Telling the Real Story on Social Security

This blog is also published on IWPR’s Social Security Media Watch Project.

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

In political debates and media reports, the dialog on Social Security has recently focused on budget numbers. The program is often mistakenly tied to the deficit despite the fact that by law it cannot borrow money to pay for benefits and thus cannot contribute to the deficit. But the bigger story is being missed: the fact that Social Security directly affects the lives of many Americans including seniors, the disabled, and widows and children who are eligible for survivor benefits.

The program has a long history, and across its nearly eight decades it has expanded to include more people under its protective umbrella.  Fundamentally, once a person becomes eligible as a permanently disabled worker, retiree, or spouse or widow of a retiree, benefits last as long as one lives and are adjusted for inflation each year. While the benefits of Social Security are especially important to women because of their lower lifetime earnings and longer lives, men are becoming increasingly reliant due to shifts in retirement saving patterns and the recent severe recession. Many children, whose parents have died or become disabled, rely on Social Security insurance benefits, as do disabled children, including the adult disabled children, of working parents or grandparents who worked.

Many organizations have begun to tell this important part of the Social Security story.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) recently began collecting input about how people had been affected by Social Security on its Facebook page—you too can tell your story here. By completing the sentence “Because of Social Security, I can…” respondents have offered insight into their specific needs that the program is currently meeting. “Because of Social Security, I am able to get the medical attention that I need, eat, buy toiletries, pay my electric bill as I am disabled,” said one commenter.

One perhaps somewhat harsh reality is that Social Security benefits, which are very modest (the typical woman 65 or older receives $10,915 annually),  give enough support to lift many Americans out of poverty—more than 14 million Americans aged 65 and older would be poor without Social Security benefits. Another commenter on NWLC’s Facebook page said that she would be homeless without access to Social Security insurance benefits.

The program also offers support to those with disabilities or supporting disabled individuals. “I am able to take care of my autistic grandson who would be in foster care or a group home without me,” said one commenter on NWLC’s Facebook page.

The Older Women’s League (OWL) collected similar narratives for a video that shows the range of women who receive benefits from Social Security.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the program in 2010, the Frances Perkins Center started the Social Security Stories Project:  “an opportunity to join thousands of Americans in showing that you are part of how Social Security has transformed our country, our economy and our people – young and old.”

The center is named for Frances Perkins who observed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911 and went on to become Secretary of Labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. Perkins helped establish the Social Security program, which FDR called “a cornerstone of his administration.”

Visitors to the website can submit their stories directly to the site.  See them all on their webpage and watch the video.

We hope that by continuing to spread these stories, the focus can shift to the dire impact that cuts to the program would have on many Americans and their families.  Besides, we are a wealthy country that can well afford to take care of our elderly and disabled and their families.

Other related videos:

Don’t Make Us Work ‘Til We Die

A new video from Social Security Works looks at the alternate reality of older workers who would be  unable to retire, and would have to keep on waiting tables, drilling construction sites, and working other strenuous jobs if the Social Security retirement age were raised further.

Scrap the Cap

Produced this year by OWL National, an animated video starring fictional versions of Whoopi Goldberg and Glenn Beck debating the importance of the Social Security program.

Social Security: Real Stories

Produced by the Social Security Administration’s Open Government Initiative, a video collection of testimonials from Americans about how Social Security has been a source of support.

President Obama’s Weekly Address: Honoring Social Security, Not Privatizing It 

In his address on August 13, 2010, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Social Security  President Obama told Americans that he would “honor” Social Security—not privatize it.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women in Science: Beyond Babies and Biology

by Robert Drago

Every few years, we get a recycling of old explanations for women’s underrepresentation in traditionally male fields, and these inevitably circle around babies and biology. Either women “just want to have kids,” so cannot hold down serious jobs, or women are wired to be less capable in certain fields.  Most recently, these arguments were recycled as an explanation for women’s low representation in science and engineering fields by Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams. They argued that there is no longer evidence of sex discrimination, so we should switch our policy focus to “make institutions responsive to different biological realities of the sexes.” This is the biology-based version of the women “just want to have kids” argument.

In a response published this week, I note that the biology argument is static, so it might explain persistent sex segregation. It cannot explain changing patterns of segregation, and that is what occurred with a three-decade intensification of sex segregation within science and engineering fields. Here’s what happened: according to figures produced by the National Science Foundation, between 1977 and 2009, out of all new science and engineering doctorates in the U.S., women became more concentrated in the life sciences (rising from 65 percent to 74 percent of all women’s science and engineering doctorates), while men became more concentrated in other science and engineering fields (their percentage in life sciences fell from 38 percent to 37 percent).

