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The ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Fix—Good, Bad, and Ugly

There’s a lot of good news in the deal negotiated by the White House and Congress that resulted in the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act, signed yesterday by the President.

First, we should mention as really good news, the bad stuff that is not in the deal. There is no increase in the Medicare eligibility age or a cut in the Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA) based on an inaccurate inflation index for the elderly, the chained CPI. In other words, this deal did not target the basic programs that retirees and many of the disabled, including disabled veterans, rely on. These benefits have not been cut. This is good news because so many Americans, especially older women, who are the majority of the elderly, rely on these programs for the vast majority of their income. This is a huge victory for the large coalitions of organizations working to protect these programs from cuts and to improve their benefits. Although many pundits, CEOs, and newspaper editorial boards assume that cuts in these programs are needed to reduce the deficit, that is simply not so. Without more effective cost controls on health care in general, cutting Medicare benefits would simply shift costs from a government program paid for by workers’ life-long contributions to other retirement resources they may have and increase health care costs overall. Similarly, cutting Social Security benefits would force retirees to rely more on other retirement income or assets, which—for most retirees—have been shrinking due to the Great Recession and the slow recovery. Many retirees would simply see their standard of living fall—some would fall into poverty. The solution is not cuts to these programs, but controlling health care costs and raising more revenues. For example, removing the cap on earnings so that all workers pay the same tax rate for Social Security (the cap for 2013 is $113,700—dollars earned above that amount are not assessed any Social Security tax) would solve all of Social Security’s long-term funding shortfall (a shortfall not expected to occur for another 20 years anyway).

More good news: Important Obama tax credits for low and middle income families, such as the expanded child tax credit, the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, the American Opportunity Credit–a tuition tax credit—are renewed for five years. And the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which President Obama had previously agreed to extend for two years through the end of 2012, have now been eliminated for individuals making more than $400,000 per year and married couples making more than $450,000 per year. The ending of this cut for the rich, in place since the early years of the Bush administration, amounts to the first significant increase in income tax rates in many years. In addition some cuts in allowable exemptions will affect those earning above $250,000. Compared with policy current as of December 31, tax rates on dividends and capital gains are also higher than they were for higher income filers (increased from 15 percent to 20 percent).  The tax rate on estates valued at $5 million and up ($10 million for married couples) has increased from 35 percent to 40 percent. These higher rates, along with the lower income taxes for everyone earning less than $250,000, have been described as “permanent,” which should provide some sense of security going forward. (Of course, Congress could change these rates at any time—but they don’t have a sunset date as the original Bush tax cuts did.)

Another important positive is the extension of federal unemployment benefits for those looking for work for more than 26 weeks, preventing cutting off benefits for 2 million unemployed and giving them a lifeline for another 12 months.

Some of these provisions are also the bad news: had the fiscal cliff not been negotiated away, we would have fallen over the cliff, and tax rates on estates, dividends, and capital gains would be higher yet, and the income level for the elimination of the tax rate cuts would have corresponded to the level the President campaigned on ($200,000 for individuals, $250,000 for married couples), so some critics may feel the White House lost tax revenues here that it should have held onto. After all, reducing a deficit can be done either by cutting spending or by increasing revenues, and, for women, who depend so much on government programs (Title X family planning funds, for example, or services for domestic violence victims) any loss in potential revenue and failure to harvest new revenues likely means bigger future cuts to programs they rely on.

Other bad news: the payroll tax cut was not extended.  For the past two years, most workers paid a contribution deducted from their paychecks of 4.2 percent of their earnings for Social Security instead of the normal 6.2 percent. This reduction, always seen as temporary and originally passed for one year, and then extended for a second, helped to stimulate the economy during the weak recovery of 2011 and 2012, by adding about $120 billion to consumer demand each year (not counting multiplier effects). What this means is that many low and middle earners will actually see their taxes increase—they will still get the income tax rate cuts that are now permanent and the Obama tax credit expansions but those will be more than offset by the payroll tax increase that supports Social Security. This is bad news for millions of families and for the overall economy, which still needs more stimulus, not less.

