Keeping Women on the Economic Agenda

Last night I attended a dynamic panel hosted by Legal Momentum on Women’s Economic Equality: The Next Frontier in Women’s Rights.  The brilliant panelists duked it out, discussing the current economic situation, its impact on women, and in what directions we should be heading. 

Legal Momentum President, Irasema Garza, discussed the frustration that while historic legal victories were secured decades ago, this hasn’t translated into systematic equality for the majority of women in the U.S.  Women continue to be steered away from training opportunities, segregated into low-wage jobs, and are 42% more likely to be poor than men. In the midst of this stalemate came a ray of sunshine: the election of Obama.  With this historic election comes the opportunity to set new goals, reframe old debates, and shift the focus of our advocacy.  In this light, Legal Momentum is calling for a Second Bill of Rights for Women.  The bill must provide pathways to employment for women through job training and education; secure rights and supports to ensure women earn a living wage; ensure that public benefits provide an adequate safety net; and expand legal rights and support services for survivors of domestic violence.

Heather Boushey brought her economic expertise from the Center for American Progress and laid out the current stark reality:

  • Seven states have unemployment rates over 10% 
  • 20,000 jobs are lost every day
  • Half of the people who lost their jobs don’t get unemployment
  • There are 12.5 million people out of work
  • For every job opening there are four people actively seeking work

Heather pointed out that in this new economic context, traditional policy tools are no longer an option: there is no room for monetary policy to get us out.  Despite the direness of the situation, Heather offers some hope.  4 out of 5 jobs lost have been men’s jobs leaving many families with an earner who receives only 78 cents on the dollar. “If ever there was a moment to push pay equity,” Heather said, “this is the moment.”  Heather also said that we need to start thinking about what we want the next recovery package to look like now, so that it doesn’t catch us off guard.

Mimi Abramovitz found that the economic stimulus package put women back on the agenda in two significant ways. First, by ensuring that there were more service ready (typically women’s) jobs as well as shovel ready jobs.  Second, by modernizing unemployment insurance.  Mimi pointed to a recent New York Times article that proved the effectiveness of investing in social infrastructure. Furthermore, unemployment insurance is based on traditional, antiquated notions of gender roles that do not recognize the realities of women’s lives.  The inclusion of social infrastructure investment and modernizing unemployment insurance are giant steps in the right direction.  The U.S. will not have a sustainable economic recovery unless women are taken into account.  Therefore, Mimi urged people to be vigilant in monitoring the implementation of the stimulus package. 

Finally, Linda Hirshman expressed frustration with the mainstream media’s blinders regarding the impact of the economic crisis on women.  She wants to find a way to wake-up the media and get them to pay attention to insightful thinkers such as Mimi and Heather.  People simply aren’t talking enough about women in an economic context.  Linda, however, offered some starting points. She recommended that everyone read Nancy Folbre’s weekly blog in the New York Times and check out Susan Feiner’s blog on the economy.

During the question and answer discussion, panelists frequently respectfully disagreed with each other.  While Irasema argued we must double our efforts to get women into non-traditional jobs—which pay better and offer more substantial benefits packages—Heather expressed concern that we would be preparing women for jobs that are never coming back. 

One thing they all agreed on: we need to get this information out there and into the public.  People suggested writing to Paul Krugman insisting he include women in his analysis.  Audience members also pointed to wonderful groups already doing the work of spreading news vital to women’s lives: The Women’s Media Center, Women’s eNews and She Source. Check out these sources and the next time you notice women aren’t being included in a vital debate, write in to your local newspapers!


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