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An Advocate for Research on Women and Girls: Honoring Hillary Clinton’s Tenure as Secretary of State

Drew McCormick 2013By Drew McCormick

On this International Women’s Day, IWPR recognizes the valuable contributions that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made to the encouragement of research and data collection on women and girls around the world. While in office, Clinton characterized improving the rights and status of women as “essential to our shared prosperity and security.”

Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State will have lasting impacts on the status of women and girls throughout the world. Her efforts expanded the State Department’s agenda to include women and girls through program implementation and data collection. For example, in 2012, Secretary Clinton helped launch the Equal Futures Partnership, with support from 12 founding nations, with the goal of further engaging women in public life as leaders and beneficiaries of economic growth.

In a world increasingly focused on data and the implications of numerical results for international development Secretary Clinton called for an increase in research focusing on women and girls, pointing out that national economies thrive when women thrive—promoting peace and prosperity.

Organizations such as IWPR continue to collect valuable data on the status of women and girls.  IWPR’s Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa project conducted with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in partnership with regional organizations, explores the status of women in Morocco, Yemen, and Lebanon. The project also aims to encourage local NGOs to collect and disseminate their own data and research on the status of women and girls in order to better inform public policy. With funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, IWPR and IFES produced a toolkit that serves as a guide to the collection, analysis, and promotion of reports on the status of women.U.S. Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton Visits South Korea

As part of the project, IWPR and IFES conducted original surveys in the Middle East and North Africa. Analyses of the data include topic briefs on women’s civic participation in Morocco, women’s freedom of movement in Yemen, and attitudes toward women’s economic independence in Lebanon. These data respond to the call from Secretary Clinton for more and better research to improve policy and practice.

In a world facing a “data revolution” the importance of compiling and putting data to work for women has become paramount. As Secretary Clinton asserted, we cannot simply rely on moral arguments in the fight for gender equality; data analysis and gathering are essential to the task of accurately representing the lives of women worldwide.

At a Gallup conference on data collection, Secretary Clinton said “We keep statistics on everything we care about, from RBIs to ROI, the daily ups and downs of the Dow and our bank accounts. So if we’re serious about narrowing the gender gap and helping more girls and women, then we must get serious about gathering and analyzing the data that tell the tale.”

During her tenure, Secretary Clinton reinvigorated America’s global representation by meeting government officials around the world, travelling over one million miles to 112 countries. But aside from miles logged, her most lasting advances may well be in ensuring that research and data collection on women and girls remain at the forefront of foreign policy priorities. The increased emphasis on data collection has provided a platform for the many organizations that focus on the collection of data on women and girls. IWPR is working with other institutions to develop research to respond to the need both for data and for regional organizations to build their capacity to improve the conditions women and girls face.

Secretary Clinton’s ascent to public office has been remarkable and notable, perhaps most so because she is female. Women are still highly outnumbered as political leaders in the United States and abroad. A study from IWPR conducted by consultant Denise Baer with the Hunt Alternatives Fund explores the reasons why women do and do not run for higher elective office. Hillary Clinton ran a grueling, and almost successful, campaign for her party’s nomination for the highest office in the United States, President.

On this International Women’s Day, as we look to strengthen and empower women worldwide, we must also begin to look closer to home. With more women leaders taking the stage in the U.S. Congress, on the Supreme Court, and in the executive branch, the United States can proudly join other nations in expanding women’s roles across the globe.


Drew McCormick is currently completing a master’s program at The School for International Training in Washington, DC, and is working as a research intern for IWPR as part of her master’s work. Drew is interested in international development and the role that U.S. foreign policy plays in the lives of women in developing nations. 

Woman server with plateHeading out this Valentine’s Day? Keep restaurant workers’ well-being in-mind.

By Courtney Kishbaugh

Valentine’s Day is the second most popular day to dine out, according to the National Restaurant Association. As couples flock to restaurants all over the country, they should keep in mind that the backhouse realities of the restaurant industry are far from romantic.

It takes a bit of research to know the issues that restaurant workers are handling on the job—like harassment from co-workers, lack of benefits such as paid sick days, and low pay—since they are not evident from within a candle-lit dining room.  But with a bit of information, diners can choose to visit food establishments that value job quality and workers’ well-being.

The restaurant industry can be an especially difficult workplace for women. The combination of high rates of sexual harassment, low wages, and unstable work schedules all disproportionately affect women, and their economic security.

Treatment that would typically incite outrage in many other workplaces is considered the norm in restaurants, and women are suffering for it. Sexual harassment is a huge problem in the restaurant industry. Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that, in 2011, almost 37 percent of sexual harassment cases reported that year occurred in restaurants, making the restaurant industry the “single largest source of sexual harassment claims.” Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that actions typically seen as unacceptable in most workplaces are customary in restaurants.