The ugly is what remains to be negotiated: the sequester and increasing the U.S. Government’s borrowing authority. The sequester is a nine-year planned cut in expenditures of approximately $110 billion per year, including both defense spending (50 percent) and discretionary non-defense spending (50 percent) that would have gone into effect automatically on January 1, 2013, had this fix, which extends that deadline 2 months, not gone through. A two-month delay is good because those are huge cuts in spending that could trigger an economy-wide downturn, but the delay may not be long enough to allow the crafting of good alternatives.  In fact, the just-inked deal includes $12 billion in spending cuts that are a down payment on future anticipated cuts.

At the same time, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has announced that the U.S. Government has now reached its borrowing limit and is using extraordinary measures to make sure we can pay all our bills. While many of the pundits and CEOs mentioned above, as well as some centrist members of Congress from both parties, are arguing for cuts in spending rather than more revenues as a way to downsize our deficits, it is the Republican members of Congress aligned with the Tea Party who are demanding significant cuts in federal spending, particularly in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicare, in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Perhaps they have not seen the survey research that shows that adults of all political parties (including the Tea Party) oppose cuts in benefits provided by these programs.

In the next two months we are certain to see some more really big battles to protect critical programs for all Americans, programs which are even more essential for women.

Heidi Hartmann is the President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women and the ‘Fiscal Cliff’

By Elyse Shaw

News of the impending ‘fiscal cliff’ and attempts to broker a deal to keep us from ‘going over’ has dominated the media. Why is the fiscal cliff important to women? The ‘fiscal cliff’ is the name that was given to the end of 2012, when five important items in legislation will all expire at the same time. While there are numerous components to these changes, there are many ways they adversely affect women and those who are most vulnerable in our society.

First, the Bush Tax Cuts are set to expire on December 31, 2012, affecting everyone in the United States. These tax changes include the Earned Income Tax Credit and child credit expansions for low-income families, which helped to lift 8.7 million people out of poverty in 2011. If these cuts expire, the middle and working classes will be disproportionately affected, making it more difficult for individuals and families to stay above the poverty line.

Second, temporary expansion of federally funded unemployment insurance benefits will expire at the end of December, which affects the long-term unemployed. Although the recession is officially over, recovery is progressing slowly making unemployment insurance essential to keeping families out of poverty because both women and men who have been looking for work for more than 26 weeks rely on federal unemployment insurance to pay bills and support their families.

Third, the temporary cut in payroll (FICA) taxes for Social Security will expire, which means an increase in FICA taxes of 2 percent of earnings for most workers, increasing the payroll tax level from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent. This equals a $400 decrease in annual purchasing power to a woman earning $20,000 a year, which will significantly reduces her family’s standard of living. For some, this money equals several weeks of groceries, a couple of car repairs, or even half a month’s rent.

Fourth, the sequestration of funds, which consists of automatic across the board cuts in defense (50 percent) and domestic discretionary spending (50 percent), will go into effect January 1, 2013, if Congress does not act. While not affecting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, these cuts total about $55 billion annually for nine years in domestic discretionary spending, including many programs that are essential for women. This includes the Maternal and Child Health block grant, Title X Family Planning, the Child Care and Development block grant that supports Head Start, child support enforcement, and food stamps and other food supplements (such as school breakfast and lunch programs). Of course, this is by no means an inclusive list of essential programs that women and low-income women rely on, but are only a few highlights of some of the essential programs that will be affected by cuts.

Fifth, the debt ceiling must be raised no later than the first few months of 2013. Additionally, the fiscal year 2013 appropriations are active through March 27, 2013, and must be extended to September 30, 2013.

