Addressing Concerns of Immigrant Women Helps Communities Nationwide

by Claudia Williams

In recent years, the United States has experienced one of the largest waves of immigration in its history. The immigrant population has almost doubled since the 1990’s and the number of undocumented female immigrants has increased significantly. Immigrant women also make up more than half of new legal immigrants arriving to the United States.

While many immigrant women come to the United States in search of better opportunities, they are often vulnerable to poverty and discrimination and face many barriers in their day to day life, making it harder for them to achieve economic security and to advance in their careers.

Public policies are fundamental to integrating immigrant women into U.S. society. The U.S. Congress,  however, has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform to address the complex challenges our current immigration system creates. In the absence of reform at the national level, many states and localities have introduced and passed anti-immigrant legislation. This is particularly unfortunate for immigrant women, who besides sharing risks with their male counterparts also experience particular difficulties that are more common or unique to them.

IWPR recently released a study that identified some of the challenges Latina immigrants face, such as limited proficiency in English, disproportionate exposure to violence and harassment, and lower earnings and rates of educational attainment. Also, as caregivers, immigrant women are more affected than their male counterparts by the lack of affordable and reliable child care and reproductive health services.

IWPR’s research also found that constant fears of deportation and family separation have led many immigrant women to live in the shadows. Immigrant women may be working “under the table,” without having access to quality jobs and educational opportunities, mainly due to their immigration status. Resulting economic instability prevents immigrant women from contributing fully to our society—we lose valuable resources that could help our country move forward.

Advocacy and service organizations working on the ground with immigrants recognize that an overhaul of the current immigration system is needed. However, advocates and researchers also need to focus more on the concerns of immigrant women. In most policy discussions little or nothing is said about how certain policies (such as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), 287(g) and Comprehensive Immigration Reform) would specifically affect women. IWPR’s study found that the limited attention women’s issues receive is an important gap within the immigration grassroots and advocacy movement. Out of 280 organizations interviewed for the IWPR study, only eight advocated with a specific focus on the rights and needs of immigrant women.

A better understanding of women’s challenges and circumstances would represent an important step forward in filling this gap. Many of the issues directly affecting women also affect men and children, so addressing these challenges would be beneficial to the entire immigrant community.

Claudia Williams is a research analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


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

Putting the Pieces Together: How Social Security Supports Black Women

by Mallory Mpare

The longer Social Security remains on the table for cuts as part of a comprehensive debt reduction plan, the more nervous those close to the program should be. And with good reason. Social Security was conceived as a protection against the risks—such as disability or lack of employment at older ages –that might lead to poverty. It is meant to work in conjunction with other retirement plans or savings as a critical piece of a comprehensive economic security plan. In the aftermath of the Great Recession and in the midst of economic recovery—when unemployment is high (9.1 percent unemployment as of May 2011)— it seems an especially inopportune time to discuss actions which might make people even more vulnerable to the very circumstances Social Security protects against.

While Social Security has benefited men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and income levels, the impact of proposed cuts to Social Security on women of color is particularly troubling. Black women experience higher rates of poverty, are concentrated in low-wage jobs, have fewer employee benefits, and are less likely to work in jobs covered by pensions. This combination of circumstances makes black women particularly vulnerable to economic insecurity at older ages.

Following a fact sheet on the importance of Social Security to Latinas, IWPR released a fact sheet that describes the critical role Social Security plays in the lives of many black women. To begin with, the Social Security benefits received by black women are modest. Black women over the age of 62 average $961 per month in benefits as retired workers. Still, Social Security is the most common source of income for black women aged 62 and older—received by 49 percent of black women aged 62–64, 83 percent aged 65–74, and 88 percent of black women 75 years and older. In fact, a solid majority of black women aged 75 and older rely on Social Security for at least four-fifths of their income.

