Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Young women aren't "complacent" - they're struggling

Debbie Wasserman Schultz sparked a significant backlash this morning when she accused "young women" of political "complacency." The Hillary Clinton surrogate, who also serves as Democratic Party chair, made her comment in an interview when Ana Marie Cox alluded to the "generational divide" among young women in the Democratic primaries.

That general divide should be common knowledge by now: young people like Sanders and don't like Clinton. Among the overall population, in fact, Clinton hasn't been able to win a majority of voters born after the 60s. Matt Bruenig notes that a variation on the pattern holds among women in particular:


So there clearly is a generational divide among women - between those older and younger than 30. But if DWS is wrong, how else can we explain this? One simple explanation presents itself if we look at the economic situation of each age bracket:


The most striking fact here, of course, is that no matter what age group you are in, at least half of all women are making less than $25,000. This is a difficult number to get past, but once you do, you'll notice that it skyrockets to nearly three quarters of women currently under 30. Right now, the youngest generation of women only has a one in four shot of earning $25k; DWS's generation has a one in four shot of earning twice that. Similarly, women in the 30-64 age brackets are more likely to make $75k than the youngest generation is to make $50k. And only about 2% of all women under thirty make $75k or more, compared with more than 10% of women between 30 and 64. It's only when you reach retirement that income levels for women even start to return to what they are for the youngest cohort.

All of this makes the political trend easy enough to explain: Sanders has more to offer struggling young women than Clinton does. His education plans, including free tuition at colleges and universities, would help young women complete their schooling and pay off their loans. His superior child care and paid leave plans would help women who are starting families. And evidently, Sanders' record on reproductive rights has won the confidence of age cohort who give birth to 60% of America's children. Sanders also, of course, is likely to offer a much more vigorous defense of other general welfare programs that would come in handy for poor women, like food stamps - programs that Clinton is best known for loudly opposing.

If you're an older woman who personally has no student loans to pay off, no need for child care and paid leave, a diminishing need for abortions, and no need for food stamps, you are probably less likely to be impressed by Sanders' platform, or off-put by Clinton's. In that case - particularly if you're a humanities professor or an established media figure - you're more likely to care about nebulous symbolism, and to consider poverty a worry for another time.