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Shining a Light on the Wage Gap

HHFifty years after the Equal Pay Act, employment discrimination persists but is harder to see.

By Dr. Heidi Hartmann

When the Equal Pay Act (EPA) was passed 50 years ago, discrimination was, in many ways, openly accepted in the workplace and women were expected to earn less than men in the same jobs. The EPA signed by President John F. Kennedy on June 10, 1963, helped to reduce this type of blatant employment discrimination, but it is still present and the wage gap persists.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) was founded 25 years ago, at the end of the 1980s, the decade which saw the most sustained narrowing of the gender wage gap since passage of the EPA. Between 1981 and 1990, the gender wage gap closed by more than ten percentage points. In the most recent decade, progress has stalled and the gap narrowed by no more than one percentage point.

There is no single cause for the pay gap. Jobs dominated by women pay less than jobs dominated by men. Over their lifetimes, women still take off more time from paid work for family care than men. Women also still face subtle—and not so subtle—discrimination when they do the similar work to men. Direct discrimination is still estimated to account for between one quarter and 40 percent of the wage gap, according to several reviews of social science research.

Employers can no longer advertise jobs at different rates for men and women. But paying women less for similar performance, giving women less access to career-enhancing opportunities, and making it harder for women to get promoted are practices that continue to hinder progress towards equal pay.

Tackling those types of employment discrimination is surprisingly difficult because employees may still be fired simply for discussing their earnings with a colleague or coworker. In an age when information sharing has become widespread and hearing about a major life event over social networking is not uncommon, exchanging pay information remains frowned upon by many employers. Pay secrecy allows disparities, discrimination, and unequal pay to hide under the rug.

President Kennedy hands out pens at the White House signing of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963.  Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

President John F. Kennedy hands out pens at the White House signing of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

According to an IWPR/Rockefeller survey, half of all workers (51 percent of women and 47 percent of men) report that the discussion of wage and salary information is either discouraged or prohibited and/or could lead to punishment. The Equal Pay Act does not protect workers against retaliation for sharing salary information with their co-workers. In the public sector, where pay information is publicly available, a smaller pay gap exists compared to the private sector.

The 2009 Lily Ledbetter Act provides that every paycheck that pays a woman less than a male colleague for equal or similar work can be challenged in court, but the act did not address pay secrecy. Ledbetter worked for a company that prohibited the discussion of one’s salary. After 18 years on the job, Ledbetter sued when, in an anonymous note from a coworker, she received evidence that she was being paid unfairly. The Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in the last Congress, but failed to pass to a vote in the Senate. This bill would have protected workers against retaliation for sharing pay information.

Women don’t have the time to wait to earn the same as men because their families need the money now. According to the most recent estimate from IWPR, however, the wage gap is not expected to close until 2057. Many women working today will never see equal pay, harming their long-term earnings and leaving them with lower retirement income.

In an age where women in the United States are almost half the workforce, are more likely to gain higher levels of education than men, and increasingly are the main or co-breadwinner in families, we cannot wait for another 44 years for the gender wage gap to be finally relegated to the history books.

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

The Real Value of In-Home Care Work in the United States

Care worker with elderly womanBy Caroline Dobuzinskis

Baby Boomers, estimated at nearly 80 million in the United States, began turning 65 in 2011.By 2020, the population of older adults is expected to grow to 55 million from 40.4 million in 2010. As more women enter the labor force and fewer are able to care for older family members, providing in-home care to the growing aging population, as well as the disabled and chronically ill, is becoming more critical to a robust U.S. economy.

A new briefing paper by IWPR, “Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice,” outlines these challenges but emphasizes that, despite the growing demand, in-home care work jobs continue to be undervalued and underpaid.

While often working long hours to care for others, many in-home care workers cannot afford to take care of their own needs. According to IWPR’s analysis, the median weekly earnings for all female in-home care workers are $308, compared with $560 for all female workers in the U.S. workforce. In-home care workers are also excluded from coverage by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal law that helps ensure basic standards of living for U.S. workers by requiring employers to pay minimum wages and provide overtime compensation.

