which they live, for example the family. These systems are in turn heavily influenced by the systems in which they exist. This includes the work environment of the parents, and the national culture as determined and reflected in part by national and local government policy. It's all like Russian dolls, with each system set within the next system up. So how are families adapting?
Over the last twenty years, there has been a rapid rise in two income families. Twenty-something's are postponing marriage in greater numbers, living at home until much older, and having fewer children themselves. Once married, the impact of reduced earning has affected both what housing they can afford, and the proportion of their income being spent on housing. The rise of divorce has had a catastrophic economic effect on women, and the children of those families. In New Zealand, like in the US, the income of female headed households is less than half that of married couples with children. Families are being squeezed with greater debt levels, reduced access to housing and health, and parents working more and more hours to make ends meet. It can be said that our economy is killing families.
The Church and Community Development:
Bill Lofquist from Associates for Youth Development, AZ, developed the grid entitled The Four Arenas of Human Service Activity. It is a useful way of helping people understand both the variety of purposes, and the continuum of foci involved in working in the social service arena. I first encountered it at a meeting of groups working with young people, where it was being used to show how each group had a particular role to play in working with those young people.
The Four Arenas of Human Service Activity
1. Community Development
Efforts aimed at promoting the conditions within the community which promote the well being of community members
2. Personal Growth and Development
Efforts designed to foster personal attributes that promote the well being of people
3. Community Problem Solving
Efforts which are reacting to community conditions which have created problems and require some kind of corrective or remedial action.
4. Personal Problem Solving
Efforts that are designed to react to or correct behaviour in and individual when there is a recognised need. Focussed on bringing about change in a targeted individual.
@ Project Adventure New Zealand
In any human service or pastoral activity we can work in a variety of settings, from the individual, to small groups, families, schools, towns, or even nationally. The focus of the work shifts from the individual to the community in which they live. The grid is divided into two halves, "A" and "B". Most pastoral and social work is focussed in the second half, labelled "B". The focus is on the individual, in particular personal problem solving, with a little community problem solving and personal growth and development. No community development occurs at all. While concerned for the individual, the church has always seen personal development occurring through faith in Jesus in the context of community.
From a Methodist context, it has understood that faith in Jesus leads people to work for a just and compassionate society that reveals God's compassion for us all. While many other organizations are unwilling to be involved in the "A" sector working for community development. But this is the churches primary area of work, driven both by our concern for people and also for providing concrete examples of God's love and compassion. Unless people can see that God is serious, then they will not take God seriously. If we are serious about families, then we need to work for the kind of society that supports them, rather than following an economic model that undermines them. This is not so much challenging certain government policies, although that is part of it, but more working for a vision of an alternative economic system and society.
The Hikoi of Hope is an example of a church working for just such a society. The Anglican General Synod - Te Hinota Whanui (that's a bit like parliament for the church), called for this Hikoi in May 1998. It was motivated by the stories told by Maori, Pakeha and Polynesians of the desperate poverty of many, and its effect on families. The Hikoi comes out of the recognition that poverty is now structured into our society more deeply than ever before. The gap between rich and poor is wider than ever. And as we have seen this is having a devastating effect on many, including many families.
Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe said that a Hikoi is a time-honoured journey of expectation. It is setting out to find a new place that God intends for you. It is also a form of providing a united voice and a physical presence against unjust structures. While being initiated by the Anglican Church, the Hikoi was an action taken by the whole Church to support those hurting most. We walked to dramatise the reality of poverty in our midst and to gather the stories that show its human cost. Everyone who sees this poverty as intolerable was welcome to join, for a Hikoi is an action in which we walk with others, and not alone. Those who went on the Hikoi prayed, shared stories and sang songs of faith. This was not a protest march or an exercise in partisan politics that looked for someone to blame. It was a positive statement for a just society, seeking: real jobs, a trustworthy public health system, benefit and wage levels that move people out of poverty, and affordable housing and accessible education. It sought a society that works for families, and all its members, and not just the wealthy few. Above all, the Hikoi of Hope was a sign to every New Zealander who lives in poverty that their plight is known, and is intolerable. And it said that we as Christian were no longer willing to leave it to economists and politicians to define hope for us.
Marriage and home ownership rates are falling as life and work in the nervous 90's take their toll on traditional relationships.
NZ Listener, July 25, 1998
Enough of babies, drooling and damp. Enough of scones and Playdoh and brunch coats and all the other dowdy props of married life. While we’re at it, enough of weepy spinsters and their cats, too. No more of sipping Pimms in single’s bars and flings with salesmen in shiny suits. Nineties woman, so we’re told, is a beast of a quite different stripe: she is young, she lunches, she travels, she takes no crap, hear her roar!
