11 July 2008

Women's Solutions, National Solutions

In a campaign season where the concept of “women”—as candidates and as voters—has generated a great deal of rhetoric, but not very much in the way of substantive policy, Barack Obama’s announcement of a set of policy priorities [pdf] targeting the needs of America’s working women was a welcome, albeit long-over-due change. We hope this announcement marks a turning point in the campaign, and that both candidates will hold themselves accountable to the millions of women—especially low-income women and women of color—who are bearing the brunt of the current economic crisis.

As Obama implied on The Today Show, women across America are finding themselves disproportionately affected by the uncertain economic environment. Women still are paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns (the disparity is worse for African American women, who earn 62 cents, and even worse for Latinas, making 53 cents for every man’s dollar) which puts them at a disadvantage even in a good economy. Moreover, women comprise the majority (59%) of the nation’s minimum wage earners, while simultaneously bearing greater responsibility for child-rearing (10.4 million women are single parents, compared to 2.5 million single-fathers according to the latest US Census). Also the majority of minimum and low-wage jobs do not guarantee affordable health care or even paid sick leave, and the result is that many working women must make a choice between their own health and putting food on the table for their families. The soaring cost of child-care further erodes working women’s chances at establishing any sense of economic security.

The sub-prime mortgage crisis rippling across the nation has also hit women harder: 32 percent of women hold subprime mortgages compared with 24 percent of men, a disparity accounted for by women’s historically lower wealth and income. The repercussions are even worse for African American and Latino homeowners who were 30 percent more likely to have received sub-prime loans. Furthermore, as the real estate market employs significantly more women (142,000) than men (42,000), the industry-wide downturn means that more women’s jobs are at risk.

Our grantee partners across the country, many of whom are low-income women and women of color, know personally the effects of economic injustice, made more acute by the current economic downturn. Based on their lived experience, they have vital recommendations for policy change. Being attentive to the struggles of low-income and middle-income women is a first step; truly incorporating working women’s diverse perspectives in policy development, however, is the only way to guarantee the practical, sustainable solutions our nation needs.

Most importantly, we must realize that meeting women’s needs—via affordable health care, accessible child care, paid sick leave, a living wage, etc.—will result in an improved chance at economic security for all our nation’s people, women and men alike.

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