The general lack of value placed on paid care work is due to a number of complex factors. Research suggests that what is seen as traditionally women’s labor, at all skill levels, reaps lower economic rewards. The simple fact that the majority of paid care work is performed by women could contribute to its lower average wages. Care work also blurs the lines between formal and informal labor, which can result in the workers being perceived as part of the family and make it more difficult for them to set boundaries that define the requirements and terms of their jobs.

Many in-home care workers are immigrants who may lack pathways to legal status, leaving them vulnerable to low levels of pay and to abuses from employers. According to IWPR research analysis, 90 percent of home health care aides in the United States are women, 56 percent are women of color, and 28 percent are foreign-born with the vast majority (60 percent) migrating from Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the fact that these immigrant workers are filling an essential labor gap, many remain undocumented and without clear access to citizenship or visa status. Many domestic worker and immigrant groups are waiting to see if Congress will address this issue.

Among the recommendations in IWPR’s report, Increasing Pathways to Legal Status for Immigrant in-Home Care Workers (published February 2013), is an increase in the number and types of immigration visas available to immigrant care workers to help fill the labor shortage in the U.S. industry. The most recent immigration deal being crafted the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of U.S. senators tasked with finding immigration reform solutions, includes an option to provide temporary work visas to undocumented immigrants performing essential, low-skilled labor.

IWPR’s briefing paper, “Women and the Care Crisis: Valuing In-Home Care in Policy and Practice,” proposes several changes that would improve circumstances for all care workers and recipients, as well as the industry as whole, including:

1. Encouraging public dialogue about the growing need for care work and the skills and contributions of those who provide in-home care

2. Improving estimates of the value of unpaid care work and making the public more aware of this work’s critical importance to the nation’s economy.

3. Implementing public policies that affirm the value of care work and those who provide it.

4. Creating more quality in-home care work jobs that will improve the employment prospects of the female workforce, help to reduce inequality, and strengthen the U.S. economy overall.

Many groups and organizations, such as Caring Across Generations, support improved workers rights for care workers nationwide. New York State passed a law entitling domestic workers to, among other provisions, a minimum wage, pay for overtime hours, one day of rest for every seven days, and at least three paid leave days per year after one year of work for the same employer. Further policies are still needed that affirm the value of care work in order to reduce the inequality in wages for these workers and strengthen the U.S. economy overall.

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

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

By Anlan Zhang, Tonia Bui, and Cynthia Hess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Recession and Older Americans

by Betsy Keating

According to recent Senate testimony from a panel of experts, older Americans are under enormous financial strain and would be severely impacted by cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare. A participant in a program for employing older Americans also gave moving testimony on the difficulties older Americans have in entering the job market.

Raising Public Awareness on the Struggles of Older Americans

On Tuesday October 18, IWPR President Heidi Hartmann testified on a panel entitled “The Recession and Older Americans: Where Do We Go from Here” before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) began the hearing by stressing his desire to raise public awareness of seniors’ struggles in the recession and recovery, particularly regarding their employment prospects and income levels as well as the role of Social Security in their lives.

In her testimony, Barbara Bovbjerg, Managing Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), shared findings from a GAO report on the income security of older Americans between 2007 and 2009. While those over 55 years old are less likely to lose their job than those in other age groups, those who do lose their job have a much harder time in seeking reemployment. The median duration of unemployment for those aged 55 to 64 nearly tripled between 2007 and 2010, from 11 weeks to 31 weeks.

Recession Has Increased Reliance on Social Security

Dr. Hartmann further elaborated on the challenges facing older Americans, drawing on IWPR’s most recent reports that present findings from the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security. Because of the recession and extended unemployment spells, more older workers are drawing on their retirement savings or other assets to survive, leading to a precarious outlook for their futures. Indeed, the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey found that many more men and women now express “a lot” or “a fair amount” of worry about having enough to provide for their retirement years than in 2007.