What would happen to these women if Social Security disappeared? Simply put, without the income received from Social Security many more black woman would live in families or as individuals with incomes below the poverty threshold. If you think this is an exaggeration (as some must, considering the attacks on the program), think again. Even with the program as it stands today, more than one in four black women aged 75 and older lives with an income below the poverty threshold. Without Social Security benefits, six out of ten of these women would live in poverty. When we talk about Social Security beneficiaries, images of the elderly are easily brought to mind. However, 26 percent of black women who receive Social Security do so not by consequence of reaching retirement age, but because of disability. This contrasts to the 12 percent of white women and 14 percent of all adult women combined who receive Social Security benefits due to disability and not age. In other words, for disability benefits alone Social Security is especially important to black women.

It is hard to tell when attacks on Social Security will stop. One thing is for certain: the puzzle of economic security is incomplete without a strengthened Social Security program.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Fellow with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


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

Women and Immigration

http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/organizations-working-with-latina-immigrants-resources-and-strategies-for-changeby Mallory Mpare

The U.S. has often been dubbed the “nation of immigrants” and this is no less true today.  However, the face of immigration has drastically changed while policies and practices have failed to adapt. There is a long history of immigrant men seeking opportunity in—well—the land of opportunity by working to provide for families, often left behind in their countries of origin.

No longer is this the singular scenario.

Immigrant women have increasingly sought to reunite their families while also seeking new employment and educational opportunities in the U.S. for themselves. Instead of being met with uplifting and economically empowering opportunities, these women experience disproportionately higher rates of domestic violence, on the job violence, employment discrimination, and sexual exploitation.

At an IWPR release event on March 25 at the Woodrow Wilson Center for the report, Organizations Working With Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change, Sara Manzano-Díaz, Director of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, noted that “comprehensive immigration reform is part of winning the future.” The report notes that, currently, nonprofit organizations and congregations play an integral role in advancing the rights and well being of immigrant families.

In the report, IWPR explored how nonprofits and congregations work with immigrant women, especially low-income Latinas, to better enable them to safely navigate through life in a new, and sometimes hostile, environment. The report notes that although these organizations serve as a vital resource to immigrant women, they face obstacles such as negative public dialogue, restrictive policies and an ever dwindling funding stream which hinder their ability to meet the full needs of immigrant women.

While increasing immigrant women’s access to resources is important, if immigrant women must seek out these resources in a hostile environment, their access will surely remain limited. Of the 280 groups in the study, 120 are involved in some type of advocacy, and seek change a social and political structure which—they feel—deny the rights of immigrant women. Immigrant rights— like women’s rights and human rights—are about preserving personal agency, and allowing space and resources for people to make decisions about their own lives and the lives of their families.

In her presentation at the Wilson Center, Cynthia Hess, Study Director and co-author of the report outlined the wide range of services that nonprofit organizations offer to immigrant women such as English classes, child care, health services, and access to affordable transportation. She noted that, in many cases, religious groups have stepped in to provide services when the government has not, and that a climate of fear—for both documented and undocumented immigrants—may prevent Latina immigrants from seeking services. Fear of being pulled over by the authorities can even lead immigrants to avoid driving.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that IWPR’s report was released on the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. Many of the victims of that tragedy were working immigrant women and girls. In the days leading up to the Triangle factory tragedy, women organized around their concerns , protesting and forming unions to protect their interests.  However, one well-known factory, The Triangle, refused to recognize these unions and would face tragic consequences as a result.

IWPR’s report, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants, also shows that there are consequences for ignoring the needs of immigrant women and the challenges they face in trying to earn a living in their adopted country.

Other speakers and panelists at the March 25 launch event included Sonya Michel, Director of the United States Studies program at the Wilson Center; Patricia Foxen, Associate Director of Research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR); Pierluigi Mancini, Executive Director of CETPA (professional mental health counseling services for the Latino community); Jen Smyers, Associate for Immigration and Refugee Policy with Church World Service; Cecilia Menjívar, Cowden Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Arizona State University; Lydia Guzman, President of Somos America; and, Mary Odem, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and History at Emory University. Speaking on behalf of IWPR were Heidi Hartmann, President, and co-authors of the report and Study Directors, Jane Henrici and Cynthia Hess.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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.

