ECONOMIC RECOVERY ACT FORUM: Moving Toward a Recovery That Works for All of Us

By Linda A. Meric*

As we mark the one-year ARRA anniversary, it’s time to look at strategies on the road to recovery.

ARRA investment can promote and fund an economic recovery that works for all of us. Or, stimulus investment can go to those who’ve always had more, reinforcing existing inequities, and leaving women, people of color, and low-income families further behind. Much of ARRA’s $819 billion funding is still to be spent, and we must ensure that the recovery helps those most in need.

ARRA provided billions in incentives to states to modernize unemployment insurance (UI) programs and improve coverage for women. Many states responded – but many have yet to act.

Unemployment remains at 10 percent. But unemployment among women who head families has jumped to 13%. American families are struggling at a time when the Center for American Progress reports that more women are the sole earners for more families than ever before.

UI systems weren’t designed for women’s work lives. In many states, if a worker leaves her job for family reasons, is available only for part-time work, or has recently re-entered the workforce, she won’t receive unemployment compensation. ARRA modernizations can help women and their families make ends meet – and they boost state economies, too.

As of December 2009, 26 states had enacted UI reforms to qualify for full ARRA funding. Some states have enacted some of the required reforms. And, incredibly, some states have taken no action at all. If all states modernized UI systems, 500,000 more workers – many low-wage, part-timers and caregivers – would collect jobless benefits. Fixing state UI systems is a fix that really works for women.

But jobs are another big piece.

ARRA will create millions of jobs. These should be good jobs with family-supporting wages, health benefits and basic labor standards like paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance. Investing in energy jobs where 80% of the workers are White men won’t help women and communities of color – unless we also change that workforce. Data collection and reporting will help us follow the money and show us where it’s still needed most.

We all have a role. Monitor. Organize. Speak out.

We must not miss this opportunity to build an economy that works for us all.

*Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women

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