- On Gender, Labor, and Inequality by Ruth Milkman
Milkman's collection will well serve scholars of the Great Plains with its comprehensive coverage, from a 1976 study of Great Depression female workers to an essay written for this volume that reprises the same questions for the 2008 Great Recession. The 11 essays constitute a history of women's relationships to both the workforce and unions across the twentieth century. Marxist, feminist, and modernization theories influenced Milkman's original analysis and how she framed the essays for reading now. The essays, deepened by sociological method, foreground statistical analyses of census records, rather than women's thoughts about their own experiences.
Sex-typing and gender segregation in the labor force emerge as the most persistent factors affecting women workers. Milkman's classic Great Depression essay shows women suffered lower rates of unemployment because their jobs experienced less contraction. Even women who filled so-called men's jobs in the World War II automobile-turned-defense industry found them reclassified as women's work. Later articles explain how management had as much to do with the "purge" (119) of women from defense industries as the resistance of the United Auto Workers. Applying sociological theory on the "formative stages" (171) of union organization in terms of structure and historic gender norms, Milk-man offers explanations for the exclusion or inclusion of women in four major surges of activity: late nineteenthcentury craft unions, the "new unionism" of the 1910s needle and garment trades, the industrial unions of the 1930s, and finally, the public and service unions that grew out of economic structural shifts in the 1960s and 1970s. Recent work explores the deep influence of income inequality, particularly among women, which has risen steadily from the 1970s at the advent of decreasing gender inequality for women in professional jobs.
The most direct connection to Great Plains research emerges from Milkman's study of paid domestic labor, work-family policies, and class. An essay on the prevalence of domestic labor in the 100 largest metropolitan areas of the United States included Plains anchor cities such as Houston and Tulsa, and the author argues explicitly for continued regional research (243). Milkman's general insights across the collection may have application to agricultural regions in which manufacturing has been historically low but is growing along with industrial agriculture. How does the service economy of tourism—a stronghold in Great Plains economies—fare in analysis of 1960s and 1970s union organization and gendered work spaces? Milkman's decades of study provide a solid foundation for new work in Great Plains labor history.