By and large, this stereotype of 90's women-on-the-move sounds like the friends that Rose Shepherd had lunch with recently for the Sunday telegraph:
“The are not manhaters or maneaters,. Still less are they unsociable. they have homes and careers and full diaries and oh, dozens of friends. They go out on dates. They travel at the drop of a hat. They are in demand. They go smartly through the basket-only checkout, with whatever takes their fancy. or they lie on sun-drenched beaches, they get seduced by bronzed lifeguafes. And, if they’re sometimes lonely, they will tell you that it is far better to be lonely without a relationship than to be lonely within one....” And for why? “A fulfilling career, a disposable income, and independence ... are too sweet to be traded for a ring on the third finger ...”
Nice work, if you can get it. In the 1990's though, it is not that easy to land the combo of a fulfilling job, ample disposable income and a bronzed babe on call. The average New Zealand 19 year old in fulltime work, for instance, earns only $19,000 a year. As they move into their 20s, the young are having to strike a balance between career and commitment, within a climate of chronic job insecurity, unemployment and a student debt bill of $2.7 billion - and rising. that can really play hell with your ability to commit emotionally.
As a result, there’s now a state of suspended adolescence, stretching right into the mid-thirties and beyond. Few people can afford the career risks that commitment poses, much less the adult freight (such as a mortgage and a family) that it entails.
There’s no pat response. Frank, 24, of Kelburn, Wellington, figures that the people he knows are wealthier than most, bu they run the twenty- something gamut. Some are into serial, sex-sport kind of relationships. some cling together, kidding themselves that they’re connecting, “ while they’re really just reinforcing their mutual sense of absence.They’ll have this yearning need to communicate, and it’s usually expressed sexually. “
So far, that sounds just how twenty-somethings always have been. A time of life when everyone is pathological, deep down. People just get tempted, Frank finds, to consumerise their relationships, and treat even the good ones as potentially disposable.
It’s a throwaway world, friend. “Like, I’m sure in America there are guys who have a better relationship with their guns than they have with a woman. And plenty of women who have a more intimate relationship with their Prada handbag than with a man.”
People learn to think that way from television. It’s the media, it infects the mind. Everything is disposable, and something better is always coming down the chute. “No one ever sells you anything that has a soul. If you carry consumerist attitudes over into your relationships, it can really cause some problems.”
So, seeking a soulmate nowadays isn’t some blind joint endeavour, fuelled by hope that two people can somehow be as one? Better not be. To Frank and his friends, the very structure of marriage poses a threat to anyone’s capacity to survive as prosperous members of the culture. Especially bad for poor people. “Marriage can do very little but weaken them. For the enfranchised, the two-income couple, it’s a strength. You compound your interests ... But you have to be bloody sure everyone is on about the same thing, which reckless and relentless acquisition, because, if anyone else gets in the way, then you’re in real trouble ...”
People no longer just muddle on through, then? “No that can be really, really fatal. To marry down is fraught. To marry without a reasonable dowry, if you like, is very tricky. The cost of having children is just high ...” Not just for people, but for the planet.
Surprisingly, the Census figures are already starting to reflect all this. First, the obvious; the marriage rate keeps on falling, while the age at marriage keeps on rising. Since fewer people are marrying, - and people marry later - the divorce rate has started (in 1997) to level off. Between one in three and one in four of all marriages fail, and on in six throw in the towel before 10 years are up.
Some try again. A fairly staggering 36% of all marriages in 1996 were remarriages, which underlines how few young first-time potential candidates are treating this trad form of commitment as essential, or affordable. Increasing numbers of people are living single, for longer. As Judith Davey lays out in her excellent book Tracking Social Change, one in three New Zealand marriages back in 1971 involved a teeenage bride: by 1995, only three in 100 marriages did so.
Similarly, couples during the 1950's and the 1960's usually finished childbearing by the age of 30 - the age at which couples today are commonly starting to have children. Moreover, “more people are living in de facto unions,” Davey writes, “but, overall, fewer people are living with partners, either legal or de facto.”
What is going on here? Economic forces seem to be shaping how we choose to conduct our emotional lives. Since the early 1970's, marriage has stopped being the only socially acceptable gateway to adult life, sex, and emotional identity - and it no longer defines the roles between men and women, or dictates how children are raised. Children are still catching some fall out from these changes.
Formerly treated as a social good, children are now more widely seen as a private luxury, to be paid for by parents. Once the focus of family life, children in the modern economy loom as a career risk, and they can pose a threat to the family’s economic viability. “While children under one year of age are often considered to be the most at need of a parent at home full time,” Davey writes, “the proportion of two parent households of mothers in paid work has risen from one in seven (in 1981) to one in three, by 1996 ...”
Davey points out a fascinating spin off from this new economic reality: if a child’s mother is a solo parent, the child increasingly stands a better chance of having Mum home fulltime during its first year of life. Is this to be treated as state dependence, or good parenting?
What’s changed? A few decades ago, business wanted a stable and motivated workforce. Firms would promote job stability by rewarding gains in productivity with wage rises, and by investing in infrastructure, while the government did its bit by subsidising home ownership and paying for higher education. The whole system rested on the belief that hard work, rising economic growth and living standards were all connected.
