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Top 5 Findings of 2011

Women with lightbulbsby Caroline Dobuzinskis, with Jocelyn Fischer and Rhiana Gunn-Wright.

In 2011, IWPR released several important findings on relevant topics such as the continuing impact of the recession, increased reliance on Social Security among older Americans, and the value of paid sick days for improving public health. Read the top findings below and continue to follow IWPR or sign up for our e-alerts to stay informed on our latest research on women, families, and communities.

1. During the recovery, men gained more jobs overall than women. Contrary to the image presented by a new, widely-panned sitcom, the recovery is not proving to be easier for female job seekers. Overall, men have regained one out of three jobs lost in the recession, while women regained one of every four jobs they lost. But the last quarter of 2011 saw women making some gains in the job market: men and women had equal job growth in the past three months at 206,000 jobs each.

2. Many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and some cannot afford to put food on the table. Last September, IWPR released findings from the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security showing that only 43 percent of women and 61 percent of men would have the savings to pay for living expenses for a period of two months. In households with more than one person who experienced unemployment for one month or longer in the two years prior to the survey, 27 percent of women and 20 percent of men went hungry because they could not afford food.

3. Americans strongly support Social Security and have grown increasingly reliant on the program in the last decade. A large majority of Americans (74 percent of all women and 69 percent of men in the IWPR/Rockefeller survey) say they  don’t mind paying Social Security taxes for the benefits they will receive when they retire. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of men aged 65 and older relying on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their incomes increased by 48 percent to equal more than a third of all men aged 65 and older in 2009. The increase for comparable women was 26 percent to equal half of older women in 2009.

4. The number of on-campus child care centers has declined and presently can only meet five percent of the child care needs of student parents. There are 3.9 million student parents pursuing postsecondary education in the United States, 57 percent of whom are also low-income adults. Access to affordable, on-campus child care has decreased, partly due to the increase of for-profit postsecondary institutions.

5. Paid sick days would reduce emergency department visits–saving $1 billion in health care costs. Access to paid sick days would eliminate 1.3 million emergency department visits per year and would save $500 million to taxpayers through public health insurance costs because regular doctors’ office visits would substitute for expensive emergency room care. Informed by research from organizations such as the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, paid sick days legislation gained significant momentum across the country last year.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Jocelyn Fischer is Assistant to the President and Rhiana Gunn-Wright is this year’s Mariam K. Chamberlain fellow.

Top 5 Recent IWPR Findings

By Jennifer Clark

When IWPR posted a “Top 5” list of our most revealing research findings in December, we were so encouraged by the level of interest our readers showed in the post, that we decided to turn it into a regular roundup. Although intending to compile another “Top 5” list, the first four months of 2011 were so action-packed that we couldn’t limit ourselves to just five. From Social Security to employment discrimination, here are the top IWPR findings from 2011 (so far):

1.       Without access to Social Security, 58 percent of women and 48 percent of men above the age of 75 would be living below the poverty line.  If you watch cable news, read reputable newspapers, or even tune in to late night television, you would get the impression that the Social Security system, which helped keep 14 million Americans over the age of 65 out of poverty in 2009, is broken. Social Security does not contribute to the deficit and is forbidden by law to borrow money to pay for benefits.  In fact, Social Security is actually running a surplus—a big one—at $2.6 trillion, an amount that is projected to increase to $4.2 trillion by 2025.

2.       Although many groups advocate for immigrant rights at the local, state, or national levels, very few advocate specifically for the rights of immigrant women. A new IWPR report, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change, on the challenges facing Latina immigrants in the United States, explores the specific challenges faced by immigrant women—higher poverty rates than their male counterparts and greater risk of sexual, domestic, and workplace violence—and spotlights the organizations that are trying to help.

3.       The gender wage gap has narrowed only 13 percentage points in the last 55 years. With the ratio of women’s to men’s earnings stagnating at 77 percent in recent years, IWPR projected that, if current trends continue, the gender wage gap will finally close in 2056—45 years from now. In terms of how the gender wage gap breaks down by occupation, IWPR also found that women earn less than men in 107 out of 111 occupational categories, including female-dominated professions like teaching and nursing.

