IWPR’s Fellowship Encourages Advancement in Research Careers

Rhiana Gunn-Wright, 2011-2012 Mariam K. Chamberlain

By Caroline Dobuzinskis and Mallory Mpare

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research Mariam K. Chamberlain (MKC) Fellowship in Women and Public Policy is named for a founding member of IWPR and the founding president of the National Council for Research on Women. Dr. Chamberlain has fought discrimination, established new roles for women, and championed the economic analysis of women’s issues.

The MKC Fellowship in Women and Public Policy pays tribute to Dr. Chamberlain’s vision of a world of gender equality in which women reach their highest levels of achievement. Fellows work as research assistants on a variety of IWPR projects and are encouraged to take advantage of wide range of academic, policy,  and networking events in Washington, DC. Currently, IWPR is accepting applications to the fellowship program.

This is an introduction to this year’s fellow, Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who offers her insight on her experience with IWPR.

Since joining IWPR’s staff in September as the 2011–2012, Mariam K. Chamberlain fellow Rhiana Gunn-Wright has brought great energy to IWPR’s offices. Originally from Chicago’s South Side, Gunn-Wright graduated from Yale University magna cum laude with a double major in African American studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies.

During her time at Yale, Gunn-Wright embraced women’s issues completely—from the focus of her thesis to her extracurricular volunteer work both on and off campus. Gunn-Wright’s thesis looked at welfare policy and its impact on poor black women by analyzing methods for managing teen pregnancy in the city of New Haven, CT.

Gunn-Wright also served on the board of the on-campus women’s center at Yale for two years, managing staff and resident groups. In this role, she conducted outreach to other groups at her university in order to make the center more inclusive. “When I came in [as board member], the women’s center was almost exclusively upper-class white students so I did outreach to communities of color and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] groups,” said Gunn-Wright. “We also started doing activism around sexuality on campus.”

As part of this activism, Gunn-Wright helped start a pioneering student forum to talk openly about establishing sexual respect on campus and building a healthy sexual culture. These talks involved a diverse range of students, including student faith groups. Some participating groups took the baton by hosting their own talks, and the entire initiative eventually grew into a larger program now called Sex @ Yale.

When Gunn-Wright came across the description of the Mariam K. Chamberlain fellowship with IWPR at her campus, she immediately thought it would be a good fit. One of the aspects that Gunn-Wright enjoys about her fellowship is being able to answer queries and point people to relevant research on women’s issues. She is also appreciative of the opportunity to work on issues that she is most passionate about, particularly education, by assisting with the Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI).

“I enjoy the work we do on student parents and looking at the intersection between welfare, race, class gender, and education—especially for a population that isn’t usually recognized,” said Gunn-Wright. “It’s nice to build a community especially when people are as invested in it as they are in SPSI. They are invested in seeing student parents do well.”

Gunn-Wright’s biggest tip for incoming fellows?  “Be mindful of remembering that you really are working to better the status of women,” she said.  “It’s easy to get caught up in work tasks, but you are working on a daily basis to make things better, more tolerant, and more loving.”

Applications for the 2012-2013 Fellowships are due by March 1, 2012. For more information on how to apply please visit our website.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Mallory Mpare is IWPR’s Communications Assistant.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

New Research from IWPR Finds Low Literacy Hurts Women More Than Men

By Kevin Miller

In an analysis of data from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy that was recently published, IWPR found that women earn less than men regardless of literacy level, but that women with low literacy levels are particularly likely to have low earnings relative to men. Higher literacy levels are associated with higher earnings for both men and women, but the “jump” in earnings from low to high literacy is especially noticeable for women at earnings levels that can sustain women and their families.

These findings are consistent with the phenomenon that women need to do more to reach the earnings of men. The gender wage gap remains substantial after decades of measurement, occurs both between and within occupations, and—we now know—exists regardless of men and women’s degree of literacy. In order for women to earn the same amount as men, they must obtain more education and develop more skills than those possessed by men. Low literacy—which occurs at similar rates among women and men—is a barrier to effective education and training that can help low-income individuals obtain jobs that allow for family economic security.