Additionally, while the White House previously stated that any changes to Social Security would not be part of the budget discussion, it has been reported that, in talks with House Speaker John Boehner, the White House offered to include the ‘chained CPI’ in the budget deal. The chained CPI is a change in the standard Current Price Index (CPI) that adjusts for inflation more slowly. It could be used to change the cost-of living adjustment (COLA) formula for Social Security, which would significantly cut benefits for the elderly. While the White House had insisted that using the chained CPI in Social Security would include robust protections for the oldest old (approximately 80 years and older) and those on SSI (which includes the elderly, those with very low incomes, and the disabled), any cuts to Social Security would disproportionately affect women since women earn less than men over their lifetimes—which means they start out with lower benefits—and rely heavily on Social Security benefits for a majority of their income in their elder years. Even a benefits cut of 0.3 percent per year will add up to more than $10,000 for an average earning woman who lives 20 years past the start of drawing on Social Security benefits. Since women live longer than men, this means that more women will be adversely affected by the cuts to Social Security that would be introduced through the chained CPI.

All in all, the fiscal cliff is something to be avoided.

Elyse Shaw is Special Assistant to the President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

IWPR Fellow is Named Rhodes Scholar

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Rhiana headshot 2x2IWPR is pleased to announce that Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the Mariam K. Chamberlain fellow at IWPR since September 2011, has been named a 2013 Rhodes Scholar. These illustrious scholarships are awarded not only for academic excellence, but also for character, commitment to service, and potential for leadership. Starting at Oxford University in October 2013, Gunn-Wright plans to study comparative social policy. In the future, she aims to improve social welfare policies and hopes to find a position in government. “I want to create and design policies related to issues of poverty, welfare, and urban violence,” said Gunn-Wright.

Gunn-Wright graduated from Yale University magna cum laude with a double major in African American studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies. She was first encouraged to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship at the end of her junior year by her academic advisor. But when she graduated she chose not to apply, instead looking to gain some experience outside of higher education.

Ultimately, she was inspired to apply for the scholarship after learning that people she admired, who were as dedicated to public service as she, were Rhodes Scholars. For example, after reading that Newark Mayor Cory Booker had run into a burning building to save a woman in a fire, she found out that he himself was a Rhodes Scholar. Another one of her heroes, television anchor Rachel Maddow, also has the honor. “I thought maybe this [scholarship] could help me to do the work that I want to do,” said Gunn-Wright.

While at IWPR, Gunn-Wright has contributed to several research projects including the Student Parent Success Initiative and work on paid sick days. Gunn-Wright will leave IWPR with many valuable lessons as she takes the first steps toward what promises to be a very successful career in policy. “IWPR inspired me a lot,” said Gunn-Wright. “It was the first time I had seen the way policy gets made, hands on. More than anything I saw the effect of laws that really take into account people’s well being, and how trying to address their needs really does impact their lives.”

In her research, Gunn-Wright will continue to take a gendered perspective. “The research that I intend to do is going to look at welfare from an intersectional perspective, how welfare policies are designed to meet the needs of people who are at the intersections of multiple identities of the disadvantaged.”

“Gender will always be in my analysis,” said Gunn-Wright.

Watch an interview with Rhiana Gunn-Wright on ABC7 News Chicago.

New Guide to Illustrate Women’s Needs in the MENA Region

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

A new toolkit by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research  and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), serves as a guide for the creation, dissemination, and promotion of reports on the status of women in the Middle East and North Africa. Using Research on the Status of Women to Improve Public Policy:A Capacity-Building Toolkit for Nongovernmental Organizations lays out a blueprint for using accurate research on the status of women as a means to shape public policy and give women in the MENA region a voice.

The toolkit, Using Research on the Status of Women to Improve Public Policies, outlines how to:

1. Create a diverse working advisory committee;
2. Identify relevant data sources and key research indicators;
3. Plan and create a press release strategy;
4. Communicate with aligned or peer organizations to push advocacy forward; and
5. Train women for leadership roles through mentorship and other programs.

