12 February 2010

Our Nation's Recovery Depends on Those Most in Need of Jobs

On Tuesday, Bob Herbert wrote a compelling column about how those most affected by today's economic crisis are also the most forgotten. "What you’re not hearing from the politicians and the talking heads," Herbert writes, "is that the joblessness and underemployment in America’s low-income households rival their heights in the Great Depression of the 1930s — and in some instances are worse."

Herbert highlights new data from a Northeastern University study of U.S. households that examined unemployment rates during the last quarter of 2009 by annual household income. Not surprisingly, they found alarming disparities:

The highest group, with household incomes of $150,000 or more, had an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent. ...The unemployment rate of the lowest group, which had annual household incomes of $12,499 or less...was a staggering 30.8 percent. That’s more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression.
...When the data about underemployment is factored in...the picture only worsens. In the lowest group, the underemployment rate was 20.6 percent, compared with just 1.6 percent in the highest group.
Herbert is not trying to diminish the impact of the crisis on the middle class. Instead he argues:

The point here is that those in the lower-income groups are in a much, much deeper hole than the general commentary on the recession would lead people to believe. And none of the policy prescriptions being offered by the administration or the leaders of either party in Congress would in any way substantially alleviate the plight of those groups.
We talk about the recession as if all of its victims were suffering equally, and all will be helped by some bland, class-and-category-neutral solution.

That is so wrong.
Herbert is so right. None of the economic recovery policies we've seen thus far sufficiently addresses the urgent needs of low-income people and their communities. This again begs the question advocates have been asking for some time: How will our country recover if we don't respond -- and listen -- to those most affected?

Of course, a significant percentage of those most affected are women, who make up nearly 70 percent of minimum- and below-minimum-wage workers. In fact, "a majority of women workers," according to Ms. Foundation grantee Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), "earn only about two times the federal poverty line, or $20,140 in 2010 for a mother and one child."

Our next opportunity to address the priorities and solutions of low-income people, including low-income women and an especially vulnerable group, households headed by women, is through a comprehensive jobs bill. And as our colleague Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change says, this has to come with an adequate price tag.

Ms. Foundation grantees have already been advocating for a jobs program to meet women's needs. In December, WOW issued "A Women's Agenda for Job Creation" [PDF]. Today, they continue to push for the incorporation of their solutions into the final Congressional bill. WOW has already made progress: their suggested "nonprofit tax credit" [PDF] made its way into President Obama's recent jobs proposal. Now let's see if Congress can improve even further upon the White House plan. And let's remind them that the fate of the entire country is tied to those who need jobs the most.

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

1 comment:

  1. Catherine SamuelsFriday, 19 February, 2010

    Sara, what you say above is crucial, and seems so obvious when you look at the reality. Can't solve a problem -- propose or implement reforms -- if you do not understand the causes, the true nature of the problem. Why has it always been so very difficult to have an intelligent discussion of poverty, especially the fact it cannot be eliminated or significantly reduced until we provide the educational, employment, child care and other support and services needed to address the problems of the core group: women heads of household and their children?

    I think we, the women's community, need to increase our collective efforts to address women and poverty, to help women achieve "economic security". Thanks for to the Ms. Foundation for its support on this issue.