Older Americans Facing Daily Challenges to Make Ends Meet

Senator Sanders asked the panelists to address the human elements of the statistics by focusing on the daily detrimental effects of unemployment, income loss, and asset depletion for seniors. Gail Ruggles, a Vermont resident and participant in the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), shared her own personal story, poignantly describing the daily struggles of many older workers and the lasting impact that government programs can provide.

In 2008, Ms. Ruggles was juggling five part-time jobs. “My financial situation was awful; no matter how hard I tried on my own, I couldn’t make ends meet,” she said. “I was frustrated and knew I needed help.” After joining SCSEP in 2009, a program authorized by the Older Americans Act originally passed in 1965, Ms. Ruggles found the help she needed; SCSEP placed her in a job at a local non-profit, where she gained valuable job training. This position opened doors to further employment opportunities and gave Ms. Ruggles a sense of confidence in her own abilities to succeed on the job.

With training and skills from SCSEP, Ms. Ruggles now has a full-time position, has begun contributing to a 401(k), and has helped support her two children through college. Not only did SCSEP offer an avenue for her to reenter the workforce, it also gave her the ability to provide for her children’s education and general well-being, something she felt would have been impossible given her financial outlook in 2008.

As Senator Al Franken (D-MN) noted, SCSEP, like many programs authorized under the Older Americans Act, grants older workers a “hand-up” rather than a “hand-out,” allowing them to continue in the labor force and maintain self-sufficiency.

Support Programs Essential to Keep Seniors Above the Poverty Line

For Ms. Ruggles, and many like her, the Older Americans Act has been a key component in regaining a sense of economic security. Other panelists, including Dr. Hartmann, echoed this sentiment in their testimony by stressing the key role of the government in protecting the livelihood and dignity of seniors.

While many seniors are currently experiencing great hardship, their lives would be far worse without the safety net of Social Security and other public assistance programs. Dr. Hartmann pointed out that among those aged 65 and older, one-third of men and half of women rely on Social Security for 80 percent or more of their income.

Without Social Security benefits, many more seniors would fall below the poverty line and be unable to meet their basic needs. Both Senators Franken and Sanders emphasized the importance of continued support from the federal government for seniors, citing the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act and protection of Social Security benefits as crucial means to ensure their economic security.

Betsy Keating is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

After the Great Recession

By Heidi Hartmann

This post was originally published on the Women’s Media Center blog. The economic recovery has yet to begin for American women, according to two reports issued this week by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Here, acclaimed economist Heidi Hartmann, who co-authored the analyses, explains the disturbing findings.

Frequently referred to as a ‘mancession,’ the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 hit men much harder than women initially. Men’s employment fell farther and faster than women’s, as the male dominated construction and manufacturing industries each lost more than a million jobs while the only industry that gained jobs every month was health care, one that employs more women than men.

The recovery period is however a different story.  In the past two plus years since the recession was officially declared over, women lost jobs while men regained some of the jobs they lost.  For women the recovery has not yet begun, and their economic worries have not abated.

It is almost as if women and men have had two different recessions and are now having two different recoveries. Case in point: 50 percent of women aged 18 to 34 report in a recent IWPR survey funded by the Rockefeller Foundation that they were unemployed and looking for work sometime in the past two years; the figure for men in the same age group is 24 percent.  Single moms report experiencing a month or more of unemployment in the past two years at roughly double the percentage of other parents:  42 percent of single moms compared with 21 percent for married dads and 26 percent for married moms.

Both women and men by the millions still report severe economic distress two years into recovery, but women have the worst of it:

  • Ten million women and six million men aged 18 and older report having gone hungry in the past year because they could not afford food.
  • Twelve million women and eight million men have gotten food stamp benefits in the past year.
  • Forty-one million women and 27 million men are currently having difficulty paying for other basics like utilities.

