16 January 2009

Obama Recovery Plan Can’t Leave Women and Families Waiting in the Wings

As Congress prepares to debate President-elect Obama’s economic recovery proposal, they must consider how to reshape it to ensure the economic well-being of all people, particularly those facing the greatest amount of economic insecurity. Women, particularly low-income women, women of color and single mothers, who are overrepresented among those bearing the brunt of the economic and foreclosure crisis, should be a primary focus of the plan, and not left to wait for the indirect benefits of a recovery that privileges men.

We know that the Obama Administration’s proposed economic recovery package includes considerable investment in physical infrastructure and green jobs. We agree that rebuilding our decaying infrastructure to 21st century standards is absolutely necessary and that building up a “green” economy is long overdue. But this approach will create jobs in fields like construction and engineering that are typically dominated by men. When President-elect Obama first released details of his plan, women’s groups and experts asked how women—who make up nearly 50 percent of the workforce and are overrepresented among low-wage workers and people living in poverty—would benefit from such a male-oriented “recovery.” How can we create a sustainable, healthy economy without lifting up women alongside men and low-income people alongside those with higher incomes?

Last month, the Ms. Foundation and a number of our colleagues advocated for remedial prescriptions [pdf] to address the urgent needs of women, particularly low-income women and women of color, including: the inclusion of specific goals for women’s hiring and retention in nontraditional jobs; funding for programs that would create and improve the quality of jobs in fields that currently employ large numbers of women like education, child care and domestic violence prevention; and increased funding for, expansion and modernization of a range of safety net and education programs—from unemployment insurance [pdf] and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) [pdf] to child care, housing and health care.

The Obama Administration seems to have heard some of these concerns, but perhaps not clearly enough, judging by a recently released document, “The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” [pdf] The report sets out in part to justify (to women, in particular, it seems) why the current proposal skews towards male-dominated industries and how, particularly through tax relief and indirect job-creation, it will have a trickle-down effect for women and women-dominated fields. They claim that “the total number of created jobs likely to go to women is roughly 42% of the jobs created by the package.” Really?

Not so fast, Linda Hirshman points out: “Regardless of how you measure it, most of those promised female jobs are only the projection into next year of ‘indirect’ results of government spending this year. By contrast, the report recognizes that the jobs the program creates directly and immediately are overwhelmingly concentrated in the male categories of energy and infrastructure.”

Last month, Hirshman took the Obama administration to task for denying women equal access to jobs and economic recovery in its stimulus package in a much-circulated New York Times piece warning, “There are almost no women on this road to recovery…. A just economic stimulus plan must include jobs in fields like social work and teaching where large numbers of women work.”

It’s not too late for the incoming administration and Congress to fix the plan. The plan must include minimum standards for recruitment, employment and retention of women in non-traditional trades including funding for workplace supports like child care and paid sick leave that help women access training and stay employed. And alongside jobs, it must incorporate a strong emphasis on investing in social and human infrastructure—community infrastructure—and services such as health care and education that will create jobs and provide more help to address the needs and solutions of those most affected by this spiraling crisis: women, low-income people and people of color.

Sara K. Gould
President & CEO
Ms. Foundation for Women

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