Women’s supposed love of children cannot explain this shift, but language and laws can. It turns out that the decrease in men’s representation in life sciences is due to an influx of foreign national men. Among men who are American citizens, the percentage of life science degrees rose, including for white non-Hispanics (40 percent to 49 percent), black non-Hispanics (41 percent to 57 percent), and Hispanics (35 percent to 50 percent). In other words, the gender of American citizens had nothing to do with the increase in sex segregation.

So why are foreign national men flocking to science and engineering programs outside of the life sciences? Language has something to do with this, with life sciences doctorates requiring relatively greater English language abilities.

Of course, this begs the question of why foreign national women are not entering non-life science fields in large numbers . And to answer that question requires a bit of history: then-President Nixon signed Title IX  into law in 1972, opening the doors of colleges and universities across the U.S. to women.  We have made great progress in terms of gender equality since then: women received a whopping 54 percent of all science and engineering doctorates earned by U.S. citizens in 2009. But other nations do not have Title IX and, as a result, women earned only 32 percent of new science and engineering doctorates among foreign nationals.

I get that care for kids often conflicts with job demands. But those conflicts, and the low numbers of foreign national women in science and engineering, have more to do with culture and laws than biology.

Robert Drago is the Director of Research with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women Immigrants: Fear, Education, and Economics

This is a guest blog post by Heidi Silver-Pacuilla that was originally posted on the blog for the National Coalition for Literacy. Women make up more than 50 percent of the adult ed population; in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, they are more than 60 percent. Consider how to take the unique concerns of women learners into account in adult ed programming and teaching.

by Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, 2010-2011 President of the National Coalition for Literacy

Women make up more than 50 percent of the adult ed population; in ESL classes, they are more than 60 percent (NRS tables, 2008-2009). How much are we taking the unique concerns of women learners into account in our programming and teaching? In March, Women’s History Month, I was able to attend several events focused on women immigrants and the role and challenges they face in the U.S. economy and society. This post summarizes some of the key points that impact our adult education programs, instruction, and communities.

The first event was on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, March 8, held at George Washington University and hosted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Margie McHugh of the Migration Policy Institute shared data on immigrant women in the United States:
–          20 million foreign-born women represent half of the foreign-born population – this is quite unusual as migration patterns around the world usually see a much greater number of men that women.
–          11 million women are limited English proficient, 55 percent of whom are non-citizens; half of whom are in their prime working years (25-49); 23 percent are 50-64.

In all presentations, there was an overwhelming urgency to raise national awareness of the culture of fear that is being perpetuated on the immigrant community and its traumatic effects on women, men and children.

The fear of family separation is very real.

Michelle Brane, of the Women’s Refugee Commission, enumerated that 32,000 people are detained every day in the United States, 3,200 of whom are women. These detainees are taken to detention facilities where there is lack of security and safety as they are mixed in with criminal detainees and a lack of medical care – or even basic hygiene.  Eighty percent of detainees do not have an attorney and there is no right to paid counsel.

When women are detained, there are no regulations in place for how law enforcement officials are to handle notification of the family. Children are left to wonder where their mother is and arrangements for care of the children are completely ad hoc. Many heart-wrenching stories were told of families caught in this situation.

Watch for the Help the Immigrant Children Act to be re-introduced in the House and Senate around Mother’s Day to protect Due Process Rights of Parents. Under the Act, children would be told how to stay in contact with the parents; law enforcement officials would be required to screen for whether a detainee is a parent; detention would be considered only in case of threat to community; detainees would be given access to family courts; and family reunification would be facilitated whether the parent remains in United States or not.

March 25 was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in NYC, a tragedy in which 146 young – mostly immigrant – women died in an unsafe workplace, and an event that galvanized the worker safety movement in the United States. I attended an event held at the Woodrow Wilson Center in commemoration, the webcast of which is available online.

Women’s role in the economy is growing. NCL examined the realities for women with low skills in the current economy in a January blog post and women’s educational opportunities in the December 2010 Policy Forum.  Our learners are fulfilling multiple roles: workers, family members, caregivers, their child’s first teacher. For immigrant women, several issues are particularly challenging.

