28 July 2008

Chicken Soup for Whom?

NPR’s July 28th Morning Edition tackled a real concern plaguing many of America’s workers: sick leave.

What it left out, however, was a discussion of how this issue disproportionately impacts women, who have always shouldered more of the responsibility nursing sick children and relatives back to health. Moreover, taking sick leave is especially challenging for low-income women, who are already confronting a number of other barriers to their economic stability and work-place flexibility.

Focusing on workers in two swing states, the poll (conducted by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School for Public Health) found that 44 percent of employees in Ohio and 50 percent of employees in Florida had gone to work sometime in the last year when they felt that should stay at home due to financial concerns.

Robert Blendon, of the Harvard School for Public Health, identified two main reasons why people are going to work when they are ill:

  • They have no access to paid sick leave.
  • They feel pressure from their employer to go to work, regardless of their health.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 40 percent of women in America have no access to paid sick leave; another 13 percent of women cannot use sick leave to take care of an ailing child or family member. In other words, over half of working women must choose between serving chicken soup to a coughing child or bringing home the paycheck that pays for that chicken soup. Given that many women have limited access to health care, that financial strain adds another layer of expense and difficulty.

For women living in poverty—who are disproportionately women of color and single mothers—the situation is bleaker. Three out of every four of these women sacrifices a day of pay for their own or a family member’s health.

Some cities and states have proposed legislation to guarantee paid sick leave to workers, but a piecemeal approach will not protect workplace safety and alleviate employee anxiety at the pace that our struggling economy demands.

A comprehensive, national response
—like that proposed by Senator Ted Kennedy and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Healthy Families Actwould have a uniquely positive impact on economic stability and job security of low-income women, single-mothers, and women of color and their families. A Ms. Foundation grantee partner and proponent of the bill, the MultiState Working Families Consortium, recently published this report discussing the need for family-friendly legislation.

As we at the Ms. Foundation have seen time and again, addressing the needs and prioritizing the solutions of low-income women and women of color lays the foundation for policy improvements that benefit workers and communities across the board.

Sara Gould Calls for Policy Reform for Women, Families in NYT Letter to the Editor

In a letter to the editor in today's New York Times, Ms. Foundation President and CEO Sara K. Gould responds to last week's article, "Women Are Now Equal as Victims of Poor Economy."

After years of increasing participation in the work force, women, you report, have reached a much less desirable milestone: a fall in the percentage who are working. But contrary to the suggestion that women are now on par with men because they're leaving the work force at similar rates, we know that women have always lagged well behind in good times and bad.

This is especially true for low-income women and women of color who face multiple barriers to economic security: race, gender and class.

Today, despite decades of struggle for job access and pay equity, women are paid 77 cents for each dollar a man makes; the disparity is worse for African-American women, who earn 62 cents, and Latinas, who earn 53 cents.

Nearly 10.5 million women are single parents (as compared with 2.5 million single fathers). For them, opting out for any reason — like motherhood or education — is not viable.

Already disadvantaged by years of workplace and legislative failures, women and their families face an increasingly insecure future if policies are not adjusted to meet their ever more pressing needs.
Simply put, while women's decline in workforce participation may be new, women's economic insecurity is not--in good economic times or bad, as the letter above says. So, with the economic crisis worsening day by day, let's call on our policymakers to rely on the solutions and leadership of those experiencing the crisis most acutely: low-income women and women of color. Given the spiraling state of affairs, they can't afford not to listen.

25 July 2008

Southern 'Crisis' in HIV/AIDS Highlights Urgent Need for Change

An MSNBC article [Report warns of AIDS ‘crisis’ across South] on a manifesto by the Southern AIDS Coalition is a vivid example of what happens in communities nationwide when the relationships among socioeconomic factors and HIV/AIDS incidence are not taken into account.

This is just further justification for a policy demand currently being crafted by the National Women and AIDS Collective (NWAC) . NWAC, housed at the Ms. Foundation, and led by our Women and AIDS Fund grantees, is calling on the CDC to collect data about factors such as incarceration rates, domestic violence, or access to affordable housing as a part of its routine HIV surveillance--a data collection process by which health-care providers and state and local health departments report new HIV cases nationwide. Without more comprehensive data about issues known to elevate ones risk of HIV infection, prevention and intervention programs won't be adequately designed or funded to stop the spread of the virus. And people who live in poorly resourced places--whether it's the South or South Central, LA--and are denied sufficient access to health care, jobs, transportation, and housing, will continue to experience higher rates of HIV/AIDS.

Image from: Southern States Manifesto: Update 2008 / HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the South July 21, 2008 [pdf]

23 July 2008

Minimum Wage Woes

On Thursday, 24 July 2008, the federal minimum wage will be increased to $6.55. Holly Sklar (a co-author with Susan Wefald of the Ms. Foundation of Raise the Floor) in her latest op-ed piece [Minimum Wage Raise Too Little, Too Late] shows how little this increase provides and calls for change. She notes that since 1973 the wage has gone down while productivity has risen, and that eight of the ten top-rated states for small business have had minimum wage levels above the federal rate.

The July 24 minimum wage raise is so little, so late that workers will still make less than they did in 1997, adjusting for the increased cost of living, and way less than in 1968.

