Lucy Report — april 10, 2016

The trick is to avoid the spiral. For rural girls like Megan, in Cave City, Arkansas, and the women they most often grow up to be, like Tiffany of Tecumseh, Oklahoma, that trick is damn near impossible.

By the time they are 13 or so, the slide begins. They become sexually active, and, often, then become pregnant while in high school. Or begin to drink and drug — first to feel, then not to feel. Grades slip to meet expectations. School becomes secondary. Some drop out altogether; most certainly go no further than high school. Stuck in the muck of poverty, they are incapable of leaping. So they slip, slide, settle.

Just like their Mommas before them. Only difference — these days, they’re unlikely to live as long. Many will be dead before they reach 55.

Megan’s mother, Crystal, died when she was 38. Tiffany’s mother, Ann Marrie, was 54. The American Prospect first told Megan and Crystal’s story in 2013, when evidence began to surface that rural, white women with high school education or less were experiencing a decline in life expectancy. Monica Potts wrote:

“White women who don’t graduate from high school — whose life expectancy has declined dramatically over the past 18 years. These women can now expect to die five years earlier than the generation before them. It is an unheard-of drop for a wealthy country in the age of modern medicine. …. Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages, and healthy food isn’t just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It’s killing them.”

The Washington Post picks up the story this weekend, with the launch of a new series, Coming Undone. It details the short, hard life of Ann Marrie Jones, and the generation she leaves behind — treading the same short, hard path. “White women between 25 and 55 have been dying at accelerating rates over the past decade, a spike in mortality not seen since the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s” the Post claims, citing data gleaned from death certificates. The “trend is worse for women in the center of the United States, worse still in rural areas, and worst of all for those in the lower middle class. Drug and alcohol overdose rates for working-age white women have quadrupled. Suicides are up by as much as 50 percent.”

Through the story of Ann Marrie and her daughter Tiffany and the rest of her kids, we see everyone — from experts to family members — grappling for answers. After 50 years of uninterrupted progress in life expectancy for every demographic group of Americans, why has this one demographic group in the last decade experienced a significant increase in premature deaths, Post writer Eli Saslow asks. “It’s a loss of hope, a loss of expectations of progress from one generation to the next,” said Angus Deaton, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who had studied the data.

Julie Johnson, the tech coordinator at the Arkansas high school Megan attended, arrived at the same conclusion at the at the end of the American Prospect story: “The desperation of the times. I don’t know anything about anything, but that’s what kills them.”

“You don’t even hear about women’s lib, because that’s come and gone,” Johnson said. “But you hear about glass ceilings, and I think girls, most especially girls, have to be taught that just because they’re girls doesn’t mean they can’t do something. That they are just as smart, that they are just as valuable as males. And we have to teach boys that girls can be that way, too.”

The American Prospect article, though dated, offers more analysis and data than the Post read. But presumably the Washington Post will unpack the issues with current data as the series progresses. If you have ever questioned that education, jobs, and reproductive choice are literally life-and-death issues for women, these two articles should convince you.

A sign of hope: The Huffington Post reported this week that new Census data show that in 2015, women and men ages 25 and older held bachelor degrees at about the same rate — 33% of women, 32% for men. This is great news on a number of fronts — employability, increased earnings, more opportunities for leadership. But in the context of the trend noted above — also, and especially, longevity.

Equal Pay Day: Just a reminder that Tuesday, April 12 is Equal Pay Day. The National Committee on Pay Equity urges supporters to wear red to symbolize how far women and minorities are “in the red” with their pay. Many local business groups will honor the day through mentoring activities, such as pay negotiation workshops. There’s a whole kit at the link above if you want to write a letter to the editor or start a wage club.

Or maybe do what some women in Australia tried. In an effort to raise awareness of the pay gap there, students at the University of Queensland held a Gender Pay Gap Bake Sale, and charged men $1 for a cupcake while women were charged 83 cents– representative of the pay gap in that country. As reported by themarysue.com, this seemingly lighthearted way to make a point apparently felt, um, threatening to some. The organizers were pummeled with misogynistic comments online, along the lines of “I want to rape these feminist cunts with their fucking baked goods.” Nice. And I wish I had thought of the name themarysue.com first.

By now most of you have heard that several members of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team have filed an equal-pay lawsuit, suggesting that since they play more games than the men’s team, win more than the men’s team, and bring in $20 million more in revenue, they should, you know at least, be paid as well as the men. Check out the 70-second video on the Lucy Report Facebook page when you get the chance.

The pay gap affects far more than the sports industry, of course. Some $4.3 trillion could be added to the economy if women gained pay equity by 2025, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Company on women’s equality in the U.S. Another report released this week by Glassdoor, showed more than half the pay gap between the genders can be explained by the fact that women tend to work in lower-paying industries and take jobs that pay less than men, a factor that begins with cultural conditioning, i.e. expectations, i.e. let’s go back to Megan in Arkansas and Tiffany in Oklahoma. But even those willing to make their way into predominately male-led sectors still experience the gap. Fortune reported this week that women with MBA’s earn, on average, $400,000 less over the course of their careers than men.

Carpe Diem, sister: Cara Jennings wasn’t about to let a good opportunity to take it to Gov. Rick Scott of Florida slip by. It sort of reminds me of that scene in The Princess Bride when Princess Buttercup is dreaming that all the peasants are booing her. Boo. Boo. No Starbucks for you, mister.

Gay Telese: I’m just shaking my head. And thinking about how invisible women must have been in the years in which he could have been “influenced” — as if there’s only a small window of time to be influenced.

Trump: I have taken some time to react to the news of, now, two weeks ago. You know, when he said women should be punished for getting an abortion. His logic was simple — if we make it a crime, then there must be a punishment. And he is not wrong about that. Which is among the reasons abortion should not be a crime.

I read quite a few articles in the days after he made the statement (which he walked back from fairly quickly after someone explained simple logic doesn’t always work on complex issues.) My friend Meg Steele pointed me to an article that has stuck with me more than any other. Lawyer and writer Jill Filipovic, summed it up damn near perfectly in Time magazine. It’s worth your 5 minutes.

Reader Recommendation: Friend Robbyn Footlick turned me on to The Broadsheet, a daily e-newsletter covering women in business. Written by Kristen Bellstrom, it has fast become one of my favorite newsletters. She kinda puts the Wall Street fellas on notice almost every day.

Suggestions: I’m sort of a slow thinker. In some cases, I’ll push the “stuff that happened this week” out there. But in others — the Trump comment on abortion, for instance — I like to stew a bit. Read a lot. See what sticks. I love it when people send me ideas, links to articles, and suggestions. You may not see them show up in the report immediately, but know I consider each one. At the moment, I’m ruminating on: examples of kick-ass women solving problems, women and the arts, women’s health, and the “f” word. Send any and all ideas, comments, suggestions, and feedback to lucy@lucyreport.com.

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Originally published at lucyreport.tumblr.com.

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