Sara Mazano-Díaz, Director of the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor, welcomed participants, saying that the Women’s Bureau represents the 72 million working women in the United States. She said that undocumented and immigrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, discrimination, and unsafe working conditions.

“No one should go to work worried about getting home safely,” she said. She highlighted efforts of the Department of Labor including a We Can Help campaign in multiple languages that explains to workers how to report safety violations, wage discrimination, and file complaints. Find more information and resources in multiple languages to share with your learners on the website.

Organizations step in to offer support to immigrant women.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, released a new report at the event, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change. The report and panelists on March 25 outline how community-based and faith-based organizations – including  adult education, workforce training programs and volunteer English tutors  – are providing services to immigrant women and families, and also living with the culture of fear and misinformation cultivated in various locations around immigration laws and rights.

Services in greatest need include:
–          Health care, especially reproductive care and mental health;
–          Affordable child care;
–          Legal services for violence protection; and,
–          Literacy and English language classes

See NCL’s English Language Learning Policy Principles that include a call for increased access to English and civics classes, collaboration with other service providers, and promotion of respect and appreciation for immigrants and their contributions to this society.

Panelist Mary Odem, Associate Professor of women’s studies and history, Emory University, urged the immigrant service providers to continue to advocate for municipalities to provide these basic services. “Don’t let them off the hook,” she said.

“Latina women and girls seem to bear the greatest burden of the culture of fear and anxiety in the immigrant community,” said Pierluigi Mancini, Executive Director of CETPA, a professional mental health counseling services for the Latino community in Atlanta, GA during a panel presentation.

This fear of detention and family separation is keeping many immigrant women in their homes, afraid to drive, to congregate, to speak out about domestic violence or workplace injustices, attend language classes, or to venture forth from their neighborhoods. This will surely impact participation in classes and is a concern the adult education community should share.

On a positive note, panelists and audience participants celebrated the resilience and strength in the immigrant community. In particular, panelists urged community-based organizations to continue to provide leadership opportunities to the “Dreamers” – the young immigrants who rallied to support the Dream Act last year. (See how the Dream Act would have impacted adult education.)  These young leaders are bright, accomplished, media-savvy, and now, fired up to advocate for their communities. The National Council of La Raza, co-sponsors of the event on March 25th, is keeping the Dream Act and Dreamers alive and cultivating them as advocates for the immigrant community. Stay tuned!

Heidi Silver-Pacuilla is Senior Research Analyst at American Institutes for Research (AIR), and the Deputy Director of the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) funded by the Office of Special Education Programs. She serves on the board of directors of the National Coalition for Literacy.

Where’s My 20?

By Sara Manzano-Díaz, Director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau

This is a guest blog post on the important theme of Equal Pay Day. The struggle to gain equality in pay for women is ongoing, and affects women and their families.

As the economy of the United States slowly recovers, one faction of the population is still struggling for wage equality—women. The American workforce today is more female and more diverse. Women account for nearly half of our nation’s workers. Yet, women on average still earn 20 percent less than their male counterparts.

Since passage of the landmark Equal Pay Act in 1963, the pay gap has steadily narrowed by just one-half a cent each year. Over the past five decades the landscape of pay equity for women has remained one of “haves” and “have nots.” This is particularly true for women of color. Data indicates that the wages of women of color significantly lag that of whites.

According to recent reports by the U. S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median weekly earnings of $657 compared to $819 for men. When you look at the wages of African American and Hispanic women, however, the wage gap widens.

For example, African American women earn about 70 cents and Latinas about 60 cents of every dollar paid to all men. These aren’t simply statistics, they’re real numbers that affect the pocketbooks of women who face the day-to-day bread and butter issues of taking care of their families.

So, why does the pay gap matter? The pay gap shines a bright light on the disparity of income available to maintain the households of American families, particularly those of single women and women of color. For millions of working women, the gap means 20 percent less income to pay for housing, gas to get to work, utilities, food, college education for children, and retirement savings.

Over a 40-year career, a woman cumulatively loses nearly $380,000 in earnings. For the average working woman that is almost $150 a week in lost household income to sustain their families. Equal pay is not just a woman’s issue—it’s a family issue.

As a woman and a public servant, I am proud of the Labor Department’s role in advocating for issues that positively improve equal pay for women and their families. And, we want to assure women that this administration will continue to enforce the laws that protect wages, to level the playing field for employers who play by the rules, and to work toward fixing policies that impact women in the workplace.

