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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.

In Memoriam: Mariam K. Chamberlain, 1918–2013

MKC HeadshotBy Jennifer Clark

Dr. Mariam K. Chamberlain, a founding member of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the founding president of the National Council for Research on Women, was the driving force behind the cultivation and sustainability of the women’s studies field of academic research. She is the namesake of IWPR’s prestigious Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship for Women in Public Policy, which trains young women for successful careers in research. Throughout her life, Dr. Chamberlain fought discrimination, established new roles for women, and championed the economic analysis of women’s issues. She passed away on April 2, 2013, at 94, just a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday, following complications from heart surgery.

A Lifetime of Lifting Up Women’s Voices in Academia and Research

The daughter of Armenian immigrants, Mariam Kenosian Chamberlain was born and raised in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a working class suburb of Boston. Interest in the prevailing conditions of the depression led her to economics. She attended Radcliffe College on a scholarship and worked as a research assistant in the summers for Wassily Leontief, who later won the Nobel Prize in economics. During World War II, she worked at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), on the staff of a “brain trust” of economists and other social scientists assembled by General William (“Wild Bill”) Donovan to aid in the war effort. As part of the research and analysis branch, she worked on estimates of enemy, military, and industrial strength.

In 1950, Mariam Chamberlain received her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, making her one of the few women of her generation to earn a Ph.D. in the field. In 1956, Dr. Chamberlain joined the Ford Foundation, where she served as a program officer in Economic Development and Administation, and then Education and Public Policy, until 1981. While at Ford, she spearheaded the funding of the academic women’s research and women’s studies movement; she is said to have provided nearly $10 million in support of new feminist initiatives. Her projects fostered a new analysis of women’s position in society, expanded women’s choices in the university, and supported the development of equality in law. She played a major role in building the academic infrastructure necessary to better understand women’s experiences and inform improved policies for women. In short, she paved the way for organizations like IWPR to thrive, and stocked the research pipeline with skilled women and men who have made important contributions to the study of women and public policy.

Economics and the elimination of discrimination against women around the world remained the heart of her wide-ranging activities. After leaving the Ford Foundation in 1982, she headed the Task Force on Women in Higher Education at the Russell Sage Foundation. The Task Force’s work culminated in a published volume, Women in Academe: Progress and Prospects. Before leaving Ford, she had funded an initial meeting of a group of women’s research centers. That meeting established the National Council for Research on Women, which unanimously elected her its first president. She served in that role until 1989, after which she continued to go into the office every day as Founding President and Resident Scholar.

Mariam K. Chamberlain (left) with Angela Carlberg, the 2007-2008 Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow (center) and Susan McGee Bailey (bottom right) of the Wellesley Centers for Women, at Dr. Chamberlain’s 90th birthday bash in New York City in 2008.

Mariam K. Chamberlain (left) with Angela Carlberg, the 2007-2008 Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow (center) and Susan McGee Bailey (bottom right) of the Wellesley Centers for Women, at Dr. Chamberlain’s 90th birthday bash in New York City in 2008.

A Legacy of Training the Next Generation of Women Policy Researchers

IWPR owes much to Dr. Chamberlain. In 1987, Dr. Heidi Hartmann founded IWPR out of a need for comprehensive, women-focused, policy-oriented research. Dr. Chamberlain, who dedicated her career to lifting up women’s voices in academia, recognized the importance of a policy research institute centered on women, grounded by social science methodology, economics, and rigorous data analysis. Applying academic research to inform better policies for women was a natural extension of Dr. Chamberlain’s work, and she became a founding member of IWPR and served on its Board of Directors for nearly 20 years.

IWPR endowed the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship in Women and Public Policy to recognize the legacy of Dr. Chamberlain’s tireless efforts to open doors for the women researchers who came after her. Nearly 20 young women have gained valuable research experience as Fellows at IWPR since the beginning of the Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellowship. Past Mariam K. Chamberlain scholars have gone on to hold positions at government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Congressional Research Service, earn advanced degrees from universities such as Harvard University, Columbia University, Stanford University, The George Washington University, and Brown University. Rhiana Gunn-Wright, IWPR’s current Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow, was just recently named a 2013 Rhodes Scholar. The fellowship has allowed IWPR to expand its research capacity, strengthen its commitment to cultivating the next generation of women researchers and leaders, and ensure that a pipeline of experienced women researchers are at the policy-making table.

