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One on One with Rosa DeLauro, Congresswoman and Champion for Women and Families

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro speaking at IWPR's 25th anniversary event.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro speaking at IWPR’s 25th anniversary event.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is known in Washington, D.C., is a champion for women. Her dedication and continued work to improve policies for women and their families demonstrate why more women should run for office.

Rep. DeLauro represents Connecticut’s Third District, which stretches from the Long Island Sound and New Haven to the Naugatuck Valley and Waterbury. She serves in the Democratic leadership as co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee, and she is the ranking member on the Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. From that position, Rep. DeLauro works to increase support for education and innovation, to fully implement the Affordable Care Act, to protect the rights of employees and unions, and to raise living standards.

Rep. DeLauro has led efforts in Congress to achieve full pay equity for women and to ensure that all employees have access to paid sick days. Soon after earning degrees from Marymount College and Columbia University, she followed her parents’ footsteps into public service, serving as the first Executive Director of EMILY’S List, a national organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in elected office, Executive Director of Countdown ’87, the national campaign that successfully stopped U.S. military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, and as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd.

In 1990, Rep. DeLauro was elected to the House of Representatives, and she has served as the Congresswoman from Connecticut’s 3rd District since. She is married to Stanley Greenberg, President of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a public issues research firm. Their children—Anna, Kathryn and Jonathan Greenberg—all are grown and pursuing careers. They have four grandchildren, Rigby, Teo, Sadie, and Jasper.

Tell me about yourself. What was your personal journey to your current career?

My family always stressed the value of public service. Both of my parents served on the New Haven Board of Aldermen and my mother is the longest serving Alderman—or Alderwoman!—in New Haven’s history. They really imparted to me the importance of giving back to your community and trying to better the world around you.

I have attempted to live up to the example they set throughout my life. For a long time I worked in more of a behind-the-scenes role… Eventually, I decided that I wanted to hold elected office myself and have been privileged to serve in Congress ever since.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievements?

A few things stick out. One is doubling the funding for the National Institutes of Health between 1998 and 2003. As an ovarian cancer survivor, one of my explicit goals when I came to Congress was supporting medical research and the fight against cancer. That doubling has reaped real dividends and we have made amazing progress, but we really need to do it again!

Another was passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Because of that law women’s health care is finally on the same footing as men’s and millions of women will no longer have to pay more for their insurance just because they are a woman. It is truly transformative and people across the country will continue to see more of its benefits in the coming years.

What obstacles did you encounter along your path to a successful career?

While serving as Senator Dodd’s Chief of Staff I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was supposed to be running his reelection campaign and worried about what would happen. When I told Senator Dodd, he was so supportive and told me to take all the time I needed to get better. I will never forget that and it has been a huge part of why I am so driven to ensure all Americans can take time off, without having to fear for their paycheck, when they or a loved one are sick.

How do you think that the landscape has changed for women in the past 25 years or, more recently, in the past decade?

Clearly we have made great strides. Women make up about half of the workforce and we see more women in leadership roles in both the public and private sector—though still far too few!

But women still make just 77 cents for every dollar a man does and make up the majority of minimum-wage workers. This mirrors the growing gap between the wealthiest and poorest in our society. Electing more people to public office who will fight for equal pay, family-friendly workplace policies and better educational opportunities is crucial to righting this.

Are there certain policies to support women that you think are still lacking in the United States?

I have introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in each of the past eight congresses and I will continue fighting for it until we truly have equal pay for equal work. The bill is very simple—it says same job, same pay, regardless of gender. Nearly 50 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law we should not still be having these same battles.

And as I mentioned earlier, we need policies that will make our workplaces more family-friendly and reflect a society where both men and women work outside the home. I have repeatedly introduced legislation to ensure workers can take paid leave when they or a loved one are sick. We have seen similar policies passed in cities across the country and I am hopeful it is only a matter of time before people nationwide have that right.

What are your goals for women in the United States and across the globe?