And as a working woman, I know what my missing 20 percent has cost me over my lifetime. What has that 20 percent cost your family?

More information on the impact of the pay gap is available at

Sara Manzano-Díaz is Director of the U. S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

A Partial Fix for Closing the Wage Gap: End Segregation in the Labor Market

by Barbara Gault

So, the wage gap is still going strong, even though women have surpassed men in terms of number of higher degrees received. Women are now more likely than men to get bachelors’ degrees, master’s degrees, and Ph.D.’s. Is it just a matter of needing time to catch up?

According to recent IWPR statistics, at the current rate of change it will take until 2056, or 45 more years, until we see equality. How do we accelerate change? One method is to equalize access to high paying jobs.

As IWPR’s new fact sheet, shows, the most common jobs for men and women are quite different. Of the ten most common jobs for men and women, there is overlap in only one. The best paid professions which are more common to  men are Chief Executive Officer (CEO), computer software engineer, and manager; the best paid professions more common for women are accountants, registered nurses, and elementary and middle school teachers. In the ten lowest paid occupations, close to two-thirds of workers are women, and in the highest paid occupations, two-thirds of workers are men. The proportion of women who are machinists, carpenters, and electricians hovered at below 10 percent between 1972 and 2009. Fewer than 10 percent of civil engineers were women in 2009.

And sex segregation is not improving. The index of dissimilarity, a tool that economists use to measure the degree of sex segregation overall in the labor market, found that in the 37 year period between 1972 and 2009 we saw progress in this area for the first 25 years, and then progress essentially dropped off starting in 1996 and continues to stagnate.

Women’s representation in some high paying fields, notably computer science, has actually gotten worse. Segregation in the labor force is a natural by-product of sex segregation in educational focus. Whereas in 1989 women were more than 30.2 percent of computer science bachelor degree recipients, in 2008 they were only 17.6 percent. Similarly, the proportion of math bachelor degree recipients that were women dropped in that same time period, from 46 to 43 percent. Engineering bachelor degrees increased, but only slightly, from 15.2 to 18.5 percent. On the other hand, women receive more than 70 percent of psychology degrees, and they are also the vast majority of degree holders in education.

We see the same gendered patterns in receipt of associates’ degrees. The percentage of women receiving associates degrees in computer and information sciences, engineering and engineering technology, and math and science, all dropped between 1997 and 2007.

An analysis released by IWPR yesterday found that of 111 occupations for which we had sufficient data, women earned less than men in 107 of them. These within-occupation wage gaps do reflect pure discrimination, but sex segregation can of course occur even within occupations. One of the largest wage gaps we found was in retail sales, where women only earn 64.7 percent of what men earn. 

In the Walmart vs. Betty Dukes case currently before the Supreme Court we hear stories of differential retail sales assignments being used as a justification for paying men more (men work in the tools department, which pays more, and women work in the cosmetics department, which pays less).

To end occupational segregation and the wage gap, there are clear steps that employers, policymakers, and even teachers and parents can take:

  • Education: Encourage girls and women to go into nontraditional, higher paying jobs.   The National Girls Collaborative provides access to an array of programs encouraging girls to pursue careers in fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
  • Unionization: Improve access to unions.  Unionized jobs have lower wage gaps.
  • Enforcement: Address issues contributing to hostile work environments through Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) interventions in order to eradicate this problem. Investigate common occupations with the highest sex segregation, and those with most profound wage gaps, as these are likely to be hotbeds of harassment and hostility.
  • Awareness: Address the unequal division of caregiving work.  The recent White House Women in America report found that women still do more housework and child care work, allowing men to spend more time at paid work and leisure.  IWPR’s research found that even teen girls shoulder an unfair burden of care for siblings and housework, while boys spend more time at leisure.
  • Support: Build greater family supports for workers and learners, including expanding support for student parents, who make up roughly a quarter of students at colleges and universities.
  • Development: Think of ending inequality as a key component of sustainable community development by working to make communities family friendly: include child care as a part of city and state economic development plans, and co-locate child care with public transportation and housing.  For ideas like these, check out the Cornell University’s website on child care and economic development with useful tools including those for assessing the economic development importance of child care to communities.
  • Advocacy: We need a whole new wave of kitchen table advocacy and consciousness-raising on the pervasiveness of sex discrimination.   Some argue that Walmart shouldn’t be held responsible for sex discrimination because the problem is too widespread throughout the whole society.  We somehow managed to desegregate schools and universities even though segregation was widespread at one point in our history. We need to approach unequal pay the same way.
  • Communication: The Paycheck Fairness Act was not passed this year, which would have outlawed retribution for sharing salary information – but we can use the anonymity of the Internet to share such information with one another through discussion forums, blogs and social media.  Also, women need to join forces to address the unequal distribution of labor within the home.
  • Negotiation: And we do need to negotiate, but not because it will make us any allies in the short term, but as a form of advocacy.  When women negotiate like men, it is not always met with a warm reception.  Negotiate as an act of solidarity, so that  we’ll all get used to it, and gradually shift our stereotypes of how nice women workers are supposed to act.