A report on the status of women is a powerful tool for informing policy decisions. The reports are useful in indicating where women need to be better served through educational and health care systems, and how they can be better integrated into the labor market. International advocates and NGOs, and other individuals and groups in the private and public sectors, have long argued that women’s empowerment and full participation in the economy can help them, their families, and their communities, and can strengthen the productivity and economy of an entire nation.

In September 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the economic cost of lack of inclusion or restrictions to women’s full participation in the economy: “By increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can have a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies,” she said in her remarks to the APEC Conference that year. In October of this year, at a meeting titled “Power—Woman as Engine of Growth & Social Inclusion”,  Clinton cited the economic costs of lack of women’s participation or supports for women in the Asia Pacific, Eurozone, and other regions.

As part of a joint project on the Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa, in 2010, IWPR and IFES released topic briefs on the status of women in Yemen, Morocco, and Lebanon. Among the findings in Yemen, for example, is that women who work for pay have greater freedom of movement, and have greater financial savings and access to credit. The surveys in Yemen also found that women with higher levels of education tend to have more access to health care resources.

IWPR’s new capacity-building toolkit provides information for non-governmental organizations to organize and use similar research to to support women in leadership roles, and how to design an advocacy campaign and a call-to-action for improved policy to support women.

The toolkit is available online at the IWPR website and IWPR experts are available to comment on its recommendations. 

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

Four Key Policy Priorities for Women Missing from Election Debate


By Caroline Dobuzinskis and Mallory Mpare

As we head into the elections, and looking forward, what are some of the less-talked about issues that will be important to women after November 6? Women are often those making family decisions on education, child care, and health care. They are also more likely to serve as caregivers for children or older relatives. Perhaps as a result, they tend to be more likely to support providing services for families, children, and the elderly.

The wage gap, women in the workplace, and access to reproductive health services have received much of the focus in this campaign, but there are some other key areas that are likely on the radar of many women voters:

1. Paid Sick Days: Several city and state legislatures are considering paid sick days legislation. At the national level, the Healthy Families Act was re-introduced to Congress in 2011, but has not moved forward. Earned sick time laws provide paid time off to workers in the event that they fall ill or need to care for a sick family member. According to IWPR research, paid time off for workers improves workers’ self-reported well-being and also can reduce health costs. Also according to IWPR research, in 2010, 44 million American workers lacked paid sick days, and could put their jobs at risk for taking a sick day. Although this year’s campaign talk focused largely on the costs of Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, the lack of paid sick days also contributes to government health care costs. Workers without time off are more likely to put off care and visit emergency rooms instead of promptly visiting a doctor. This means higher costs for public and private insurers—costing up to $1 billion nationally (including $500 million in taxpayer-funded public health care programs for children, seniors, and low-income Americans). Women benefit disproportionately from paid sick days because they are more likely to serve as caregivers for children and older adults, and time off to care for an ill child or parent would be covered under the Healthy Families Act and other paid sick days legislation.

2. Health Care Reform. Famously, the much contested Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act stopped insurance companies from considering being a woman a pre-existing condition and charging higher rates to women than men for similar insurance policies. Lesser-known provisions in the Affordable Health Care Act are also already benefiting women in education and in the workplace.

The Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) was implemented as part of the ACA in 2010 and has since quietly supported women in achieving education by awarding competitive grants to state programs to help parents and pregnant students complete or stay in school. For example, a “Steps to Success” program in Minnesota provides counseling and merit-based scholarships to college students with children (learn more about similar programs by listening to our webinar on the topic). Research has shown that a mother’s achieving higher education can contribute to the well-being of both mother and child.

In addition, the ACA is helping working mothers through a requirement that employers provide reasonable break time and a private place for nursing mothers. This could help improve the rate of breastfeeding in the country and meet the goals of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 initiative.