4.       Women’s career and life choices do not completely explain  the gender wage gap. IWPR’s new report, Ending Sex and Race Discrimination in the Workplace: Legal Interventions That Push the Envelope—a review of over 500 sex and race discrimination settlements –offers distressing evidence of the factors that keep women’s median earnings lower than men and keep women out of better paid jobs. These include discrimination in hiring, sexual harassment of women trying to work in male-dominated jobs, preventing women from getting the training that is required for promotion (or only requiring that training of women), and paying women less for the same work than men. The report finds that ensuring transparency in hiring, compensation, and promotion decisions is the most effective means for addressing discrimination.

5.       On-campus child care centers meet only five percent of the child care needs of student parents. IWPR’s report, Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents, explores the challenges facing 3.9 million student-parents, 57 percent of whom are also low-income adults, enrolled in colleges across the U.S. Costly off-campus care centers—in many states the cost exceeds median income—are unrealistic for many, leaving some student parents devoting up to ing 70 hours per  week to jobs and caregiving, leaving little time for classes or studying. Postsecondary education provides a path to firmer economic stability for low-income families, but without child care on campus, the path often seems more like an uphill climb.

6.       Both businesses and employees in San Francisco are generally in support of paid sick days, as the nation’s first paid sick days legislation sees benefits four years after passage. San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance (PSLO) went into effect in 2007.  Four years later, IWPR analyzed the effects of the ordinance in the new report, San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance: Outcomes for Employers and Employees, which surveyed over 700 employers and nearly 1,200 employees.  Despite claims from opposing groups that this kind of legislation is bad for small businesses, IWPR’s survey found that two-thirds of employers in San Francisco support the law, including over 60 percent of employers in the hotel and food service industry.

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

College Students with Children Need Campuses with Child Care

By Elisa Garcia

The Obstacles Facing Student Parents

For many young women, including myself, the path from grade school to the working world follows an unambiguous narrative, from earning solid grades in high school to gaining admission to a top university to eventually beginning our career of choice or pursuing an advanced degree. Ready to reap the benefits of our mothers’ hard-fought battles for women’s rights—and in the wake of data showing that more women than men pursue higher education, and that young, childless, urban women out-earn their male peers—it seems no obstacle can prevent young women from achieving their goals.

Unfortunately, for undergraduate students who are also parents, and particularly single mothers, the path is not so clear. Despite the fact that there are 3.9 million student parents enrolled as undergraduates in colleges and universities (equal to nearly one-quarter of the 17 million undergraduate students across the country), they face significant barriers to postsecondary success, and institutions are ill-prepared to provide for their needs. According to a recent IWPR report, Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents,  student parents are more likely to be low-income and working full-time than undergraduate students as a whole.

About half of married student parents and over 40 percent of single student parents spend 40 or more hours per week working, and parents must also devote a significant portion of their time to caregiving. In fact, 68 percent of married parents and 56 percent of single parents spend 30 hours or more per week on care. Further, only about 10 percent of single parents spend no time on care, compared to 60 percent of childless students, and women are more likely than men to spend long hours on care. Some student parents end up spending 70 hours per week or more on their jobs and caretaking duties—attending classes and studying seems like an impossible added burden.

Child Care Crucial to Success of Student Parents

Child care is therefore a critical resource to alleviate some of the stress of caretaking, and ease the strain of juggling competing priorities and obligations. According to surveys conducted at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Michigan, having access to care is one of student parents’ top concerns. Child care facilities not only allow parents peace of mind and give them more time to devote to schoolwork and earning income, the facilities can also help increase retention among a group that is likely to drop out of school. Fifty-seven percent of student parents are low-income, meaning that off-campus care centers— which in many states cost more than average annual rent payments—are not realistic options for many student parents. Though often regarded as a lower-cost alternative to four year universities, community college is often unaffordable. With the added cost of child care, it may be unattainable for many parents.