Barbara Gault is the Executive Director and Vice President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women Thrown Under the Bus (Again)

by Heidi Hartmann

Friday evening (4/8/2011) while the Democrats and Republicans were negotiating their budget deal for the remainder of FY 2011, as the news began to trickle out, we learned that once more, women are being thrown under the bus.

True, the Republican negotiator, John Boehner, Speaker of the House, wanted more anti-woman stuff he didn’t get—a ban on Planned Parenthood receiving any women’s health services funds from Title X.  But because of President Obama’s willingness to compromise (as reported by  The Washington Post), Boehner did win a prohibition on the use of DC taxpayers’ funds to provide abortions to low-income women in DC—in other words, thanks to Boehner and Obama, we DC residents can no longer use our own, locally-generated tax dollars to fund abortions for poor women.  Women thrown under the bus by our president!

Sunday morning we awoke to hear on the news interview shows that President Obama will propose ways to rein in the federal debt, both by raising taxes and reducing costs in programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security in a major speech on Wednesday (4/13/11).  While raising taxes is potentially good news for women, who rely on government programs more than men do, and so will be helped by added revenues, reducing costs in programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security is almost certainly disastrous news for women.  In other words on Wednesday when President Obama unveils his long term plan for reducing the US debt, he will almost certainly throw women under the bus again!

Women are 61 percent of adult Medicaid recipients, 57 percent of the 65 and older Medicare recipients, and 57 percent of the 65 and older Social Security recipients. Women also rely on Social Security more than men do:  as of 2009, 50 percent of women aged 65 and older and 35 percent of men of the same age range relied on Social Security for 80 percent or more of their income.

With so many more people more reliant on Social Security for retirement income than ever before (given the fall in pension fund balances, savings, and home equity), cutting Social Security benefits in any way (including by raising the retirement age) should be a non-starter for any serious policymaker, whether Democratic or Republican, especially because the American public has responded in survey after survey that they’d rather see Social Security taxes raised than Social Security benefits cut.

Medicare is already subject to very significant cost-savings under the health care reform act passed last year and the ability of the Affordable Care Act to deliver on its promise of covering 34 million uninsured Americans hinges on the continued performance of both Medicare and Medicaid.  It’s hard to see how squeezing more cost-savings from these programs can be done without significantly reducing benefits. A better approach would be to institute efficiencies and cost-controls in the entire health care industry.

To protect the gains women have made in the past 50 years and to keep what is left of America’s social safety net from fraying further, concerted political action is needed now.   Check out the websites of Planned Parenthood in Metropolitan Washington, national Planned Parenthood, NOW, National Women’s Law Center, and other women’s groups to find effective ways to increase your political activism. The Campaign for America’s Future is organizing an email campaign to let the President know what you would like him to say in Wednesday’s speech.

After the speech, please make your opinions known to Congress as they debate the FY 2012 budget, raising the ceiling on the federal debt, and potential cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  Women have much to lose from further spending cuts, as well as from a failure to raise the debt ceiling.

Heidi Hartmann is the President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

A College Student’s Take on the Gender Wage Gap

By Lauren Hepler

In honor of Equal Pay Day, IWPR intern Lauren Hepler observes the impact of the gender wage gap as she looks to start a career after college.

In this economy, it is very scary to be a college student getting ready to graduate in just one short year. And with media profits tanking, it is even more daunting to be a journalism major set to graduate in 2012. Sadly, it is worse to be a female journalism student set to graduate knowing that women still only make an average of 77 percent of men’s yearly salaries (according to median yearly earnings in 2009).

