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Rallying Together Around Issues Critical to Women and Families at NOW Conference 2012

IWPR staff and interns attended the NOW Conference in June.

By Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) had the opportunity to participate in the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) national conference in Baltimore, Maryland in June. The annual conference is the largest gathering of women’s groups and advocates in the country and attracted several accomplished leaders in women’s policy and advocacy, including Representative Carolyn Maloney, Dr. Bernice “Bunny” Sandler (responsible for the enactment of Title IX), political strategist and MSNBC commentator Krystal Ball, and playwright and women’s advocate Eve Ensler.

By participating in or moderating a number of conference panels and presentations, IWPR researchers and other policy experts facilitated a “Mothers and Caregivers Summit” that took place over two days of the three-day convention. With the country on the steps of a possible care crisis as Baby Boomers begin to age, raising awareness on issues related to mothers and caregivers is particularly timely. This also being an election year, it is a crucial time to shine the spotlight on the importance of economic and family supports for women, who are more likely than men to act as caregivers for children and older relatives.

The conference summit consisted of four panel discussions on topics including the importance of family leave and paid sick days for the well-being of women and their children, trends in women’s employment such as occupational segregation and the gender wage gap, family economic and retirement security, and means to improve access to quality jobs for women and people of color. IWPR staff presentations from the summit can be found on IWPR’s website.

In one of the first panel discussions of the conference, IWPR Research Analyst Claudia Williams and Helen Luryi, Work and Family Policy Associate at the National Partnership for Women and Families, discussed the progress of state-level of paid sick days campaigns across the nation. Williams highlighted the importance of this legislation in reducing contagion, ultimately benefiting employee productivity and reducing health care costs, as found in IWPR’s cost-benefit analyses of paid sick days policies. IWPR has analyzed the impact of a nationwide paid sick days policy on health care costs and employment, as well as the cost-benefits of paid sick days legislation in states and cities considering such laws (including New York State, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Denver, Colorado). Nationwide, access to paid sick days could save approximately $1 billion in health care costs according to a November 2011 report from IWPR.

In discussing other topics such as the gender wage gap, Social Security modernization, unemployment insurance, asset-building, and jobs in the “green” industry, IWPR researchers were joined by other experts such as Dr. Martha Burk, who spoke about her role in the push for paycheck fairness in New Mexico, and Web Phillips of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, who discussed proposed reforms to Social Security and ways in which they would help or harm women and their families.

In May, the NCPSSM, the NOW Foundation, and IWPR released a report that looked at the challenges facing older women and called for affordable changes to modernize Social Security to better support women’s economic security. Recommendations included improving survivor benefits, providing Social Security credits for caregivers, providing a more adequate benefit to those who have spent most of their working lives in low-wage employment, and restoring student benefits to children of disabled or deceased workers until age 22 when the child is attending college/vocational school full time.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann receiving the NOW Woman of Vision award on Saturday, June 30, 2012. Photo courtesy NOW/NOW Foundation.

This year’s NOW conference, titled with the theme “Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women!” called upon the next generation of young advocacy leaders to speak up on issues important to women. But the conference was also an opportunity to look back on significant accomplishments and achievements. Several women’s leaders were honored for their work, including IWPR’s Dr. Heidi Hartmann, who received the NOW Woman of Vision Award for significant contributions towards improving the lives of women and girls in the United States. The award’s honorees have a strong commitment to women’s issues and have, over time, developed, communicated, and realized their vision by engaging with other leaders in women’s policy and advocacy. “I am deeply honored to be recognized by the National Organization for Women and to have the importance of economic issues for women be given visibility by this award,” said Dr. Hartmann.

IWPR thanks NOW for organizing a successful and engaging conference! We look forward to continuing to energize and inform conversations and dialogues on women’s issues as the year unfolds. Watch for upcoming IWPR research on women and caregiving, as well as on work/family supports, access to paid sick days, and access to quality employment for women and minorities. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay informed!

Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon is the Communications 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.

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