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.

Who Suffers without Collective Bargaining in Wisconsin? Families.

by Jennifer Clark

(Photo by Michele Dickinson/SEIU)

A new development in the Wisconsin union story occurred a couple nights ago when Wisconsin’s Republican state senators discovered a roundabout way, without any of their Democratic colleagues present, to pass a bill that will strip collective bargaining for public sector employees in the state. The state senators took out the “financial” aspects of the bill and voted to strip collective bargaining rights from public sector employees separate from the budget bill.  But banning collective bargaining will have financial ramifications—especially for family budgets.

Collective bargaining allows for workers to negotiate more effectively for things like higher wages and better benefits. Wisconsin’s bill limits collective bargaining over wages and eliminates the power to collectively bargain over benefits and pensions. Without collective bargaining, workers have fewer options for recourse against unfair wages or low benefits, issues women are more likely to face. As has been noted elsewhere, state and local public sector workers are actually paid less than their private sector counterparts, once their qualifications are taken into account, and as we pointed out last week, the majority of public sector workers at the state and local level are women.

Recently, the Wisconsin Women’s Council released a fact sheet showing that a staggering 71 percent of Wisconsin’s women with children under the age of six are working. This means that there are a lot of working mothers in Wisconsin–more than the national average of 60 percent. Not all of them work in the public sector, of course, but the same fact sheet also showed that the 56 percent of state government workers and 58 percent of local government workers in Wisconsin are women, and women exceed 60 percent of the state government workforce in 12 counties.

In a projection for NBC News, IWPR estimated that it will take 45 more years to close the gender wage gap.

In general, lower women’s wages hurt families that rely on their earnings. Women workers still face a stagnant wage gap–regardless of private or public sector employment. But collective bargaining gives women a collective—and thus, effective—voice in wage disputes. In a recent projection for NBC News, IWPR estimated that it will take until 2056—45 years from today—until women’s wages catch up with men’s. The same NBC story noted that women represent the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households, underscoring the importance of women’s wages to family economic security.

If this trend to eliminate public sector workers’ collective bargaining power spreads to other states, the bills will have a disproportionate affect on families of color as well. Nationally, more than one in five black workers are public sector employees, compared to 17 percent of white workers. Although black women in the public sector have the lowest wages, the gender wage gap is actually five percentage points narrower in government (81 percent) than in the private sector (76 percent), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  (The racial wage gap, as it happens, is also narrower in the public sector.) And five percentage points is not insignificant; remember that it has taken about 16 years (since 1993) to narrow the overall gender wage gap by five percentage points.

Families are already facing an uphill battle with the persistent gender wage gap affecting their household finances. In Wisconsin, female-dominated public sector professions will take the biggest hit from the new legislation and many of the women affected will be working mothers. The last thing these Wisconsin families need is one less way to improve women’s wages.

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

This post was updated March 11, 2011, at 2:25.

Gay Marriage a Boon to DC’s Economy

By Robert Drago

A year ago today, the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage, and according to the Washington Post, the number of marriages soared from 3,100 in the year prior to 6,600 in the year since.  According to a court representative, the number of marriages usually varies by less than 100 from one year to the next, suggesting the increase was mainly due to same-sex couples (the District does not track the gender of marriage partners). In fact, it is likely that the difference of 3,500 additional marriages understates the marriages of same-sex partners, because the national marriage rate has been falling, undoubtedly due to the economic insecurity experienced by millions of Americans in the last few years.

Although you might not know it from media coverage of national politics, the District is a shockingly poor city. A recent IWPR publication reported that the rate of poverty among all black women and girls in the District is 26 percent, and the rate for single mothers is 37 percent. This is a city that needs some help.

Gay marriage can be a boon to the local economy.  Assuming that in 2010, same-sex marriages in DC cost the same as the national average of  $24,000, then gay marriage generated $84 million dollars of additional consumer spending last year.

The Williams Institute has documented the economic benefits of same-sex marriage and civil unions in Colorado and elsewhere. These analyses suggest reasons why the $84 million figure might be overstated  (e.g., purchasing wedding attire or holding wedding receptions outside of the District), but far more reasons why it would be understated – particularly given the high cost of living in Washington DC, and additional spending when wedding guests come in from out of town and stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and shop.