3. Social Security. The gender wage gap that women face during their working lives is not stemmed at retirement, but continues to leave older women economically vulnerable. As a result, older women—and particularly women of color—are traditionally more reliant on Social Security. IWPR research has shown that older men have also become more reliant on Social Security due to a shift toward less stable defined contribution pension plans away from defined benefit pension plans  during their work lives.

IWPR, in collaboration with the NOW Foundation and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, released a report in May 2012 calling for modernizing Social Security to help make the program even more beneficial to women and families than it already is.  Proposed changes include increasing benefits to survivors and providing credits to increase recorded earnings for caregivers who are devoting time to taking care of children, elderly parents, or disabled relatives. The report also proposes modernizing the program by providing equal benefits to same-sex married couples and partners. Affordable means of funding Social Security and improvements to the program include “scrapping the cap,” meaning eliminating the cap on earnings on which Social Security payroll taxes are assessed, requiring all workers at all earnings levels to pay the same tax rate.

4. Early Care and Education. Quality, reliable, affordable child care can be key to women attaining education and entering or advancing in the labor market. Currently, student parents at colleges and universities in the United States lack adequate child care. IWPR’s research shows that existing on-campus child care meets only a very small portion of the need—hovering close to just five percent. Student parents make up 26 percent of community college students and many have young children. A recent IWPR toolkit profiles several existing programs providing a wide variety of child care services at institutions of higher learning that attempt to address the lack of child care

Nancy Pelosi believes affordable early care and education can provide “the missing link” for boosting women’s contributions to the economy. According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of mothers with children under the age of 17 now work. Many women and families are already suffering under the strains of child care’s high costs.  As the economy begins to recover and more women enter the labor market, the need for affordable child care will increase.

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

Spotlight: IWPR Chair Esmeralda Lyn

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

Dr. Esmeralda Lyn, previously Vice-Chair of IWPR’s board of directors, was recently elected to serve as Chair. We would like to take this opportunity to highlight Lyn’s professional accomplishments, as well as offer a glimpse at Lyn’s busy life outside of work.

Lyn retired this year from Hofstra University as the C.V. Staff Distinguished Professor of Finance and International Financial Services and is now Professor Emerita. Previously, Dr. Lyn served as finance officer at the United Nations in New York City and also has experience at Integrated Resources and Smith Barney Shearson. Her areas of specialization include mergers and acquisitions, international finance, corporate governance, and gender issues in finance. She counts being recognized as a C.V. Staff Distinguished Professor as one of her proudest accomplishments. “It was a recognition of my contribution in the field of finance, both in research and in teaching,” she said.

A colleague at Hofstra University first introduced Lyn to IWPR’s work and she was immediately intrigued. “Being an academic and researcher in finance, I was so impressed with the rigorous scientific research IWPR was doing, especially on the status of women in the states,” said Lyn. “In my mind then, and I still believe it strongly, the most effective way of influencing policymakers and different stakeholders regarding women’s issues is through high quality research.”

Among those closest to her, Lyn is known as a compassionate person who always has many projects on the go—as well as being a culinary expert. “I think family and close friends know me as a person who gets things done, and is a problem-solver,” said Lyn. “I also think they believe that I am a high-energy person because nothing stops me from pursuing a lot of things I enjoy outside work, such as any culinary-related activity, my book club, and more importantly, my volunteer work.”

The new role for Lyn comes as IWPR enters its 25th year.  In keeping with her character, Lyn’s vision for the next quarter-century of IWPR is very ambitious: “I hope that we will be able to solve all gender issues in the next 25 years and that there won’t be any more need for organizations such as IWPR,” she said. “That is of course wishful thinking! My dream is for IWPR to continue making a difference in the lives of women and their families.  I hope that IWPR is the first organization people think about when talking of gender issues and are willing to support it financially and otherwise.”