Simultaneously, the majority of people earning the tipped minimum wage is female. (The federal tipped minimum wage is now $2.13 per hour, and tips are supposed to bring the workers at least up to the regular federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.) Women tend to be stuck in lower paying positions in the kitchen or dining room, rather than rising through the ranks to salaried jobs, evidenced by the fact that women fill only 19 percent of the higher paying chef positions. Though the restaurant I worked at was high-end and earning less than the regular minimum wage was never an issue, Women’s eNews reported  that “tipped workers are more likely to fall into poverty than those who receive [the regular] minimum wage,” and that “servers rely on food stamps at nearly double the rate of the general population.”

In addition, though female servers make up the majority in casual dining establishments, a male majority workforce prevails in fine dining. This leads to further income inequality because women are not only stuck in tipped positions, but also prevented from moving into the higher paid bracket of the tipped positions. The proportion of female servers was much lower at a fine dining restaurant I worked in, and very few women worked in the salaried manager or kitchen positions, outside of the dessert and pastry shop.

The industry’s unstable work schedule disproportionately affects women, who often are primary caretakers in their families. Many restaurants stay open until the last customer leaves, while others have hours that go until three in the morning. Child care centers are seldom open at these late hours, leaving women hard-pressed to find adequate child care. Furthermore, last-minute schedule changes, based on customer volume, can make it difficult for women to make arrangements for their family, a situation already made challenging by low pay.

However, these facts should not ruin the prospect of eating out on Valentine’s Day.  Those planning on eating out should consider using the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) dining guide (available either as a PDF or as a free mobile app for smartphones) that details which restaurants pay their workers fairly and provide them with benefits, such as paid sick days. The guide covers a number of restaurants in major cities such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Supporting establishments that treat their workers fairly is a step in the right direction to improve the situation of restaurant staff in general, especially women, by increasing their economic security.

Courtney Kishbaugh is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and is currently a student at Georgetown University.

IWPR Marks Anniversary of FMLA: Progress Still Needed on Paid Leave

ImageBy Jasmin Griffin

Today marks 20 years since President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993, an important policy moment that signified a shift for women in the workforce. Before FMLA, there was little to protect the jobs of women who needed time off to care for newborns or for family members with severe illness. Women would often have to choose between caring for their families and keeping their jobs.

The Family and Medical Leave Act sought to correct these challenges by guaranteeing unpaid leave with job security for workers who needed to care for newborns, newly adopted children, and family members with serious health conditions. Since its passage, the law has had significant impact on the American workforce. Eligible women and men now have time to care for new and existing members of the family, as well as themselves, without being forced to find another job or drop out of the workforce. According to a survey released today by the Department of Labor, FMLA now covers about 59 percent of the workforce.

One of IWPR’s first publications, Unnecessary Losses: Costs to Americans of the Lack of Family and Medical Leave, published in 1990, demonstrated the benefits that the proposed policy would bring IWPR analyzed the costs to American workers of not having unpaid leave for childbirth, personal health needs, or family care giving. With this research, IWPR later testified before the U.S. Senate that, by not recognizing the need for work-life balance, established policies failed to support workers and their families and, moreover, were costly to taxpayers. This finding shifted the public debate on FMLA. Now twenty years old, FMLA has become a cornerstone of U.S. employment law and human resource policy—and remains a major piece of IWPR’s own history.

On May 1, IWPR will celebrate its 25th anniversary of making research count for women. Today, 600 publications and 30,000 pages since Unnecessary Losses, IWPR continues to be a national thought leader on how public policies affect women and their families, focusing on issues ranging from the gender wage gap, occupational segregation and discrimination, access to higher education and job training, retirement security, and the status of women in the states.

While the Family and Medical Leave Act was a major success for working women and their families, there is still more to do to ensure our leave policies address the needs of a modern workforce. Just as it did over two decades ago, IWPR continues to inform the next frontier in paid leave policy, serving as the research backbone of local efforts to adopt state-level paid family and medical leave programs. To date, California and New Jersey have implemented paid family and medical leave programs.

Jasmin Griffin is an intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She is a student at Howard University.

Don’t Know Much About Mentoring? Here’s How You Learn More

By Kenneth Quinnell

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO website.

New Union Mentoring Guide Helps Build Future Leaders

January is National Mentoring Month 2013, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Berger-Marks Foundation continue to encourage unions to expand their mentoring efforts and institutionalize mentoring as part of their training efforts. The two organizations produced The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders and are producing a series of workshops to help introduce mentoring concepts and help unions put together mentoring programs.

The first workshop, “Mentoring 101,” is available from the foundation and introduces mentoring, explaining what it is and what it isn’t; what it can do and what it can’t do. It also provides tools to help activists introduce the concept to leadership and to start to put together real-world mentoring programs. “Mentoring 102,” which will be available soon, helps unions put together specific mentoring programs.

President Obama’s proclamation explains the importance of mentoring:

A supportive mentor can mean the difference between struggle and success. As we mark this important occasion, I encourage all Americans to spend time as a mentor and help lift our next generation toward their hopes and dreams.

The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders is available in print or online from the Berger-Marks Foundation. Contact the foundation at, for more information about obtaining single or multiple copies.

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.

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