Programs that help women (and men) improve their literacy, obtain job training, and get degrees are key elements in the effort to help low-income Americans get better jobs. Adult and basic education programs, bridge programs that connect teens and adults to college, workforce training programs, and supports for nontraditional students enrolled in colleges are needed to help hard-working Americans get higher-paying jobs. Many of these programs are under threat of budget cuts. Cuts in education and training are short-sighted cost-saving measures that reduce workforce readiness while also threatening one of the few pathways out of poverty for millions of Americans with limited literacy.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

Messaging Social Security Takes Diverse Strategies

Kathryn Anne Edwards, Economic Policy Institute, on the panel at the NASI Conference. David Baldridge, International Association of Indigenous Aging, in background. Photo by Sam Kittner/kittner.com for NASI.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Last week was the 24th annual conference of the National Academy of Social Insurance held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. At a roundtable session on Friday, January 27, panelists discussed how to craft effective messaging on Social Security to reach different audiences—including young people, as well as those from diverse ethnic and racial groups.

Covering all American workers and their families, Social Security has an enormous reach. This accounts for the both the program’s success, as well as the difficulty in communicating its importance to all those who will likely receive Social Security benefits at some point.

Panelist Wilhelmina A. Leigh, Senior Research Associate on Economic Security with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, served as a member of the Commission to Modernize Social Security. She emphasized the importance of communicating that the program could be improved both to restore solvency and enhance benefits, which was a goal of the commission. The challenge of communicating Social Security is reaching those who have not yet had to apply for benefits. “People who have gotten the message about how the system works have generally had to use the system,” said Leigh.

Moderator, Thomas Bethell, Visiting Scholar with the National Academy of Social Insurance, reminded the audience that Social Security could be equated to a house that needs maintenance: “If your house needs maintenance, are you going to tear it down to fix it?”

David Baldridge spoke on the panel as Executive Director of the International Association of Indigenous Aging (IA 2), an organization that received NASI grant funding in order to conduct outreach and education on Social Security among Indian elders in New Mexico. Baldridge explained that it was imperative to get support from Indian elders in order to engage tribes living in more isolated communities and reservations.  Listening to and incorporating recommendations on Social Security from members of the community was also essential.

The effort proved to be a success, eventually leading to the buy-in of more than 500 tribes for the report that included formal recommendations based on the tribes’ own input. The process is intended to serve as a national model for engaging indigenous tribes across the country on these issues.

Valerie Rawlston Wilson, Vice President of Research and Economist with the National Urban League Policy Institute, faces several main challenges in communicating the importance of Social Security to the African American community: reaching a diverse audience, capturing people’s attention, simplifying a complex issue, and obtaining buy-in from local affiliate leaders.

To reach a younger audience, Wilson relies on social media and the Urban League’s “I am Empowered” campaign. The website for the campaign includes an easy-to-follow quiz to test users knowledge of the Social Security program. Leigh added that scenario-based exercises can help young adults think about ways that Social Security benefits could actually help them down the road, if they lost a job or a spouse.

Kathryn Anne Edwards, Research Assistant with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), also aims to reach young people with the message of preserving Social Security. In this case, she is reaching out to her peers. Edwards, who is in her twenties, wrote a textbook on Social Security directed to her own generation that defines Social Security, outlines its benefits, and offers a perspective in support of the program.

Edwards found young people might not understand why they need to support Social Security. They may feel helpless believing simply that the program will be gone by the time they retire. Her response is that it is a matter of responsibility and young people are not as forsaken as they perceive themselves to be. “If you are under 30, Social Security is yours to lose,” said Edwards.

As one of NASI’s grantees charged with conducting outreach and education on Social Security, IWPR is working to communicate the importance of the program. Our research has shown that reliance on the program increased among older Americans in the past decade and that it is widely supported across lines of gender, race/ethnicity, and political affiliation. IWPR continues to work closely with the National Council of Women’s Organizations to conduct outreach on the importance of Social Security to Americans, particularly vulnerable populations such as low-income seniors.

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


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org