Child care is one of the most effective ways that colleges and universities can help their student parents to earn a degree, yet most fail to provide on-campus care centers, much less affordable, high-quality care.

Only 49 to 57 percent of two- and four-year public colleges and universities, and a dismal 7 to 9 percent of two- and four-year private colleges and universities offer child care facilities. In fact, according to IWPR calculations, colleges and universities are only providing five percent of the child care slots that student parents need. Even when parents attend universities that offer care, the facilities are less than ideal: many have long waiting lists, few centers provide infant care, and even fewer schools offer care at night or during the summer.

Breaking the Cycle

By not supporting student parents with accessible and affordable child care, colleges and universities are denying a significant fraction of their community a chance to earn an advanced degree and obtain the types of jobs afforded to other undergraduates.

And high-quality child care not only affects parents—research indicates that low-income children significantly benefit from quality early education, and that children of college graduates are in turn more likely to attend college. Supporting low-income student parents is thus an effective way of breaking the cycle of poverty for many families

The policy implications of these findings are clear: by funding and supporting high-quality, campus-based child care, colleges and universities could help to ensure the success of one of their most vulnerable populations, as well as the generations that will follow. Many student parents enter college with heavier burdens than their peers; they deserve as clear a path to family security through a degree and career as anyone else.

For more information, please visit IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative webpage.

Elisa Garcia is the Office and Program Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Celebration for Ann Richards and Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi
Photo by Elisabeth Crum at the reception celebrating The People’s House.

