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Kevin Mims
Sacramento, CA

Kevin Mims

I am 52 years old, not a college graduate, and have never been either a mover or a shaker. Indeed, I am one of the moved and shaken. Over the course of my lifetime, I have earned an average of less than $1000 a month. Although I have occasionally managed to land an opinion piece in a national venue (The New York Times, NPR, etc.), people like me are never given their own columns. We are always “guest commentators.” But I am tired of being a guest. I’d like a place of my own.

Old-fashioned sexism

Nowadays to be 25 years old and financially dependant on another human being is to be automatically labeled an underachiever. When I was growing up we had different word for such a person. We called her a housewife. Millions of women in my mother's generation sailed through their twenties, thirties, and even their sixties and seventies, without ever holding a paying job. Instead, they raised children and managed various domestic chores.

But the stay-at-home housewife is largely a thing of the past. Economic changes wrought by policy makers of the last fifty years have made it necessary for most households to have two full-time breadwinners. One reason why 25-year-old Johnny can't find a job these days is because his 50-year-old mother is holding onto it. This isn't Johnny's fault. He wasn't around when America's politicians began weakening the country's labor unions and making it easier for corporations to ship manufacturing jobs overseas. When Johnny's grandfather entered the labor force back in the 1950s, he had to compete for jobs with only about half of the country's adult population. Women, by and large, competed in the labor market for only a short while, until they "settled down" by getting married and starting a family. Johnny has to compete against not only all the other adult men in the labor market but also against his own mother, aunts, and sisters.

It's not a bad thing that women now hold about half of all paying jobs in the United States. But it is a major change from decades past. And it is unfair to compare Johnny to the twenty-somethings of the 1950s who, three years after finishing school, were all mostly self-supporting. If Johnny can't find a job or afford his own apartment, maybe it's because mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa all created a world in which two-income households are the norm rather than exception.

In the 1950s few people frowned upon the notion of a twenty-something woman living with her parents while looking for an opportunity to pursue a "career" as a stay-at-home housewife and mother. Now that at least half of America's stay-at-home adult children are men, society seems much less tolerant of them. Could it be that lurking behind all the contemporary criticism of so called "twenty-something underachievers" is nothing more than a bit of old-fashioned sexism?

By Kevin Mims  |  October 11, 2010; 12:00 AM ET
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50 entries is just too many for me to read, so I'm picking and choosing. This is the best I've read so far. Let me rephrase that---it is the only one I've gotten all the way through....

I like the bio line about being "one of the moved and shaken"---so true, and for so many of us.

Re: MSJS comment, I, too was born during the baby boom. Lots of women I knew didn't work. But plenty did. Some of the disparity of recollection is surely regional and socio-economic.

So good to see MSJS and Chucky-el commenting. I love you guys! I'll check back in later when the contest gets underway. As I said, 50 is just too many to read, but no doubt it is to draw more people to the site to vote for their "friends."

Posted by: martymar123 | October 14, 2010 7:32 PM
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I was born in the middle of the baby boom and about half of the moms I knew worked outside the home, most full time. So I'm having a bit of a disconnect with the author's assumptions.

Some judiciously placed facts to support the author's opinions would be helpful.

Posted by: MsJS | October 14, 2010 11:02 AM
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Bahh! Get your facts right, Kevin. Start by reading Robert Smuts' 1959 classic, "Women and Work in America." You'll find that a large percentage of married women with children worked outside of the house even in the 1950's. The fantasy world of stay-at-home mothers that you describe never did exist, except in a few upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Those of us with working parents - and yes, my mother worked outside the home as a teacher the entire time I was growing up - never knew such a place existed.

Summary: no votes for you!

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 13, 2010 3:37 PM
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Excellent piece!!!!! Intertwined the lesser issues of reverse sexism, youth, and the 50s with the huge national issues of unemployment, shipping jobs overseas, and the decline of workers income to the point it now requires two incomes to support a family. Easy reading, clear to understand.

Well done Kevin! You deserve to move on, but unfortunately you seem to have a very small social network to garner votes.

Posted by: chucky-el | October 13, 2010 3:03 PM
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Well, Kevin, I don't know if I see the "sexism" angle of your opinion, but I do think you have tapped into an economic well spring of why there has been so much inflation in the last half of the 20th centuury. If one defines inflation of too much money chasing too few goods (and I don't limit the definition to that completely), we have seen double incomes bidding up the price of everything that a single breadwinner could have easily earned for the family half a century ago. Now that we have reached what seems to be the limits of the two income family, I am waiting to see what happens next. Perhaps instead of wasting so much energy arguing gay marriage, we should invent a new form of marriage that includes 3 or 4 adults in a single household. Then, we might re-ignite the fires of inflation.

Posted by: william876 | October 12, 2010 1:00 PM
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Kevin, I thank you for the laugh that your bio gave me. Your point is interesting but I am not sure I agree. There is little tolerance for the Generation Entitled underachievers because they often seem to expect the privileges of the self-supporting. They expect every luxury from costly coffee to their own cell phones and cars and balk at being given restrictions and rules to follow in their parents' homes. I'll bet you anything that women who stayed with their parents in the 1950s helped to cook and clean and did not expect to be waited on hand and foot like kids today do. They probably accepted curfews as part of the free-room-and-board package.

But this is all anecdotal so your theory is as good as mine. It would be interesting to consider reverse sexism in the lives of stay-at-home fathers.

Good luck in the contest.

Posted by: Couvade | October 12, 2010 4:55 AM
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