Among Americans lucky enough to have jobs, only 35 percent of single moms, compared with 58 percent of married dads, say they have enough personal savings to cover two months of earnings if they lost that job.  Not so surprising, since we know that single mothers are disproportionately poor—not only do they have multiple mouths to feed but they are typically doing so on their own, without an additional earner.  But here’s a surprise: married mothers report a level of personal financial security more like that of single moms than like that of their husbands: only 31 percent say they have enough savings to cover two months of earnings.

Married moms are just about as likely as single moms to say they are having trouble paying for health care for their families, at 38 percent for single moms and 34 percent for married moms.  But only 17 percent of married dads report they are having trouble paying for their family’s health care.

Looking at the future, both men and women worry about losing health care, not saving enough for retirement, and not having enough to maintain their standard of living in retirement, and both men and women report being substantially more worried about these issues in 2010 than they were in 2007, before the recession began.  But on virtually all types of worries and in both years, women are much more concerned than men. For one example, in 2010, 58 percent of women are worried about not having enough money to live on in retirement, and 43 percent of men are similarly worried.

Although the gender differences are striking, these numbers are shocking for both women and men: 43 percent of men worried about not having enough money to live on in retirement?  Sixteen million adults going hungry in the past year for lack of money? These numbers should simply not be so in the richest nation in the world.

Women’s greater expression of worry fits with so much of what is known about women’s lives.  In this survey, women report experiencing greater hardship across the board:  hunger, not filling medical prescriptions, skipping doctors’ visits, having to double up since the recession began for financial reasons (17 percent of women versus 11 percent of men).  According to Census Bureau data, the typical woman who works full-time, year-round earns only 77 percent of what the typical man earns for full-time work.  Women more often raise children on their own than men do.  Women live longer than men and when older are much more likely than men to live alone and much more likely to be poor.

For many reasons, women living without men in their households have a lower standard of living than married couples or single men. But the differences observed between the experiences of women and men even when they report living in the same type of household—married couples—raise a further concern. Researchers typically measure the well-being of family members by assuming all members of the family share all income equally. The survey results suggest men and women in families may have different access to family resources, or perhaps different family roles (who pays the bills, who takes the child to the doctor) that lead one gender to express more hardship—with women worrying more about not taking a child to the doctor for lack of money, not having savings to cover two months of lost income, not having enough money to live on in retirement. As the sociologist Jessie Bernard observed in 1972, there is his marriage and her marriage and they are not the same.

What do women want?  According to the survey:  jobs, jobs that make it easier to meet family demands, economic security, equal opportunity, workers’ rights, more generous Social Security benefits, and no cuts in either Social Security or Medicare.  The say they will support candidates who will work for legislation on these issues.  Men say the same, but not in quite as large numbers as women.

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

New IWPR/Rockefeller Survey Reveals Need and Support for Social Security Funding

By Zoe Li

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, recently completed a survey of economic security. Retirement on the Edge: Women, Men, and Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession (download the report and other resources from the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security on our website) compiled data from over 2,700 adults to provide a national snapshot of how Americans view retirement and Social Security. The survey, that collected data from over 2,500 respondents in the fall of 2010, revealed that the recent domestic recession has strongly impacted the current financial situations, and prospective financial futures, of many Americans.

In particular, the widespread loss of employment, salaries, and pensions felt across many sectors of the economy has heightened the importance of Social Security to many Americans. In 2010, only 25 percent of women and 35 percent of men not yet retired felt that they were saving enough money for retirement, compared to 34 percent of women and 45 percent of men not yet retired in 2007. This effect is due in no small part to financial losses during the recession: nearly 50 percent of both men and women reported losing money within the last two years, with similar numbers of men and women experiencing some form of unemployment in their households during that same period. Indeed, the predominant reason given for not saving more money for retirement was “I cannot afford to save more for retirement” (69 percent of women, 53 percent of men).

With many American families feeling the pressures of the Great Recession, the study suggests that the very notion of retirement has morphed; no longer regarded as the “golden years” when one could completely stop working, retirement is now considered by many as a change in income streams, not work demands. Seventy-two percent of women and seventy  percent of men not yet retired believe they will keep working even after retirement, while 26 percent of women and 37 percent of men over the age of 60 predicted that they wouldn’t retired until after the age of 70 or that they will never retire at all.

