By Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) had the opportunity to participate in the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) national conference in Baltimore, Maryland in June. The annual conference is the largest gathering of women’s groups and advocates in the country and attracted several accomplished leaders in women’s policy and advocacy, including Representative Carolyn Maloney, Dr. Bernice “Bunny” Sandler (responsible for the enactment of Title IX), political strategist and MSNBC commentator Krystal Ball, and playwright and women’s advocate Eve Ensler.
By participating in or moderating a number of conference panels and presentations, IWPR researchers and other policy experts facilitated a “Mothers and Caregivers Summit” that took place over two days of the three-day convention. With the country on the steps of a possible care crisis as Baby Boomers begin to age, raising awareness on issues related to mothers and caregivers is particularly timely. This also being an election year, it is a crucial time to shine the spotlight on the importance of economic and family supports for women, who are more likely than men to act as caregivers for children and older relatives.
The conference summit consisted of four panel discussions on topics including the importance of family leave and paid sick days for the well-being of women and their children, trends in women’s employment such as occupational segregation and the gender wage gap, family economic and retirement security, and means to improve access to quality jobs for women and people of color. IWPR staff presentations from the summit can be found on IWPR’s website.
In one of the first panel discussions of the conference, IWPR Research Analyst Claudia Williams and Helen Luryi, Work and Family Policy Associate at the National Partnership for Women and Families, discussed the progress of state-level of paid sick days campaigns across the nation. Williams highlighted the importance of this legislation in reducing contagion, ultimately benefiting employee productivity and reducing health care costs, as found in IWPR’s cost-benefit analyses of paid sick days policies. IWPR has analyzed the impact of a nationwide paid sick days policy on health care costs and employment, as well as the cost-benefits of paid sick days legislation in states and cities considering such laws (including New York State, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Denver, Colorado). Nationwide, access to paid sick days could save approximately $1 billion in health care costs according to a November 2011 report from IWPR.
In discussing other topics such as the gender wage gap, Social Security modernization, unemployment insurance, asset-building, and jobs in the “green” industry, IWPR researchers were joined by other experts such as Dr. Martha Burk, who spoke about her role in the push for paycheck fairness in New Mexico, and Web Phillips of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, who discussed proposed reforms to Social Security and ways in which they would help or harm women and their families.
In May, the NCPSSM, the NOW Foundation, and IWPR released a report that looked at the challenges facing older women and called for affordable changes to modernize Social Security to better support women’s economic security. Recommendations included improving survivor benefits, providing Social Security credits for caregivers, providing a more adequate benefit to those who have spent most of their working lives in low-wage employment, and restoring student benefits to children of disabled or deceased workers until age 22 when the child is attending college/vocational school full time.
This year’s NOW conference, titled with the theme “Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women!” called upon the next generation of young advocacy leaders to speak up on issues important to women. But the conference was also an opportunity to look back on significant accomplishments and achievements. Several women’s leaders were honored for their work, including IWPR’s Dr. Heidi Hartmann, who received the NOW Woman of Vision Award for significant contributions towards improving the lives of women and girls in the United States. The award’s honorees have a strong commitment to women’s issues and have, over time, developed, communicated, and realized their vision by engaging with other leaders in women’s policy and advocacy. “I am deeply honored to be recognized by the National Organization for Women and to have the importance of economic issues for women be given visibility by this award,” said Dr. Hartmann.
IWPR thanks NOW for organizing a successful and engaging conference! We look forward to continuing to energize and inform conversations and dialogues on women’s issues as the year unfolds. Watch for upcoming IWPR research on women and caregiving, as well as on work/family supports, access to paid sick days, and access to quality employment for women and minorities. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay informed!
Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon is the Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.