Those links have largely been broken. The shift from manufacturing to service jobs destroyed many stable full time jobs - the kind that paid well enough to sustain the male breadwinner in a family - and closed the main blue collar route to prosperity. Corporations now require a mobile and flexible workforce - therefore, they have a clear interest in marriage and children being delayed. In many ways, the new economic order is profoundly anti-child and anti-family. New Zealand, for instance, is almost unique among developed countries in having no paid parental leave provisions.
People are also working very long hours - as researcher Anne Else has found, only one in three people now work for 40 hours a week, and a third do over 60 hours a week, with half of these sloggers being the self employed. so much for the 1960's wisdom, when the young were being told to start training themselves for a lifetime of leisure, now that technology could set them free.
Nest building is becoming less possible. Overall, fewer people can afford to buy their own homes. Census figures show that between 1991 and 1996 home ownership fell among New Zealanders in every ethnic category. In 1991, 52% of Pakeha could afford a mortgage, but, by 1996, this had slipped to 46% - a figure below that pertaining before the economic reforms began in the 1980's. So much for the political rhetoric that New Zealanders borrowed and speculated too much on property in the 1990's: only a few of us did, although we are all facing the consequences.
The paths of the young are diverging, as wealth is polarised. In place of the old “trickledown” of prosperity and opportunity, wealth and life chances are now being sucked upwards and captured by a much narrower segment of society, one able to reside where the jobs are.
Researcher Paul Callister has analysed many features of these polarising “job rich” and “job poor” households in New Zealand. the “job rich” tend to be two income couples with high paying jobs in metropolitan centres. They are similarly educated, ultimately have their children together and contract out most of their domestic chores - thus creating in the early 1990's, a surge in part time childcare service jobs. Beyond their domestic staff, these “job rich” have little contact with wider New Zealand. The “job poor”, by contrast, are often trapped in housing areas in South Auckland or provincial centres, adjacent to a freezing works or manufacturing plant, now closed.
Politicians like to blur the fact that New Zealand is polarising. Or, as US writer Stephanie Coontz says in her book The Way We Really Are, they treat it as the healthy churning of a dynamic turbo capitalism. As Richard Prebble or John Luxton, for instance, about job losses from asset sales and tariff cuts and they point to the new jobs being created. The mismatch between the jobs old and new, and the question of who is capturing them is ignored. “This stance,” says Coontz drily, “ is historical perspective with a vengeance: it’s saying that, even if your family goes down the tube, others will prosper.”
Many women do now enjoy more choices, especially about controlling their fertility. Higher education remains the path - increasingly the only path - into the ranks of the job rich. Although men aged 20-39 still enjoy marked employment and income advantages over women, there are a few encouraging signs: between 1991 and 1996, the numbers of women aged 20-24 at university rose by 40%, compared to a mere 19% rise for men of the same age.
For Emma, 25, student debt poses a problem as she and her friends make their own way through university. “Some people get into debt so arbitrarily. It’s literally a few weekends out, a few items of clothing, a stereo, some drugs, and that’s it. then you’re tied into the public, and the only history you have of being part of the public is your history of debt. You live in the golden moment that has been created by credit. Then you’re bound to the system that you can never criticise, because you’re concentrating on ways to escape it.”
Having said that, most of her friends try to live as if the debt doesn’t exist. Like death, student debt encourages people to go through the stages of denial. Still, she’s aware of how it affects the way she learns. Instead of people starting university open and able to follow their talent where it best may go, the debt functions as a form of social control. “In the very process of learning, one is accumulating debt. That changes things.”
Right from the outset now, she believes, people are getting an education that is immediately aligned with corporate thinking. “Your natural stance is sort of apologetic. And if you choose to study anything but economics or accountancy the sense of guilt is magnified. You feel as if you shouldn’t be doing and learning about anything not directly related to making money - or doing anything not directly related to getting rid of your debt. ...” Finally, says Emma, the debt controls students by being “a further agency of exhaustion. It just makes people feel so exhausted.” She wants to make films. Making art is, for her, the sanest kind of response.
At the end of the day, of course, people do not behave rationally. To be human is to live on impulse, at least some of the time. going back to our friend Frank: if he met Miss Right tomorrow, would he up and marry that woman regardless?
Well, Frank is a thoughtful guy, who counts himself lucky to already be in a fantastic, loving relationship. So, we’re talking theoretically here. Deep down, her feels himself to be a hopeless kind of romantic.
“While I hear a great deal of cynicism and more and more young women tell me they will never have children, I believe absolutely in the notion of True Love. It may not be the constant daily occurrence that people used to believe in, it may reside more in just the ephiphanic moments ... but, if I found Miss Right tomorrow, sure, I’d give up everything, I’d go to prison, give my right arm, whatever,” he says.
Then again, he has been sold the advertising life, too. Being totally honest, he knows himself to be an absolute consumer fetishist. So, if Miss Right happened to pose a great burden financially ...”That would be a less attractive notion, than if she were self-supporting. Or if she could compound my interest.”