However, this change in the definition of retirement does not reflect a waning of support for Social Security among the American people. Rather, 74 percent of women and 69 percent of men supported paying Social Security taxes to receive benefits from the program upon retirement. An even higher percentage of respondents (88 percent of women and 82 percent of men) said they did not mind paying Social Security taxes to support retired, disabled, orphaned, and widowed Americans. A majority of both men and women surveyed by the study (54 percent and 61 percent, respectively), endorsed increasing Social Security benefits to help Americans who had lost their savings and pensions in the recession. Despite economic hardships experienced within many families, a majority of Americans support Social Security spending not only for their own sakes, but for the wellbeing of others.

And yet the need and support for Social Security found in this study are not well reflected in congressional plans. Congress continues to discuss cutting funding for Social Security without regard to the long-term health of the program. Without strong congressional support for Social Security, the substantial portion of Americans who do not think they have enough money to support themselves in retirement may find themselves in a difficult situation as they age and lose the capacity to work. The will and the hope to ensure Social Security’s survival seems demonstrated in this large-scale survey of the American people—it is up to Congress to translate those sentiments into policy.

Zoe Li is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 

An Unbalanced Debt Deal: Cutting Vital Programs Does Not Address the Deficit

The deal to raise the debt ceiling that may or may not have been reached between President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner should be rejected by members of the House and Senate if it is as unbalanced as is being reported in the press. Supposedly it includes no tax increases and that makes it unbalanced on its face. Rather it includes a promise of future tax reform in exchange for immediate cuts to vital programs.

In general, the White House has been trying to get agreement with Republicans in Congress to balance budget cuts with tax increases as a way to tame annual deficits and contribute to bringing the accumulated debt down as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The White House was asking for $4 trillion in cuts and revenue increases over 12 years, but numbers discussed recently are somewhat more modest and talk of cuts, not tax increases, has dominated.

While the Republicans have refused to accept tax increases, the President has been willing to put large cuts on the table, even suggesting significant cuts in well-loved programs such as Social Security and Medicare. This inclination exists despite the White House’s insistence that Social Security does not contribute to the budget deficit and its Trustees projection that the program will have sufficient funds to pay benefits in full through 2036, even if no changes are made. While Medicare’s future shortfalls are expected to contribute to future budget deficits—if health care costs are not brought under better control—the Trustees of the two plans project that Medicare can pay all benefits through 2024, and an Actuary Office within DHHS moved their estimate from 2017 to 2029 due to the passage of health care reform, even if no further changes are made on the benefit or revenue side.

Any deal that makes significant cuts to the benefits provided by these programs should be rejected. Women are the majority of those receiving benefits from both Medicare and Social Security, primarily because they live longer than men and these programs primarily serve those in their 60s and beyond. IWPR research shows how much women rely on Social Security. More than two-thirds of all women aged 65 and older rely on Social Security for half or more of their income. For men that age, the share is more than half.

Among the cuts to Social Security that may be included in the deal, as reported in the media, is a shift in the cost of living adjustment (COLA) to a smaller measure of inflation which is less accurate than the current price index used to adjust Social Security benefits. Health and aging experts agree that elders face higher than average price inflation because they consume so much health care, yet the proposed switch to the “chained CPI” would reduce benefits.  According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), at age 65 the chained CPI would reduce benefits by 1 percent and, by age 95, it would result in a 10 percent reduction of benefits. Women are twice as likely as men to live to age 95, meaning a benefit cut that accumulates over time, as the chained CPI does, would especially hurt women.

Raising the eligibility age for either Social Security or Medicare amounts to a disastrous cut to seniors and future retirees, who have paid for these benefits throughout their lives. Every one year increase in the eligibility age for Social Security amounts to a seven percent cut in benefits across the board. Lack of health insurance is an enormous problem for older adults. Rates of employer-sponsered health insurance coverage decline beginning at age 50—and continue to decline until the Medicare eligibility age (65) is reached. Raising the eligibility age for Medicare would prolong the period without insurance coverage that many experience just as their health care needs are increasing.