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

Addressing Policy Gaps for Women and Girls in New Haven: Latest Report in IWPR Series on Status of Women

By Anlan Zhang, Tonia Bui, and Cynthia Hess

Two years ago, a diverse group of women with extensive ties to the New Haven community came together and asked, “What is the status of women and girls in New Haven?” The answer became the impetus for IWPR’s recent report, The Status of Women & Girls in New Haven, Connecticut.

The report, part of IWPR’s series on the status of women, was commissioned by the City of New Haven and produced in collaboration with the Consortium for Women and Girls in New Haven. The Consortium provided ongoing guidance and review from individuals working in diverse fields, including law enforcement, women’s health, education, philanthropy, and employment services.

This latest report in IWPR’s status of women series points to both the remarkable advances women and girls have made in recent years in New Haven and to the work that remains to be done to address the needs of female residents in the city. For example, women in New Haven, as in the nation as a whole, are active in the workforce and have made great strides in closing the education gap with men. But men earn more than women with similar levels of education and more than one quarter of New Haven’s female residents live in poverty.

The Status of Women & Girls in New Haven, Connecticut has four main goals:  to provide information on the status of women and girls in the city, to inform policy and program priorities, to create a platform for advocacy, and to provide baseline information to measure the progress of public policies and program initiatives. The report’s findings and analyses touch on issues such as employment and earnings, economic security, education, health and well-being, political participation, and crime and safety.

Among the report’s key findings is that attending to the disparities between women and girls from different race, ethnic, and socio-economic groups is a key to implementing changes that further women’s and girl’s continued advancement in New Haven. Women and girls from low-income communities in New Haven, who are predominantly black and Hispanic, disproportionately bear the burden of unemployment, poverty, poor health, and crime.

Many of the issues addressed in the report are interconnected, and understanding their combined effects on the lives of women and girls is crucial for creating public policies and developing program initiatives in the City of New Haven. Some of the public policy recommendations mentioned in the report include encouraging employers to be proactive agents in remedying gender wage inequities; supporting women-led, women-initiated businesses and female-specific programs in New Haven; implementing career and education counseling for girls beginning in elementary school; and creating a comprehensive health curriculum in the New Haven School District that addresses physical and mental health, including the prevention of dating violence and the advancement of reproductive health.

The report also shines a spotlight on the critical importance of having well-established local data sets and the means to collect reliable data that can be disaggregated by sex, race, and ethnicity. These resources can help track progress on key indicators for communities such as New Haven.

Co-chairs of the Consortium for Women and Girls, Chisara Asomugha and Carolyn Mazure, describe the report as “an unprecedented effort to paint a clear and compelling picture of New Haven’s women and girls.” A June convening to present the findings brought together more than 500 attendees, including advocates for women and families, demonstrating the enormous interest in this research.

As the United States moves away from the deepest economic downturn in the many decades, policymakers need to understand and take into consideration the unique needs of women and girls. The Status of Women & Girls in New Haven, Connecticut is an invaluable tool for policymakers and advocates striving to improve the New Haven community and one that can serve as a model for other communities nationwide addressing similar policy issues.

Election 2012: What Can We Learn Now from Women’s Equality Day?

This article by Susan Bailey is reposted from the blog, Girl with Pen (girlwpen.com).

This year marked the 41st anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, marked each year on August 26th to commemorate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment which granted women the right to vote in 1920. For many not actively engaged in women’s issues, it’s merely another in a long list of little known awareness days. But this election year’s escalating anti-woman rhetoric is crazy making. I feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole into the land of the absurd. When ‘rape’ and ‘legitimate’ can be used in the same breath and women and men of reason are called upon to counter medieval constructs of female biology, I need the lessons of Women’s Equality Day. Maybe others do, too.

Women’s Equality Day originated after New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug proposed August 26th be so designated in honor of the 1920 ratification of the Woman’s Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The designation reflected the renewed energy of the ‘second wave’ of the feminist movement. It was an attempt to reclaim lost history.