Women should be recognized for their skills, talents, and intelligence on an equal playing field as men. Girls should have access to education and be encouraged to thrive in those environments. Young women should be paid the same as their male colleagues and have the same opportunities to blaze whatever career path they choose. And older women should have a dignified retirement and not have to make the terrible choice between food, housing, medicine, or other necessities. At times it may seem like a struggle, but I know that one day all of these goals will be reality.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro spoke about “An Economic Agenda for Women’s Equality” at IWPR’s 25th anniversary event on May 22, 2013, at the AFL-CIO in Washington, DC. Watch the full video of the event.

One on One with Professor and Expert on Women in Politics, Dr. Michele L. Swers

Michele Swers

Dr. Michele Swers, Associate Professor, Department of Government, Georgetown University.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Throughout this month, IWPR will be interviewing speakers appearing at our 25th anniversary celebration on May 22. Our esteemed speakers will share with us their own stories of accomplishment and perseverance, their perspectives on women’s advances, and their hopes for future progress. 

Michele L. Swers is an Associate Professor of American Government in the Department of Government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., focusing on how the gender of elected representatives plays a part in congressional policymaking. Dr. Swers has appeared as an expert in a range of media outlets, including PBS’ “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” CQ Weekly, Politico, CNN, as well as in national and state newspapers.

Dr. Swers is the author of two books on women’s representation in Congress, The Difference Women Make: The Policy Impact of Women in Congress (University of Chicago Press, 2002) and Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate (University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Tell me about yourself. What was your personal journey to your current career?

I always loved history. I read books about the presidents and other great historical figures. My grandmother gave me a book about first ladies and she told me stories about Eleanor Roosevelt. This sparked an interest in learning about the role of women in history and politics. I also found that I enjoyed teaching. Before history tests, I would have friends over at my house and run study sessions. I was a high school social studies teacher before I went back to school for my Ph.D. in political science.

I was in college during the 1992 “Year of the Woman” elections, and I was struck by the fact that my political science texts clearly stated that all members of Congress respond to re-election incentives and the nature of their districts. Therefore, the identity of the individual member did not matter, as long as they stayed true to the district. At the same time, EMILY’s List was raising vast sums of money, not to elect all Democrats, but specifically to elect pro-choice Democratic women. Why would a savvy political organization do this if any Democrat would pursue their agenda? I went to graduate school to investigate the question of whether electing women has an impact on policy outcomes.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievements?

I am very fortunate to have a fulfilling career and a loving family. As a professor at Georgetown, I work with very smart and energetic students who are interested in politics and want to make a contribution to society. I am able to do research that I love on the policy impact of electing women to Congress. I have written two books on the subject. My most recent book, Women in the Club: Gender and Policy Making in the Senate (University of Chicago Press) was just published this month. I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. My job allows me to spend time with them and support their education and growth.

What obstacles did you encounter along your path to a successful career?

Academic jobs are difficult to get. To get the best education I could and maximize my marketability, I had to endure several years of a commuter marriage. Once you have a job, the biological clock and the tenure clock are not very compatible so that affected when I decided to have my children. On the whole, I have been very fortunate in my career path. Many women who came before me had to endure significant discrimination and undervaluing of their research and contributions. I benefitted from their sacrifices and have tried to support the women coming up behind me.

How do you think that the landscape has changed for women in the past 25 years or, more recently, in the past decade?

Over the past 25 years, opportunities for women in education and the workforce have greatly expanded. The presence of women in the workforce is almost universally accepted and women can compete for top jobs in all fields. However, society has not reconciled the advancement of women into the workforce with the imperative of caring for children.  Fathers are still expected to be breadwinners and the United States does not have a system of paid family leave or universal quality childcare. This lack of attention to issues of work-family balance creates difficulties for single and two parent families at all income levels.

Are there certain policies to support women that you think are still lacking in the United States?

We need to find ways to support families in their efforts to balance the demands of their jobs and the health and welfare of their families. Creation and expansion of family leave to include paid leave, the development of affordable, quality childcare, and improved regulation of childcare would improve the lives of women and their families. Tax credits and deductions would encourage businesses to offer family-friendly policies such as paid leave, on-site childcare, and telecommuting opportunities.  A workforce that can properly care for their children and be confident about their well-being will be a more productive workforce.

You can hear Dr. Swers speak at IWPR’s May 22 anniversary celebration, “Making Research Count for Women: Launching the Next 25 Years.”

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.

