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Top 5 Recent IWPR Findings

By Jennifer Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Students with Children Need Campuses with Child Care

By Elisa Garcia

The Obstacles Facing Student Parents

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

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

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

Child Care Crucial to Success of Student Parents

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

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

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

Breaking the Cycle

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

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

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

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

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

New Cop on the Beat: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

It has been a year since the passage of the Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights, also known as the Credit Card Act. Along with Wall Street reform and the creation of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it just might now be easier to avoid financial traps.

By Robert Drago

I’ll admit it: I know more about the ingredients in the food I eat than the fine print governing my credit card. I sincerely doubt that I am alone, and most of the time, this is not a problem. Until financial disaster struck the United States in 2007, I shared with many Americans a presumption that the system is fair and reasonable, and that I did not need to read the fine print.  But it seems that things were getting out of hand.  I’m happy to say that help is on the way.

Prior to passage of the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, lenders were increasingly using mountains of fine print to increase charges to credit card holders and other borrowers. If you went over your credit card limit, the bank could simply pay the amount, charge you special fees for having gone over, raise the interest rate on your existing balances, and downgrade your credit score.

Debit cards once seemed like a solution to these problems, since you can only spend what is in a bank account. But in fact banks often allowed cardholders to run overdrafts and then charged extra  fees. Even such apparently transparent words as “fixed rate” or “prime rate” did not necessarily have their common sense definitions, because they could be redefined in any way the bank or mortgage lender pleased – in the fine print.

Lower down the economic ladder, things were often not fair or reasonable. Twenty-nine percent of Americans do not even have a credit card. Some of those individuals are financially solvent, but many are not (not that all credit cardholders are either) and, surprisingly, they have lots of credit options.

Targeting Low-Income Groups Subprime and Subpar Mortgages

Check out a payday lending site, and you will discover how to sign over your car for cash, obtain a debit card that provides cash advances (huh?), get a check cashed the same day, get a payday loan or, if that’s not enough, get an installment loan. If these all sound like such bad ideas, since the consumer ends up paying steep fees and high interest rates, that no one would use them, think again: millions of Americans are living hand-to-mouth and are relying on these services and often going deeper and deeper into debt as a result.

And sometimes unscrupulous marketers target unsuspecting people for higher interest loans when they could have qualified for lower cost loans.  Studies show that in 2006, 61% of subprime home loans went to people who could have qualified for loans with better terms.  Women and people of color had more subprime mortgages at all income levels than white men.

A Better Ally for Consumers

As we go forward from this financial crisis, we need to know what we are and will be paying in interest and fees for any type of loan. And that is where the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) comes in. Under the leadership of Elizabeth Warren, Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard University who long advocated for its creation, CFPB is gearing up for full-scale operations in July of this year. The new CFPB will emphasize the value of transparency, of letting the sun shine in, and this will help all of us.

Financial reform is not about making lenders pay for past misdeeds and shenanigans, although some of that perhaps should occur. It is instead the promise of the public knowing what they are getting into when they sign up for a credit card, take out a mortgage, or get one of those debit cards with cash advances.  Individuals and families will have a far better idea of whether they should or should not take on such debt. Those who should not be taking on debt will be more likely to avoid it, and those who should will be more likely to be able to do so with a clear understanding of the costs. Our economy will not recover until consumers feel secure, until they feel like the rules of the financial game are clear and not subject to change without notice. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau holds the promise of helping to do just that.

The CFPB is one important piece of the puzzle involved in rebuilding our economy, and an extremely important one for women, who have often been a disproportionate share of the victims of poor practices in the industry and of outright scams.

Robert Drago is the Director of Research with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

IWPR’s Top Five Findings of 2010

by Jennifer Clark

1.  The recent recession was not predominantly a “mancession.”

While men represented the majority of job losses during the recession, IWPR’s research shows that single mothers were almost twice as likely as married men to be unemployed.  Another IWPR briefing paper examines how the “Great Recession” was an equal opportunity disemployer, doubling nearly every demographic group’s unemployment rate. In many families, women increasingly became the primary breadwinner, but they still spent more time in unpaid household labor than men. This imbalance of effort at home persists whether men are employed or not.

2. Only 12 percent of single mothers in poverty receive cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

In the briefing paper, “Women in Poverty During the Great Recession,” IWPR shows that the numbers of single mothers in poverty receiving TANF assistance varies in the states. In Louisiana, only four percent of single mothers in poverty have TANF assistance. While in Washington, DC, the jurisdiction where impoverished mothers have the highest enrollment, still only 40 percent of single mothers receive any cash assistance through TANF.

3. Community colleges would need to increase the supply of child care on campus at least 10-fold to meet the current needs of students.

More than one-quarter of the students at community colleges have children, yet the supply of child care on campus does not meet the current needs of students. For many student parents, community college is an avenue to better jobs that allow them to support their families. As part of IWPR’s current project on post-secondary education, IWPR released a fact sheet in June, which noted that the proportion of community colleges providing on-campus care for the children of students decreased between 2001 and 2008, despite the great need.

4.  Young women are now less likely to work in the same jobs as men.

Reversing the progress made by earlier cohorts of young women entering the labor market, younger women today are now less likely to work in traditionally male and integrated occupations, which tend to pay better than traditionally female occupations. When told that traditionally male occupations pay more, women receiving workforce training said they would choose the higher paying job. In addition, women earn less than men in all but four of 108 occupational categories including in occupations-such as nursing and teaching-where women represent the majority of workers.

5. The majority of all likely voters support paid sick days.

IWPR’s new study shows that, while 69 percent of likely voters-including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents-endorse laws to provide paid sick days, two-fifths of all private sector workers lack this benefit. IWPR’s research also shows preventing workplace contagion of communicable diseases-such as influenza or H1N1-by providing paid sick days will save employers and the US economy millions of dollars.

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

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