By the 1960‘s, the struggles preceding the final ratification the 19th amendment had been largely forgotten. If school books mentioned women’s rights at all, a single sentence usually sufficed: “Women were given the vote in 1920.” The 70-year battle for women’s suffrage was not considered a significant part of our national history.

Beginning at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and continuing until 1920 when the Tennessee legislature became the 36th state required for a two thirds majority, women battled for a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote. They organized, lobbied, protested and picketed. Their efforts were mocked and ridiculed. Protesters were arrested, jailed, and force fed though tubes shoved down their throats. Leaders did not always agree on tactics. But women persisted. Far from being given the right to vote, women fought hard to win it.

Some of the rights women worked for and achieved over the years have remained controversial. There are many battles still to be fought and re-fought. The right to vote and to run for office is not one of these. It stands unquestioned.

But a key result the women and men who fought for suffrage expected, equal representation of women in elected office, remains elusive. Ninety two years after women won the right to vote, women make up barely 17 percent of the U.S. Congress. This percentage leaves us tied for 78th place with Turkmenistan in global rankings of national elected representatives.

At the state level it’s not much better. Women hold 23.4 percent of statewide executive offices and 23.8 percent of the seats in state legislatures this year.

Although I find it hard to believe given our current national discussions, I realize that some may still ask why it all matters.

Of course, neither women nor men march in lock step, or agree on every issue. Certainly many men support women-friendly legislation and there are women who vote for anti-woman initiatives. But studies repeatedly show that women, no matter what political party they represent, tend to sponsor and vote for legislation and programs that support women and families in larger percentages than do their male colleagues.

Women do not “misspeak” about rape and its consequences. Women will not fall in line with statements or policies that imply that women are governed by our bodies, rather than our minds.

U.S. Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) and his fellow travelers may be the last gasp of a crumbling patriarchy; I for one certainly hope so. Or they may be better described as part of a larger set of global fundamentalist efforts—of various origins—attempting to control women and their bodies. Maybe it’s some of both. But ‘last gaspers’ and fundamentalists can be equally dangerous and destructive. We cannot turn away in disgust. We cannot fool ourselves that lies and pseudoscience will fade away.

Our strongest weapon in the battles ahead may be the one our foremothers won for us. The 20th century began with women winning the right to vote. The 21st century is the time to fulfill the promise inherent in that victory. More women need to run for office. And RIGHT NOW we ALL need to canvass, phone bank, donate and vote for candidates who will fight for women’s equality. It won’t happen any other way.

Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D., served as Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), and a Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Education at Wellesley College for 25 years. Following college she taught in Asia, Latin America and the United States; experiences that fostered her commitment to gender equitable education.

IWPR Recommends Thorough Assessment of DC’s Paid Sick Leave Law

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

In honor of Labor Day and the 44 million workers around the country who lack paid sick leave, IWPR released a briefing paper that recommends the Auditor of the District of Columbia conduct a thorough and complete review that shows the impact of the city’s paid sick leave policy. In March 2008, the District of Columbia joined San Francisco to become only the second jurisdiction in the United States to pass a paid sick days law. Reviewing the law for the breadth of its impact on businesses, workers, and the economy, is important as legislation moves forward in other parts of the country.

Since the passage of the DC paid sick days law, the city of Seattle and the state of Connecticut also added legislation to provide workers with paid sick days. Seattle’s paid sick leave law was actually implemented over this Labor Day weekend. Other state and city jurisdictions across the country are considering similar paid sick days legislation since access to paid sick leave can be crucial for helping workers maintain their health and well-being.

Access to paid sick days is important for working families and especially important for women since they tend to be primary caregivers for children and elderly relatives. When a child needs to stay home from work because of the flu, it is important that a worker be able to securely afford the time off to be a caregiver.

