United America, Core Value 9: Justice & fairness

February 6, 2014

By: Wayne Baker

Originally posted on Our Values

Does a rising tide lift all boats? This nautical metaphor was popularized by President Kennedy, and it has been used repeatedly since then to mean that incomes for everyone should improve when the economy improves.

But, the fact is some boats rise faster than others. The rich gain a larger economic share than the poor do. The result is a widening wealth gap.

The income gap is real, some say, but isn’t the average family still doing OK?

Today, we are talking about another value that I document in United America. This is Core Value 9: “Justice & fairness”—which means that “all the world’s people should live in harmony; justice and fairness for all, even people we don’t know.”

The “rising-tide” is a theory about economic justice. And economic justice is part of a broad guiding principle based on impartiality and fair treatment of all people. The question I am raising today concerns economic justice for the average family: Is the average family doing OK, even when the rich get super-rich?

The average family appears to be doing OK—if, as sociologist Claude Fischer puts it, we focus on family incomes. Average family incomes have been stable or slightly increasing. But if we focus on men’s and women’s earnings, we see a much different story. From 1980 to 2007, women’s earnings have risen by 23% and men’s earnings have decreased by 2%.

Just-published research reveals a similar pattern for job tenure—how long one stays in a job. Average job tenure for men and women combined has been stable over the years. Looking at men and women separately, the researchers spot a big difference. Job tenure has increased for women, but it has decreased for men. Married mothers account for a big portion of the increasing job tenure for women. As Fischer says, “many mothers who go to work or who work longer hours or who get back to work as soon as possible after a childbirth are doing so because their husbands (or unmarried partners) are scuffling.” In other words, women are making up for the lost incomes of the men.

Do you subscribe to the theory that a rising tide lifts all boats?

Is economic justice served when women are doing better and men are doing worse?

What does justice and fairness mean to you?