It might be a coincidence that over a similar time period, Washington, DC saw a net increase of 22,000 new jobs, and was one of only two states to enjoy a decline in the unemployment rate of two percent or more. Then again, maybe gay marriage created some desperately-needed jobs in the District.

Young Americans and Social Security

By Youngmin Yi

Bloggers, policy experts, and politicians are urging young Americans to care more about Social Security, whether they are asking us to love it, hate it, tweak it, or scrap it. But the results are already in: we care.

And if we could have it our way, Social Security would be here forever.

According to findings from an AARP report, the vast majority of people of all ages believe that Social Security is important, including 90 percent of those aged 18-29. A recent Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) survey confirms this sentiment among young adults: 63 percent of those aged 18-39 don’t support cutting Social Security benefits for deficit reduction and more than 60 percent of the group don’t think we pay enough for Social Security.

People my age (somewhere in my 20s) have grown up knowing and expecting that Social Security will be there for us in the future. Another IWPR report shows just how vital the program is for older Americans. It provides 50 percent or more of income for more than half of all men and women over the age of 65. Social Security also kept over 14 million people over the age of 65 out of poverty in 2009, 60 percent of whom are women.

In the wake of the Great Recession, American households saw their savings, home equity, and investments slip away, leaving many scrambling for resources. Pension payouts and asset values rise and fall with the tumultuous economy, and earnings remain uncertain in the face of high unemployment. But Social Security has remained a steadfast source of income in both good and bad times.

It is clear that Social Security will be important when we face retirement. But as the discussion remains focused on current retirees and deficit projections for future decades, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the Social Security debate needs our attention now and will affect us – young workers – more than anyone else.

Why is our voice important now?

Some of us already need Social Security.

If you’re like me and my friends, the term Social Security conjures up images of old age and years that lie far ahead. However, as of December 31, 2010, approximately 3.2 million children under the age of 18 were receiving Social Security benefits as children of disabled, deceased, or retired workers. 949,000 disabled children over the age of 18 were receiving benefits, as well. More than a third of Social Security beneficiaries are not retired workers. To some among us, Social Security is not only a promise of security when we are old, it is vital now.

We are already paying for and earning our retirement security.

Take a look at your most recent pay stub. It shows that you have had 4.2 percent of your wages withheld for the payroll tax, and therefore, Social Security; before the December 2010 tax package was passed, that amount was 6.2 percent of wages.  The inflammatory media and disconnected politicians have hammered away at the misguided notion that the exhaustion of the Social Security trust fund means ruin for us all. Their hypocrisy lies in the fact that younger people are told to worry and care about our future, yet policymakers give us even more of a reason to worry by threatening to cut and weaken the very program that would ensure income security for us in old age. Meanwhile, working Americans, including those our age, have been paying into Social Security with the expectation that we will receive the benefits that we have earned when it comes time to claim them.

Young Americans want Social Security to stay and stay secure.

We’ve heard the miscalculated and misrepresented statistics and the apocalyptic fear-mongering about this vital program. Now, it’s time that the naysayers listen to what young people have been saying all along.

Youngmin Yi is the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow for the 2010-2011 academic year. Originally from New Jersey, she graduated from Wellesley College in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and French.

IWPR Releases New Findings on Increasing Importance of Social Security

A January 27 event at the National Press Club brought together experts on Social Security and the economy to discuss findings.

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

Social Security is vital to women and minorities. For many, this is not new knowledge. More surprising are findings from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showing that rates of reliance on Social Security increased dramatically between 1999 and 2009—particularly among men. The findings were released on January 27 in our latest report, Social Security Especially Vital to Women and People of Color, Men Increasingly Reliant, authored by Heidi Hartmann, Jeff Hayes, and Robert Drago.

At the National Press Club, IWPR President Heidi Hartmann presented IWPR’s new findings at a release event that coincided with the kick-off of the annual conference of the prestigious National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI).

The report finds 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. The increase for comparable women was 26 percent (from 8.2 million to 10.3 million) to equal half of older women in 2009.

Dr. Hartmann, lead author of the report, was joined by other experts who shared their views on the report’s findings—Dr. Gary Burtless, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, Brookings Institution; Virginia Reno, Vice President for Income Security,  NASI; and, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, President and CEO, Global Policy Solutions.  Dr. Robert Drago, IWPR’s Director of Research, moderated the panel.  All the presentations are available to be viewed on YouTube.