DC’s was the first law to require provisions for victims of domestic violence to seek aid or services. Time off accrued under the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act can also be utilized to seek medical, legal or other services to address domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

As one of the pioneering cities to pass a law requiring paid sick days for its workers, DC may serve as an example for other jurisdictions considering similar laws. According to research from IWPR, there are significant benefits to having paid sick days laws that impact employees, the general public, and businesses. Based on a survey of workers and employers in San Francisco who were affected by that city’s paid sick leave law, IWPR found that two-thirds of businesses supported the law. IWPR research analyses have also shown that workers who have access to paid sick days tend to have better self-reported health.

Under the current DC paid sick days law, the Auditor of the District of Columbia is required to conduct a review, based on an audit sample of District businesses, to ensure that the law is being properly implemented and that employers are not circumventing requirements through hiring patterns. But to meet the end goal of the Auditor’s report, which is to assess the economic effects of the law on the private sector, IWPR recommends a more complete assessment.

IWPR recommends that the Auditor undertake a survey of workers and employers to ensure that compliance is being undertaken. A survey of workers would help to get the full story on how well the law has been implemented or its effectiveness in covering workers who may need to take time off when they or a family member is ill. This survey would also help determine if workers are aware of the law. In surveying workers for an assessment of San Francisco’s paid sick leave legislation, IWPR found that many workers covered under the city’s paid sick leave law were not aware of it.

Also, IWPR recommends that the Auditor take advantage of data sources that already exist that can provide evidence of any net effect of the law on the number of businesses and employees in the District. Finally, IWPR recommends the creation of an advisory committee with experts on paid sick leave, lending greater context and better evaluation to the study.

The steps recommended in IWPR’s briefing paper could help to create a more effective and comprehensive assessment of DC’s Accrued Leave and Safe Leave Act that would serve as a model for other cities. Understanding how the law will is being implemented will demonstrate its full impact beyond the books, serving as a living example for other cities to help improve health and well being of their workers.

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

Revisiting the Poverty Rate: New Measure Shows Less Inequality

By Jacqui Logan

A recent IWPR fact sheet, “A Clearer View of Poverty: How the Supplemental Poverty Measure Changes Our Perceptions of Who is Living in Poverty” by Jocelyn Fischer, examines the recently developed Supplemental Poverty Measure. The new measure—created in response to concerns about the adequacy of the official federal poverty measure—uses both post-tax income and federal in-kind benefits to assess the resources of families and individuals. The most salient aspect of the new measure is a more accurate poverty threshold. Each year, the new measure will be released along with the official measure by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

IWPR’s fact sheet compares the poverty situation in America as described by the new Supplemental Poverty Measure to that described by the official measure, which takes into account only cash resources when determining income. IWPR’s analysis found two quite different pictures of poverty according to the two measures.

The overall poverty rate is higher under the Supplemental Poverty Measure (15.9 percent poor) than it is under the official poverty measure (15.1 percent poor). Moreover, IWPR’s analysis shows there is less inequality in poverty between different demographic groups under the Supplemental Poverty Measure than under the official poverty measure.

While both men’s and women’s poverty rates are higher under the Supplemental Poverty Measure, men’s poverty rate (14.1 percent under the official poverty measure and 15.2 percent under the supplemental measure) rises numerically and proportionately much more than women’s poverty rate (16.3 percent under the official measure and 16.6 percent under the supplemental measure), thus decreasing inequality between men’s and women’s poverty rates.

Similarly, there is less inequality by race/ethnicity under the Supplemental Poverty Measure than under the official measure. Furthermore, when compared wtih the official measure, the supplemental measure indicates less inequality in poverty between persons of different age groups and between the married and the unmarried.

Overall, use of the Supplemental Poverty Measure reveals a higher rate of poverty in the United States and changes perceptions of whom we consider poor.

For more information on IWPR’s research on poverty and its impact on women and families, please visit our website.

Jacqui Logan was a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research during the summer semester.

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