The debt ceiling needs to be raised to enable the federal government to meet obligations it has already incurred. Congress has already approved the budget expenditures that require the ceiling to be raised and they should lift the debt ceiling to allow the budget they voted for to be fully implemented.

Cutting essential programs that do not contribute to the deficit now and will not for at least a decade is a completely unnecessary part of any deal on the debt ceiling. There are many ways of bringing the nation’s debt under control without attacking programs that Americans rely on for survival. Moreover, Americans strongly support these programs and would be willing to pay more in taxes if necessary to preserve current levels of benefits.

Members of Congress who vote for cuts such as these may well find that voters do not agree with their actions.

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., is the President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. he has published numerous articles in journals and books and her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She lectures widely on women, economics, and public policy, frequently testifies before the U.S. Congress, and is often cited as an authority in various media outlets.

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.

Author Finds Technology a Tool Not a Solution in Bridging Divide

By Leah Josephson

People often describe the “digital divide” in terms of high-income individuals’ having access to cutting-edge technology that helps them thrive socially and economically, while low-income individuals are left out. The divide is often cited as a significant source of economic inequality.

At a recent event at Busboys and Poets, Dr. Virginia Eubanks, author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age, critiqued this diagnosis as overly simplistic. The event was co-sponsored by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Teaching for Change, and DC Jobs with Justice.

Eubanks worked with a group of low-income women who are members of the YWCA community in Troy, NY, and asked the women what they needed. The main problem was not the digital divide. Instead, “more buses, less racism, and fairer employment” were the most popular calls for help.

Eubanks expected these women to have few technological skills. Instead, she found two-thirds of them already working in high-tech jobs, such as data entry or network administration. However, these jobs were low-paying, had few benefits, and were unstable. Technology was ubiquitous in their lives, but they could not use it to improve those lives.

Eubanks realized that simply providing technology and training is not enough to improve women’s lives. Rather, projects need to be designed to account for deeply ingrained racial and gender oppression.

Eubanks, informed by the belief that those closest to problems can best find solutions, worked closely with the women to identify their needs. They created a community technology lab for the YWCA, staffed and sustained by residents, as well as what Eubanks called an “Angie’s List for social services providers,” where the women could provide feedback on their experiences at local assistance agencies.

Even so, access to tech tools was not a high priority for the women. They were more concerned with the basic structural and cultural challenges that affected them on a daily basis—a lack of reliable transportation and workplace flexibility, coupled with racist attitudes.

Eubanks emphasized that technology in itself cannot cure these problems, but it can play a positive role. “We all have a stake in the creation of a more just information age,” she said.

Eubanks noted the creation of new, high-end jobs in technological development—touted by politicians including President Obama as the solution to our country’s economic woes—requires the support of more service industry positions in food service, hospitality, and retail. These lower-income jobs must be fair, provide benefits, and allow for work-life balance to meet the needs of workers.

IWPR has identified other basic benefits that can drastically improve the quality of workers’ lives in the shorter term. For women and their families, guaranteed paid maternity leave (the U.S. is one of only five countries worldwide that doesn’t require employers to provide it) and paid sick days could improve health, well-being, and economic stability.

Pay equity is another problem Eubanks identified. The women would often accept minimal compensation for high-tech jobs, hoping to gain the skills necessary for a higher-paid position. In a society where open discussion of salary is often taboo, these women had little opportunity to identify and express grievances, and only rarely advanced in the workplace.

“Technology is not a destination, it’s another site for struggle,” said Eubanks. In making technological advancements we should consider the quality of life of the workers who perform and enable it. Technology can contribute to a more just society, as long as the privileged consciously use it as a tool to support social justice, and not a ready-made engine of social progress.

Leah Josephson is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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