The main theme of the discussion was the need for preserving the Social Security system, because of the impact that cuts would have for many who depend on it. Speakers pointed to how, particularly in the aftermath of the recent recession, Social Security is increasingly essential to keep many out of poverty. “For the majority of the aging population, the Social Security safety net is getting the job done,” said Virginia Reno.

“This [report] is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of how many older people, and particularly different population groups among the aged, depend on Social Security,” said Dr. Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institute. “It’s the most important source for the great majority of the elderly. Cutting it would have serious repercussions for the most vulnerable of the aged.”

IWPR’s report shows that, in 2009, Social Security helped more than 14 million Americans aged 65 and older stay above the poverty line. Without access to Social Security, 58 percent of women and 48 percent of men above the age of 75 would be living below the poverty line.

Dr. Burtless pointed to the fact that the social safety net continues to “get the job done” for the majority of the nation’s aged population, including those in the lowest income distribution brackets. As a result, many have been spared from the worst impact of the recent recession.

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore of Global Policy Solutions put forth the significance of the findings to communities of color, “a population that was already suffering from disparities in assets and income prior to the financial crisis.” She pointed to the asset gap outlined in the report, with white women in particular having more income from assets than black or Hispanic women.

IWPR’s research found that, among women aged 62-64, white women report an average of $3,471 in income from assets compared with $1,738 for black women and $1,417 for Hispanic women. Among women aged 75 and older, white women report $3,278 in income from assets, compared with $715 for black women and $549 for Hispanic women, on average.

“I would argue that the fact that we’ve seen increases in reliance in Social Security over the past 10 years is going to be a harbinger of the future as well,” said Dr. Rockeymoore. “Overall we know that this is going to have significance—severe significance—for populations of color in the future, not only today’s retirees.”

Additional findings from the report support the continued need for Social Security among minorities and women, who benefit disproportionately from Social Security because the program is designed to pay proportionally higher benefits to lower earning workers. Women also benefit from the program’s family benefits.

The study is based on IWPR analysis of data from the 1978 to 2010 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements collected jointly by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Please read the report in full on IWPR’s website.

To follow the conversation on Social Security, follow IWPR on Twitter. Join the conversation by using the hashtags #Social Security and #womenspolicy.

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

Women and the Economy in the 112th Congress

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

Avis Jones-DeWeever speaks at congressional briefing on women.
Avis Jones-DeWeever speaking at congressional briefing on January 21.

On January 21, IWPR co-sponsored a congressional briefing on women’s economic security in the 112th Congress, hosted by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol Hill Visitors’ Center. Several influential women leaders, including IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, discussed hot topics for women and the new congress: taxes and the budget, economic growth and debt, retirement security, Social Security, health care and welfare reform, and equal pay. The event was organized by IWPR and the Older Women’s Economic Security Task Force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations. Dr. Lenora Cole, IWPR’s Board Chair and the Director of the Women’s Bureau with the U.S. Department of Labor under President Reagan, served as moderator.

All the speakers were passionate about the urgency of the current financial situation—and the need to provide support to those in need. Avis Jones-DeWeever, Executive Director of the National Council of Negro Women, pointed out that 1 in 7 Americans now live in poverty.

Joan Kuriansky, Executive Director of Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), advocated for investments in adult education and microenterprise, as well as for an increase in the national minimum wage. She pointed to the gender wage gap, citing stats that Latinas earn just 59 percent of what white men earn. “Even controlled for hours, family commitments, and types of jobs, women aren’t receiving equal pay,” said Kuriansky.

The dialog also focused on current support programs, such as Social Security. IWPR President Heidi Hartmann pointed out that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit—an important point that media tends not to acknowledge—adding that health care expenditures may be rising rapidly, but not those of Social Security.

Speaking on Social Security, Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW) called it “our most successful program.” She also pointed to the “pension gap” that women face after a lifetime of unequal pay.

The event attracted a packed room of Hill staffers, including from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee and the Senate Special Committee on Aging.  Also in attendance were leaders and staff from advocacy and policy organizations, including the NWLC, Legal Momentum, Progressive Congress, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Economic Policy Institute, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and the Women’s Research and Education Institute (WREI).

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