Family friends of college grads, professors, and anyone who knows one—or follows one on Facebook— are curious about where we will land our first real jobs. With unemployment among people age 20-24 at 15.4 percent and showing no signs of easing, I would imagine that many other college students share my unsentimental notions on the issue. I will work wherever I can get a job.

This anxiety about finding any job at all often obscures the reality that we are still confronted with: Women make only make 77 percent of men’s median yearly salaries.

For a student used to living on a shoestring budget, the potential financial impact of the gender wage gap is daunting. On average, monetary losses due to the wage gap over a lifetime add up to $700,000 for a high school graduate, $1.2 million for a college graduate, and $2 million for a professional school graduate.

That is not chump change. That is money that could be spent paying back overwhelming student loans, financing homes or generally saving for the future—all things young people are constantly told to do but often can’t because of budget constraints.

Unfortunately, it appears this cash will not be materializing anytime soon. According to new IWPR research, if progress continues at the current rate, it will be 45 more years (or the year 2056) when men’s and women’s wages finally balance out.

In fact, one of the most alarming facts about the gender wage gap is that the rate of progress is actually slowing down (despite a small gain in the number of women in management positions). From 1980 to 1993, the gender wage gap narrowed by 12.9 percent. But in the 16 years from 1993 to 2009 the gap narrowed a meager 3.1 percent.

College history classes often hark back to the 1960s as the tipping point for gender discrimination, praising the shattering of the glass ceiling for women in the workforce. Now, half a century later, how far have we really come?

The Gender Earnings Ration 1955-2010 (click to enlarge)

In 1960, women, on average, earned only 60 percent of men’s wages for a year of full-time work. In 2009 that number had risen to 77 percent, with women still making almost a quarter less than their male counterparts.

And that’s just the national average. The numbers are even more jarring when comparing state-to-state, or across racial and ethnic categories.

In Wyoming, for instance, women still make just 64 percent of what men earn in a year. West Virginia and Louisiana are only slightly better, at 67 percent, which is roughly equivalent to the national average in the late 1980s.

As a percentage of white men’s yearly earnings Asian women average 82.3 percent, while white women average 75 percent, black women 61.9 percent, and Hispanic women just 52.9 percent of what a man earns.

Despite the bleak outlook for the immediate future, actions are being pursued to correct the imbalance in the gender wage gap, with the Supreme Court last week hearing arguments on the Dukes v. Wal-Mart gender discrimination case.

And there is a need for urgency on the issue.  A report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation shows that the gender wage gap starts early in a career and then widens dramatically. Just one year out of college, female graduates on average make only 80 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries. Ten years down the road, the report found that the gap widened, with women receiving just 69 percent of men’s earnings by that point in their careers.

This phenomenon is even more counterintuitive considering that in the last decade women have consistently outnumbered men at American colleges, with women averaging about 57 percent of enrollment. Despite making huge gains in education and being better prepared than ever to enter the workforce, complacency on the gender wage gap continues to hamper the careers of American women.

As a student preparing to go on the job hunt, I know I am not exempt from this problem. However, I certainly don’t want to wait until I reach retirement age (I will be 66 in the year 2056) to get the same pay as men in my field.

Lauren Hepler is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She is majoring in journalism and women’s studies at George Washington University.

More Research Needed to Help Prevent Street Harassment

Woman walking down streetBy Holly Kearl

This April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Primary prevention for sexual violence involves education and the creation of safe environments, including on the streets of our cities, towns, and neighborhoods. One important issue that seldom receives attention from researchers or the media is the street harassment that happens to women walking down sidewalks, taking public transportation, and in other public places. Guest blogger Holly Kearl, author and Program Manager with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), outlines the impact of street harassment on women, and calls for additional measures to effectively address and prevent this type of activity.

When it comes to creating policies that address the sexual harassment that happens in public places between strangers, termed street harassment, the phrase that comes to mind is catch-22. Let me explain.

Four years ago, I wrote my master’s thesis at George Washington University on street harassment. I examined how women were using websites to address and deal with street harassment in lieu of legal regulations or useful policies. While conducting a literature review, I was shocked to learn that few street harassment studies exist, few academic articles had been written on the topic, and almost no books had been published.