The fellowship helps sustain Dr. Chamberlain’s legacy, built on the belief that relying on credible data and research, rather than anecdote and bias, leads to better policies for working women, which in turn contribute to improved long-term outcomes for their families. May she not only rest in peace, but rest assured that, because of her efforts, there are many more women able to take up the torch she leaves behind.

Social Security on the Rocks: What’s at Stake for Younger Women

By Jennifer Clark

For many young working women, retirement security rests at the bottom of a lengthy priority list loaded with seemingly more pressing concerns. These include finding a satisfying, well-paying job, negotiating a raise and, for many, juggling family responsibilities with career advancement. Social Security, a government program associated with older Americans, might seem even more abstract to demographic whose retirement years are quite a few decades away. But as a panel of experts explained to an engaged crowd of young professional women recently, women face unique challenges in retirement and, for women of all ages, the future of Social Security is a shared concern.

The panel—hosted by the Women’s Information Network (WIN), a professional network of women in Washington, DC—featured young women experts and advocates who debunked common myths about Social Security and pointed out sobering facts about the program’s critical role in ensuring economic security in retirement. (View IWPR’s Flickr to see photos from the event)

Ensuring Your Retirement Security Starts Now

Lara Hinz of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) started with an overview of the unique challenges women face in retirement. Women live longer, earn less, and have less in savings or pensions. In addition, women are more likely to spend time out of the workforce, work in part-time jobs, and live alone in retirement, all of which increase women’s  risk of poverty in old age. Then Hinz delivered a wake-up call to the room of young working women: even women who live comfortably in their working years may be poor in retirement. Social Security then plays a vital role in retirement security for women. One in four unmarried women in retirement receive all of their income from Social Security benefits and, without access to Social Security, 58 percent of women over the age of 75 would be living below the poverty line.

Social Security is Your Insurance Plan for Retirement

With 90 percent of women making less than $55,000 per year, nonexistent savings is a real risk to retirement security. Social Security, as Kathryn Edwards from the Economic Policy Institute noted, helps mitigate the risks associated with income insecurity in retirement. But what exactly is Social Security? “Saying that Social Security is money older Americans receive from the government is like saying the Pentagon is the largest office building in the world. It’s not wrong, it’s just not the full picture,” explained Edwards, who is writing  a forthcoming EPI textbook for young Americans on Social Security. Social Security is an insurance program, which helps protect workers and their families from the risks—old age, disability, or death—associated with not being able to work.

For young Americans, Social Security is not just money that older Americans receive from the government, Edwards stressed, “this is your insurance that you are already paying into.”

Especially Vital to Women of Color

While women in general face unique challenges in retirement, Youngmin Yi from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research discussed how women of color face challenges that are particularly intense, making Social Security even more important to this demographic. Black women in particular experience higher rates of disability and are more likely than other women to live alone in old age. Seventeen percent of black women between the ages of 65 and 74 are currently living in poverty; without Social Security, 50 percent of black women in this age range would be living in poverty. Latinas also face more pronounced challenges in retirement, as they are more likely to work in low-wage jobs without pensions and are most likely to live longer than other groups of women. Social Security is the most common source of income for older Latinas, further underscoring the critical value of Social Security.

Countering Political Rhetoric with Informed Voters

If Social Security is a vital and efficient, insurance program, then why is it in crisis? Well, it’s not. It’s actually running a surplus—a big one—at $2.6 trillion. Melissa Byrne from the Strengthen Social Security Campaign pointed to current policy proposals that could potentially threaten Social Security’s long-term solvency and to how young women can join the effort to defend the program from future cuts. Far from strengthening Social Security, Byrne noted, efforts at means testing the program—reducing or eliminating benefits for those defined as “affluent”— would undermine Social Security as a universal insurance program, turning the system into a government welfare program. To many people, regardless of political leanings, raising the retirement age seems like a reasonable compromise to ensure Social Security’s long-term solvency. However, raising the full retirement age to 69 is a 13 percent benefit cut, a fact which rarely shows up in talking points (except these).

To ensure that these ideas do not become policy, Byrne suggested that young women stay informed, and most importantly, vote.

Resources for Staying Informed

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

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