National Council of Women’s Organizations Launches “Respect, Protect, Reject” Campaign

By Heidi Reynolds-Stenson

In effort to reach a budget deal by the debt ceiling deadline on August 2, leaders in Congress have indicated they are willing to make cuts to vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The cuts would harm women and families who rely on these programs for their survival. In response, the Older Women’s Economic Security (OWES) Task Force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) launched a nationwide campaign, “Respect, Protect, Reject 2012.”

Through a public petition, the task force is asking lawmakers to respect women’s contributions to the economy and their need for economic security, protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs that are vital to women, and reject any budget plan that will impoverish vulnerable women and families. The task force wrote to congressional leaders on Tuesday to warn of the consequences of cuts to such programs for women and for the national economy and to urge the leaders to “place women’s circumstances and concerns at the center of their analysis and response.”

To help spread the word about the new campaign and bring more attention to these issues, NCWO held a conference call on Tuesday, July 12 moderated by NCWO Chair Susan Scanlan. On the call, Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland’s 4th District—who recently signed onto a letter with 69 other Democrats urging President Obama to oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—emphasized that although the national debt clearly needs to be dealt with, it is important that it not be done at the expense of critical social safety net programs. She explained that for many of her constituents, women in particular, “Social Security is their security. Social Security is their groceries…It’s their day-to-day-expenses and so it’s not an option.”  

National Organization for Women (NOW) President Terry O’Neill reminded leaders to look not to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid when deciding how to reduce the national debt but to what is really contributing to the national debt— joblessness (because less jobs means less income tax revenue), Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, and unfunded wars. She also shared a startling statistic—if the chained-CPI adjustment is made to Social Security, 73,400 more people will be in poverty by 2020 as a result, over 54,000 of which will be women.  Asked by a reporter if she thought everything should be on the table in the debt negotiations, O’Neill responded, “Emphatically, no. We do not agree.”

Joan Entmacher, Vice President for Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) brought attention to how much women have been suffering in the recovery since the end of the Great Recession.  While men have been gaining jobs since the end of the Great Recession, women have actually been losing jobs, mainly due to lay-offs in the public sector.  Cuts to vital programs will worsen an already difficult situation for women resulting from policies such as deregulation and taxes on the middle class.

Retired worker and member of the board for the Older Women’s League, Margie Metzler shared a moving personal story of what Social Security and Medicare have meant to her. Laid off at age 62, she found that no one was willing to hire an older woman. Without health insurance or family to support her, she began receiving Social Security, and then Medicare after she turned 65. Hearing talk of cuts to these programs terrifies Margie because she knows she has nothing to spare.  “The reality is they’re saying to me, ‘It’s perfectly fine if you just die.’”

Margie is committed to fighting for these programs that have been such a lifesaver for her and cautioned against reforms such as means-testing that might discourage women in need from applying for aid through programs such as Social Security. “I am not one of those people who says, ‘I have mine. I don’t care about the rest of you… I am going to be fighting for the people behind me,’” said Margie.  “From my standpoint, how can I feel anything but terrified and angry, but I also feel galvanized into action.”

Heidi Reynolds-Stenson is a Research Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Addressing Concerns of Immigrant Women Helps Communities Nationwide

by Claudia Williams

In recent years, the United States has experienced one of the largest waves of immigration in its history. The immigrant population has almost doubled since the 1990’s and the number of undocumented female immigrants has increased significantly. Immigrant women also make up more than half of new legal immigrants arriving to the United States.

While many immigrant women come to the United States in search of better opportunities, they are often vulnerable to poverty and discrimination and face many barriers in their day to day life, making it harder for them to achieve economic security and to advance in their careers.

Public policies are fundamental to integrating immigrant women into U.S. society. The U.S. Congress,  however, has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform to address the complex challenges our current immigration system creates. In the absence of reform at the national level, many states and localities have introduced and passed anti-immigrant legislation. This is particularly unfortunate for immigrant women, who besides sharing risks with their male counterparts also experience particular difficulties that are more common or unique to them.

IWPR recently released a study that identified some of the challenges Latina immigrants face, such as limited proficiency in English, disproportionate exposure to violence and harassment, and lower earnings and rates of educational attainment. Also, as caregivers, immigrant women are more affected than their male counterparts by the lack of affordable and reliable child care and reproductive health services.