These discoveries led me to write my own book about street harassment, published last year by Praeger. As part of the book research, I informally surveyed more than 900 people from 23 countries and 45 U.S. states. Ninety-nine percent of the women had experienced street harassment, and not just whistling or honking. More than 80 percent had been the target of sexually explicit comments and vulgar gestures, 75 percent had been followed, over half had been groped, more than one-third had faced public masturbation, and one-fourth had been assaulted by a male stranger.

In the United States, there have only been two non-campus-based studies about street harassment, both of which showed it was the experience of 100 percent of the women and the types of harassment women experienced were similar to my findings. Both studies were conducted in the 1990s, one in Indianapolis and the other in the California Bay Area.

The statistics from my study, even though they are informal, were shocking. What shocked me even more was realizing how many women had changed their lives because of actual or feared street harassment. Most of my survey respondents reported “on guard” behaviors while in public on at least a monthly basis, including constantly assessing their surroundings, avoiding making eye contact, and pretending to talk on a cell phone.

The next most common type of behavior was that which restricted their access to public spaces, such as taking alternate routes because of harassers, avoiding being in public alone, and paying for a gym membership rather than exercising outside.

Most alarming, a percentage of women had made significant life decisions because of harassment. Around 20 percent had moved to a new neighborhood because of harassers in the area and almost 10 percent had changed jobs because of harassers along the commute.

When I discovered these results, it became clear to me that street harassment has a negative economic impact on women and it impedes women’s equality.

The economic impact is even clearer when you read women’s stories on sites like my blog Stop Street Harassment and the 25 Hollaback websites. On these sites, women share how they pay for taxis instead of taking public transportation after dark, drive three blocks instead of walking, skip evening networking events, and avoid or drop out of night classes.

After four years of learning, writing, and speaking about this issue, I know there will never be gender equality until street harassment ends. I also understand that policymakers are hard-pressed to make significant changes without data that illustrates a problem and without research suggesting policies that could improve the problem.

This is where we reach the catch-22.

To truly address street harassment, we need citywide, statewide, and/or nationwide studies to give us concrete data about its prevalence, the impact it has on women’s lives, and why it happens (and thus what we can do to prevent it). Then policies can follow.

These important studies require funding to be conducted well (I did my informal survey online, with a shoestring budget). Funders often hesitate to put money behind an initiative that has not been proven to be a problem. Street harassment hasn’t been proven to be a problem because there are so few studies. There are so few studies because there is no funding…and back and forth and back and forth.

This is unacceptable. In the United States, we take pride in our country being the land of the free, but that’s not true for women. Girls routinely face harassment on their way to school and when they are out with friends, and women routinely face harassment on their way to work or while running errands – particularly if they walk or take public transportation. They should not be penalized because of this catch-22.

It’s time to break the cycle. It’s time for a smart funder to realize that the stories, informal data, and studies from the 1990s support the need  for new, comprehensive studies that can inform new policies—and help make our streets safe and free for girls and women, as well as for boys and men.


Holly Kearl is the American Association of University Women Program Manager and the author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women (Praeger Publishers, 2010). Holly has written articles about street harassment for publications including the Guardian,, Huffington Post, and Ms. Magazine Blog.

The Impact of Rep. Ryan’s Proposed Budget on Women and Families

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget slashes programs that benefit women and families and neglects important investments in future generations.

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

It’s in the Numbers

There has been an onslaught of criticism in the media about how Representative Paul Ryan’s budget doesn’t add up in terms of the numbers on unemployment, job creation, and the deficit. But little attention has been focused on the major impact the Chair of the Budget Committee’s “Path to Prosperity” would have on many women and their families—now and in the future.

How would women and families be affected? The premise for Ryan’s plan is a Congressional Budget Office deficit projection based on current levels of taxation and government spending. But Ryan does not propose any tax increases—maintaining President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and for corporations indefinitely, and lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. As Jay Bookman notes in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ryan offers no concrete plans to address Social Security’s solvency issue, only passing the buck. What he does propose are a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and drastic spending cuts that would place the burden of cuts on lower income Americans, and especially women and families.

According to calculations from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities two-thirds of his cuts are for programs that serve low-income Americans, including the much abhorred, and likely unsustainable, cuts to Medicare which would leave many retired Americans paying more than half of their income to cover the costs of private health care.

Needlessly Punishing Those Who Need Aid Most

Ryan’s proposed spending cuts to Medicare senselessly punish the millions of retired Americans who lost assets in the Great Recession and are struggling to maintain even a modest standard of living. IWPR’s report, Social Security Vital to Women and People of Color, Women Increasingly Reliant, paints the picture of a retired generation that lost assets in the past decade and are increasingly dependent on Social Security. Adding private health care costs would create an additional strain and would go against the sentiment of most voters.