Let me share my impressions of the Women’s Tea held in honor of Nancy Pelosi and in memory of Ann Richards on January 3, 2007, the day before Rep. Pelosi was elected Speaker of the House. What makes me happiest about Ms. Pelosi making a “big deal” on becoming speaker is her willingness to own her election as a triumph for women and of the women’s movement that fought first for women to get the vote and then to enter the workforce in large numbers and then to hold political office. When speaking she frequently pumps her arm in the Rosie the Riveter pose, which appeared on the large buttons made for the event (and which has previously appeared on other political paraphernalia). The very fact that she held a tea for women makes me deeply appreciative of her understanding of the importance of this moment for women in the United States.
At the women’s tea, held in the Mellon Auditorium in a federal building now used by the Environmental Protection Agency, I was first struck by how well the party was set up–like a real English tea party writ large. Tea and coffee in silver urns, real china, cucumber and other tea sandwiches, petits fours, pastries, and most importantly scones with clotted cream and jam! As someone said coming in while the hall was still empty–this looks just like Nancy. Known for her graciousness, Rep. Pelosi’s party reflected a desire to treat the guests well.
The guests included many women who head or work in women’s organizations, supporters from California and elsewhere, and many members of Congress. There were quite a few seats available at small round tables the better to enjoy your tea. As a veteran of many receptions, etc., in Washington, some of which boast no more than warm soda in paper cups, this event was refreshingly civilized. The spirit of pure joy is hard to describe.
Those of us who have toiled mostly in the dark the past several years on women’s issues could not, I think, quite believe our good fortune. Here was a woman being elevated to an amazingly powerful position in America who was not afraid to, even happy to, acknowledge her debt to the women’s movement and to generations of women who fought to make her election to that position possible. Many of the people in the room, of course, had worked hard to elect a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and especially in the last few weeks before November 7, knew that Ms. Pelosi would become the Speaker, but it was not really possible to imagine beforehand the sheer joy of it as it came to be.
It was not unlike the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act in February 1993 in the Rose Garden very early on in the Clinton Administration as dozens of people poured into the White House for the first time in twelve years. Yes, people had worked hard to pass that bill in Congress three times (twice vetoed by Pres George Bush the father) and many also worked to elect President Clinton. We even knew that once President Clinton was elected that it would likely become the first major law he would sign, but still it would have been impossible to predict how wonderful that felt when it actually happened.
Rep. Rosa De Lauro, like Rep. Pelosi an Italian-American, served as emcee. A fabulous speaker, she also spoke eloquently about the importance of this moment for women, as well as the importance of their Italian American and Catholic background and the support of their families. She also spoke admiringly of Ann Richards, who served as Governor of Texas for one term and will be remembered by many for her remarks at the Democratic convention in 1992, when she described George Bush (#41) as having been born with a sliver foot in his mouth. She was much more than a fiery orator exceptionally good at the pithy one-liner. At this event, she was remembered by her very well-spoken granddaughter, Lily Adams, a Stanford University student and daughter of Cecile Richards, who heads the Planned Parenthood Federation, as well as by a short video about her life.
I got to know Ann Richards at the Aspen Institute when we both were members of the Domestic Policy Strategy Committee. Ann was one of the smartest people I have ever met; she frequently gave me good advice and I miss her very much. Would that we could have benefited from her shrewd political skills and wisdom a few years longer. As her granddaughter said to me afterward, they regret that they didn’t write down every word of the advice she gave them over the years.
Nancy Pelosi’s granddaughter, Madeline a second grader, read a short letter to her grandmother “Mimi” saying that she was happy her grandmother got this good job because it meant many other women would also be able to get good jobs. That too was followed by a short video about Ms. Pelosi. Then Ms. Pelosi spoke, calling up all the members of Congress present to stand with her on the stage. In her remarks, she previewed several of the themes she would use over the next few days. She thanked everyone for their hard work, acknowledged all her supporters, family members–especially her mother, several women leaders in California and nationally, including some like Molly Yard, past president of NOW, who are no longer with us.
Her remarks hit just the right note and were not too long. And she stayed afterward to allow anyone who wanted to, to take their photo with her. I of course forgot my camera (as I always do!). The program closed with a beautiful rendition of “What a Wonderful World” sung by a young man, Elijah Lawrence (10 years old), son of John Lawrence, Ms. Pelosi’s chief of staff, and Deborah Phillips, a well-known child development expert at Georgetown University.
As perhaps you can guess from the line-up of speakers at this event, the theme of the event was children. In her remarks, Ms. Pelosi stated that improving the lives of children in the United States would be her goal as Speaker. It previewed her unprecedented call to all the children in the chamber on January 4th to come forward as she presided over the House for the first time as Speaker.
On the one hand, this focus on children seems to come out of nowhere since it is not included in the 100 hours agenda and as a member of Congress Ms. Pelosi has not been especially known for work on children or women’s issues. Nancy Duff Campbell pointed out to me that Ms. Pelosi noted three separate areas that need to be addressed: child care, early childhood development, and education.
Ms. Pelosi spoke eloquently about how women’s advance in the work force has been met by a policy gap — no or not enough child care — limiting women’s opportunities as a result. Nowadays as several prominent, male executives have seen the light on early childhood development, we hear more about young children’s brain development than we do about the need to ensure children have good care while their mothers work, so it was refreshing to hear the future Speaker stress that women, and all parents, need good child care.
On the other hand, children are a traditional topic of interest for women legislators and Ms. Pelosi has five children and six grand children. She waited until her youngest daughter was a senior in high school to run for Congress. While feminists might feel some concern that speaker Pelosi is uniting children’s and women’s interests so strongly, they should be reassured that as a member of Congress, Ms. Pelosi has championed family planning, health care, and education (among other issues such as fighting terrorism and protecting the environment).
In the dominant political climate of the last 20 plus years (conservative and centrist), children’s issues have become a short hand for a progressive agenda — increasing access to health care, reducing poverty, improving public education — in short, making the economy more people-friendly, a goal most of us can support. It will be interesting to see how Ms. Pelosi’s priorities on children will play out in the new Congress. John Sperling, author of the Great Divide, commented to me that he thought by focusing on children, Ms. Pelosi is explicitly appealing to Republican women, to which someone else in the room said “more power to her.”
– Heidi Hartmann

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