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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.

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