Women have historically relied on Social Security more than men due to pay disparities in their working lifetime and a related shortfall of private pensions held by women. The report shows that, between 1999 and 2009, the number of men aged 65 and older relying on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their incomes increased by 48 percent (from 3.8 million to 5.7 million) to equal more than a third of all men aged 65 and older in 2009.

According to a February NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, many Americans do not support cuts to Medicare and most oppose turning it into a voucher program. And IWPR’s survey research has shown that most Americans, Republican and Democrat alike, do not support cuts to Social Security either and favor candidates who support the program. Six out of seven are not opposed to paying higher taxes in order to provide security and stability to retired Americans.

Dismissing Investments in Women and Families

The increased burdens on Americans, particularly women and families, do not stop there under Ryan’s plan. As the National Women’s Law Center notes in their statement on the proposal, a repeal of the ACA would again make being a woman a pre-existing condition that could allow insurance companies to charge women more. Another stress piled on women and families: covering the costs of health care for young people who are graduating from college with limited job prospects (ACA allows dependents to stay on their parent’s plan until age 26).

The health of children is also at stake with these cuts. The ACA includes important provisions for hourly and typically low-income workers to pump breast milk at work—an important step for getting closer to the Department of Health and Human Services’ goals for rates of breastfeeding.

Another important reason that this plan will be a blow to families and their economic prosperity is that it doesn’t allow much—if any—room for investment in jobs or in the future.

Back in February, Ryan’s comments on President Obama’s budget demonstrated his lack of interest in investing in young people and families.  “It sounds like the similar budgets that he has been giving us the last couple of years,” Ryan said. “It looks like to me that it is going to be very small on spending discipline and a lot of new spending [sic] so-called investments.”

President Obama’s plan does call for major cuts to programs that could advance the United States in the knowledge-based economy and competitive global marketplace: high-speed rail, education, and science research.

But what Ryan fails to recognize is that investments in education will help future generations to achieve economic independence for themselves and to support families. For example, cutting Pell grants as proposed would mean that fewer students could go to college, fewer will obtain high-paying jobs, and more will be left to rely on the very services that Ryan proposed to cut.

Already, many student parents (a group that makes up nearly a quarter of all the country’s postsecondary students), lack access to childcare facilities. Faced with the pressures of caring for their families while going to school, some are forced to drop out before achieving certificates or degrees.

Providing supports to all students, including student parents, is imperative for the country to meet the challenges of the knowledge-based economy. Currently, the U.S. has slipped to 12th out of 36 developed nations in rates of postsecondary graduation.

Ryan’s plan leaves families and future generations without access to resources for advancement. This is not the road that we want to go down.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Visualizing the Gender Wage Gap

by Jennifer Clark

On April 12, we will “celebrate” Equal Pay Day, held on a Tuesday every year to symbolize how far into a second work week women must work to earn the same amount men earn in a single work week. Research shows that the wage gap is real and has had adverse effects on women’s lifetime earnings and family economic security. Since pictures sometimes speak louder than words, here are a few charts that visualize the extent of the wage gap and what (un)equal pay means for women workers and their families.

(click to enlarge)

The Gender Earnings Ratio, 1955-2010 (IWPR), shows the wage gap as it has narrowed over time. In 1955, women earned about 64 percent of what men earned. Women now earn 77 percent of what men earn.  Although narrowing, this chart shows that it has taken American women 55 years to close the wage gap a mere 13 percent.

(click to enlarge)

Projection for Pay Equity in 2056 (IWPR), prepared by IWPR for NBC Nightly News, shows that if current trends continue, women will achieve equal pay in 2056, 45 years from now. The original chart used for the projection provides more complete background on how IWPR arrived at this date.

(click to view chart on the BLS website)

Women’s earnings and employment by industry, 2009 (Bureau of Labor Statistics)shows women’s earnings broken down by occupation.  This chart underscores the fact that, even in industries where women are well-represented in the workforce, a gender wage gap still exists. For example, more women are employed in “education & health services” than in any other category included in the chart, yet women in this industry still only earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

To view interactive maps relating to pay equity by state, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) has a Gender Wage Gap map and the Center for American Progress has a map on the percentage of female breadwinners.

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.