IWPR’s Top Five Findings of 2010

by Jennifer Clark

1.  The recent recession was not predominantly a “mancession.”

While men represented the majority of job losses during the recession, IWPR’s research shows that single mothers were almost twice as likely as married men to be unemployed.  Another IWPR briefing paper examines how the “Great Recession” was an equal opportunity disemployer, doubling nearly every demographic group’s unemployment rate. In many families, women increasingly became the primary breadwinner, but they still spent more time in unpaid household labor than men. This imbalance of effort at home persists whether men are employed or not.

2. Only 12 percent of single mothers in poverty receive cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

In the briefing paper, “Women in Poverty During the Great Recession,” IWPR shows that the numbers of single mothers in poverty receiving TANF assistance varies in the states. In Louisiana, only four percent of single mothers in poverty have TANF assistance. While in Washington, DC, the jurisdiction where impoverished mothers have the highest enrollment, still only 40 percent of single mothers receive any cash assistance through TANF.

3. Community colleges would need to increase the supply of child care on campus at least 10-fold to meet the current needs of students.

More than one-quarter of the students at community colleges have children, yet the supply of child care on campus does not meet the current needs of students. For many student parents, community college is an avenue to better jobs that allow them to support their families. As part of IWPR’s current project on post-secondary education, IWPR released a fact sheet in June, which noted that the proportion of community colleges providing on-campus care for the children of students decreased between 2001 and 2008, despite the great need.

4.  Young women are now less likely to work in the same jobs as men.

Reversing the progress made by earlier cohorts of young women entering the labor market, younger women today are now less likely to work in traditionally male and integrated occupations, which tend to pay better than traditionally female occupations. When told that traditionally male occupations pay more, women receiving workforce training said they would choose the higher paying job. In addition, women earn less than men in all but four of 108 occupational categories including in occupations-such as nursing and teaching-where women represent the majority of workers.

5. The majority of all likely voters support paid sick days.

IWPR’s new study shows that, while 69 percent of likely voters-including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents-endorse laws to provide paid sick days, two-fifths of all private sector workers lack this benefit. IWPR’s research also shows preventing workplace contagion of communicable diseases-such as influenza or H1N1-by providing paid sick days will save employers and the US economy millions of dollars.

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

A Woman’s Face on the Minimum Wage Issue

Senator Kennedy and Vicky Lovell
From left to right: Entmacher, Lovell, Gandy, Kennedy and Stabenow (Photo by Michelle Schafer)

On January 24th, Senator Kennedy held a press conference in the Russell Senate Office Building. Joined by Senators Stabenow and Klobuchar as well as Kim Gandy, President of NOW, Dr. Vicky Lovell of IWPR and Joan Entmacher, Vice President of the National Women’s Law Center, the press conference focused on putting a woman’s face on the minimum wage issue.
In the wake of the Senate delaying a vote on the House measure to raise the minimum wage, Senator Kennedy wanted to make sure the public understands the urgency of the issue. The minimum wage, as all the speakers noted, affects women and families more than any other groups. As Dr. Lovell presented (view the PDF of her statement here), the nearly 8 million women working at or near minimum wage are currently only earning about $10,712 per year or $893 a month. At this rate a woman would have to work three jobs to support a family of 3 or more without living in poverty, and that’s pretty much impossible.
Two of the Senators noted that they remembered what it was like working a minimum wage job, and each commented how lucky he or she was to not have to work for such low wages. Senator Klobuchar spoke about women she’d recently spoken with who were working minimum wage jobs and had a very hard time scraping together enough money to put their children through college. All the speakers were very disappointed that the vote was being put on hold, although Senator Kennedy was proud to announce that five Republican Senators had joined with the Democrats in support of the measure.
Kim Gandy summed up the sentiments of the day clearly when she stated, “paying a living wage is an investment in the future of the United States. Good for hardworking families, good for business, and good for the country.” Hopefully the bill will make it to the floor and be passed clear of any tax cuts for big businesses. It is wonderful to see Senators Kennedy, Stabenow, and Klobuchar along with 51 other Senators, come together to vote for working women in America.
– Elisabeth Crum