She notes that since 1968, when its value in 2008 dollars hit its peak, the minimum has been worth less over time.

Sklar shares the effort of Let Justice Roll, a national faith, community, labor and business coalition, which is calling for a minimum wage of $10 in 2010. She notes:

Minimum wage raises are stimulus for an economy tanking from a housing bubble gone bust, sharply higher oil prices, extreme inequality, unsustainable debt, and fraud and speculation crowding out productive investment.

Higher wages benefit business by increasing consumer purchasing power, reducing costly employee turnover, raising productivity, and improving product quality and company reputation. They reinforce long-term success.

Read Sklar's full article and see the Ms. Foundation's Raise the Floor Project for more on how a higher minimum wage is necessary, but not sufficient for eliminating poverty. Policies are required to fill the gap between income and the cost of minimum needs, with particular focus on the earned income tax credit, health care, caregiving and housing policies.

22 July 2008

Women's Interest = Nation's Interest

In an Alternet posting [Rigidly Male-Dominated Societies Are Violent; The U.S. Is No Different] of an opinion piece by Riane Eisler originally published by The WIP, the author raises the point we shared in our recent posting [Women's Solutions, National Solutions]: in meeting women's needs we improve economic security for all our nation’s people, women and men alike.

Eisler writes:
This relegation of "women's issues" to a secondary place is obviously terrible for half of America (actually the majority, since women are 52 percent). But it's also terrible for the political and family health of our entire nation.

While calling for progressives to make women's issues integral to their agenda, she notes:

The equal valuing of the two halves of humanity -- women and men -- will obviously vastly improve girls' and women's quality of life. But it's also essential if we are to move to a more democratic, peaceful, and sustainable future for us all.

The Alternet posting has an active comment list. Join it, or start the conversation here with your comment.

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.

10 July 2008

New York State Governor Watch

This week two new laws important for young people are waiting for action by New York Governor David Paterson. The Governor has announced his intention to sign one that extends the state's domestic violence law to allow family court judges to issue civil orders against a wider range of abusers [Albany to Expand Domestic Violence Law to Include Dating Relationships ]. He has not committed on the second, the Safe Harbor law, which would treat girls, age 15 and under, not as criminals, but as vicitims when they are first arrested for prostitution.

Clyde Haberman's New York Times column [Helping Girls as Victims, Not Culprits] provides a vivid illustration of the girls who might be helped by the Safe Harbor law. Haberman introduces Miranda, a young woman from Brooklyn who left home at age 14 and was sexually exploited and forced into prostitution. With the help of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), a Harlem-based organization and former Ms. Foundation grantee, Miranda, now 18, has graduated high school and is exploring college.

Haberman highlights the extent of Miranda's accomplishment and compares it to her advocacy work.

Also not typical are her journeys to Albany to urge that lawmakers rethink how the state deals with children — girls, in the main — who become sexual prey. Her efforts and those of others paid off a couple of weeks ago when the Legislature, by unanimous votes in both houses, passed the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Act.
Like the domestic violence legislation the Governor will sign, the Safe Harbor law would help in removing these important issues from the criminal courts. Young girls arrested for prostitution for the first time would be "classified as 'persons in need of supervision,' or PINS, and offered social services and protection from their pimps in a dormitory-style shelter," Haberman reports.

Haberman notes that Governor Paterson has not made a commitment to sign the bill and that the Bloomberg administration opposes it. He quotes John Feinblatt, the mayor's criminal justice coordinator, saying "the PINS process has no teeth" and he prefers keeping these children in the court system.

GEMS Executive Director Rachel Lloyd, disagrees. "Born in England, Ms. Lloyd was 'in the life' herself as a teenager. In part, the problem is one of perception, she said. 'These are not kids with cancer — they're not the kids people feel the most empathy for.'" She notes they are not as tough as one might think. "Whatever your stereotype is, when you sit down and talk to them, you see that a kid is a kid."

Young people like Miranda, affected by the policies they help shape and promote, are prime examples of the power of women organizing to change their world. As the ones closest to the problems they can generate the best policy and practice solutions.

Photo - Governor David Paterson. Source: New York State.

07 July 2008

Los Angeles Times On Black Community's Fight Against HIV/AIDS

An article in the Sunday Los Angeles Times [Cookie and Magic Johnson and Spike Lee Help Fight HIV Among Blacks] highlights the "growing outspokenness among African Americans about the community's disproportionately high HIV rates." The number of women in the United States living with HIV has tripled in the last two decades, and today, HIV infection is the leading cause of death for African-American women aged 25-34 years.

Featured is Carrie Broadus, a leader of the National Women and AIDS Collective (NWAC), the first national policy coalition led by and for women living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, and housed at the Ms. Foundation for Women.

Many women don't even think about HIV because they don't practice such well-publicized risky behaviors as injecting drugs or having sex with multiple partners, said Carrie Broadus, executive director of Women Alive, a South Los Angeles-based organization for HIV-positive women.

NWAC continues its efforts to change policy including reform of the Center for Disease Control's statistics gathering to accurately reflect how and why women are acquiring HIV/AIDS and thus help make prevention more effective, particularly for those who do not see themselves at risk.

See our previous posting on women's efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and the role of the National Women and AIDS Collective.