IWPR’s research also found that constant fears of deportation and family separation have led many immigrant women to live in the shadows. Immigrant women may be working “under the table,” without having access to quality jobs and educational opportunities, mainly due to their immigration status. Resulting economic instability prevents immigrant women from contributing fully to our society—we lose valuable resources that could help our country move forward.

Advocacy and service organizations working on the ground with immigrants recognize that an overhaul of the current immigration system is needed. However, advocates and researchers also need to focus more on the concerns of immigrant women. In most policy discussions little or nothing is said about how certain policies (such as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), 287(g) and Comprehensive Immigration Reform) would specifically affect women. IWPR’s study found that the limited attention women’s issues receive is an important gap within the immigration grassroots and advocacy movement. Out of 280 organizations interviewed for the IWPR study, only eight advocated with a specific focus on the rights and needs of immigrant women.

A better understanding of women’s challenges and circumstances would represent an important step forward in filling this gap. Many of the issues directly affecting women also affect men and children, so addressing these challenges would be beneficial to the entire immigrant community.

Claudia Williams is a research analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women and the Economy in the 112th Congress

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

Avis Jones-DeWeever speaks at congressional briefing on women.

Avis Jones-DeWeever speaking at congressional briefing on January 21.

On January 21, IWPR co-sponsored a congressional briefing on women’s economic security in the 112th Congress, hosted by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol Hill Visitors’ Center. Several influential women leaders, including IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, discussed hot topics for women and the new congress: taxes and the budget, economic growth and debt, retirement security, Social Security, health care and welfare reform, and equal pay. The event was organized by IWPR and the Older Women’s Economic Security Task Force of the National Council of Women’s Organizations. Dr. Lenora Cole, IWPR’s Board Chair and the Director of the Women’s Bureau with the U.S. Department of Labor under President Reagan, served as moderator.

All the speakers were passionate about the urgency of the current financial situation—and the need to provide support to those in need. Avis Jones-DeWeever, Executive Director of the National Council of Negro Women, pointed out that 1 in 7 Americans now live in poverty.

Joan Kuriansky, Executive Director of Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), advocated for investments in adult education and microenterprise, as well as for an increase in the national minimum wage. She pointed to the gender wage gap, citing stats that Latinas earn just 59 percent of what white men earn. “Even controlled for hours, family commitments, and types of jobs, women aren’t receiving equal pay,” said Kuriansky.

The dialog also focused on current support programs, such as Social Security. IWPR President Heidi Hartmann pointed out that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit—an important point that media tends not to acknowledge—adding that health care expenditures may be rising rapidly, but not those of Social Security.

Speaking on Social Security, Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW) called it “our most successful program.” She also pointed to the “pension gap” that women face after a lifetime of unequal pay.

The event attracted a packed room of Hill staffers, including from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee and the Senate Special Committee on Aging.  Also in attendance were leaders and staff from advocacy and policy organizations, including the NWLC, Legal Momentum, Progressive Congress, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Economic Policy Institute, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and the Women’s Research and Education Institute (WREI).

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

Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, An Important Milestone for Women

Nancy Pelosi button
Button of Nancy Pelosi as Rosie the Riveter (used with permission).

Elated, awed, in tears of joy. These words pretty much describe how I have felt these past few days as I’ve been privileged to be able to attend several of the events organized to celebrate the election of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. And while everyone I’ve discussed these events with has been similarly thrilled, I also note the criticism that has come that Speaker Pelosi is making too big a deal–huh?
First woman speaker of the house ever, second in line to the Presidency (after Vice President Cheney) and we are all making too big a deal? This is just the first wave of the many critiques she will receive, all of which will be conditioned by her gender. Women leaders and all feminists have a role to play in speaking out in support of Pelosi and other women members of Congress when they are attacked for being where some think they don’t belong–in the halls of power!
Please join me in a New Year’s Resolution to support our women members of Congress with our voices and actions in 2007. At only 16 percent in both the House and the Senate, women have still not achieved a 20 percent share, a proportion that many observers think would indicate that women have advanced beyond the token stage in which they can be relatively easily marginalized (see the CAWP site at Rutgers University for more data on women’s office holding).
- Heidi Hartmann

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