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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.

Small Steps Forward in Job Gains, But Not Enough to Close Gender Gap

road signs for recession and recoveryBy Caroline Hopper

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data, showing 65,000 of the 120,000 jobs gained last month went to women. While I welcome this news, I would like to take a step back and examine the full picture before celebrating. The numbers also show that 339,000 women have dropped out of the labor market and the gender job gap remains at 1.5 million jobs.

During what has been an extended recovery from the recent economic crisis, men have gained a significantly larger  number of jobs than women. Since October of 2009, when men and women showed similar total job numbers, men have gained over 1.5 million more jobs than women, according to IWPR. In fact, just in the past year, women have filled only 30 percent of the 1.6 million jobs added to payrolls.

Women Abandoned Job Market

As a college student during final exams week, these statistics leave me deflated. It’s hard to stay motivated during sleepless nights in the library, working towards a degree and a profession, with these numbers looming over my head. The outlook for anyone to find a job after college is not good and for me, as a woman, it may be even worse. Once in the job market, women also face a gender wage gap that can cut deeply into their lifetime earnings—leaving them behind in their retirement years.

I’m not alone in this discouragement. According to BLS data, from October to November, 339,000 women stopped looking for work and dropped out of the labor market. Meanwhile, 23,000 men starting working or combing the classifieds for job postings. This could be a cause for some of the apparent improvement in unemployment rates (which fell for both women and men).

According to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, those who have abandoned the job market recently might be teachers or other employees who have been laid off from the public sector. IWPR research found that at the local level, between December 2008 and July 2011, the number of women in public sector employment  decreased by 4.7 percent while the number of men  decreased by only 1.6 percent. The majority of employees in the local public sector are elementary and secondary teachers.

Balancing Act for Women Has Gotten More Difficult

Another factor leading to these departures from the job market is the difficulty for women with obligations to care for children or for elderly parents to find a job that will accommodate their needs in a poor economy. For a woman, it is now even harder to try to do it all, balancing family and career.

According to an IWPR/Rockefeller Foundation survey released in October, women are less willing to move or accept a longer commute for a new job (54 percent of women would accept an increase in commuting time compared with 64 percent of men). Single mothers are much more willing to learn a new skill (85 percent) than to accept a job with lower pay (51 percent) or have a longer commute to work (55 percent).

So, while women did gain more jobs than men this month, these numbers are only one frame of an economy that is leaving many women unemployed—and possibly facing the expiration of their unemployment benefits. And, while job opportunities increased proportionally for women last month, it is also crucial to note that job growth remained quite slow for all. After all, the recovery should not be a competition between men and women. Rather, I hope that the recovery may lift our entire nation.

Caroline Hopper is a Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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.

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. 

Women Workers in a Post-Walmart World

By Katherine Kimpel

Last week, the Supreme Court issued a decision that makes it harder for women in the workplace to protect their rights to be free from discrimination.  In reaching their decision in Dukes v. Walmart, the Justices—the five men who wrote the majority opinion, notably overruling the objections of all three women on the court— assumed that discrimination in the workplace just doesn’t really happen that much anymore. But Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the other men on the court didn’t cite any evidence, didn’t refer to any studies, or even bother to tell any anecdote to back up that claim. They didn’t bother to contend with the fact that individuals and government agencies continually litigate, prove, and then settle or win employment discrimination cases—cases that show that discrimination is, alas, alive and well.

For example, just last year a jury in New York federal court delivered a unanimous verdict against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, finding that the corporation had discriminated against female employees in pay and promotions, and had discriminated against pregnant employees. Although the over $250 million dollars resulting from that verdict was significant, even more important were the 23 pages of changes to policies and procedures that the company later agreed to in order to settle the case.

You see, the brave women who stood up to Novartis to bring that lawsuit helped more than themselves.  They helped the other women at Novartis, by getting the company to change. They helped other women working in the pharmaceutical industry, by sending a message to employers that discrimination will not be tolerated and that litigation can result in just and heavy penalties. And they helped the government, by holding a global corporation accountable to our federal civil rights laws.

Congress knew, when drafting the civil rights laws, that we could never expect the government to shoulder enforcement by itself. They created a system where individual Americans could stand up and act as private attorneys general—essentially privatizing, in part, the enforcement of equal opportunity. However, had last week’s Supreme Court decision in Dukes v. Walmart been the law of the land in 2010 when Novartis was decided, the brave plaintiffs in the case may not have been successful, and the changes at Novartis may never have happened.

For women workers in a post-Walmart world, it is undeniable that the scales are weighted more heavily in favor of corporations, scaling back the progress for which our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers fought so valiantly. That sad fact does not relieve us of responsibility; instead, it simply means that we will all have to fight harder and with more determination than before.

On a day-to-day basis, this fight takes shape in advocating for yourselves in negotiating starting salaries, demanding rightful raises, and pushing aggressively for promotions. This fight takes shape in developing trusted coworkers who will help you benchmark your compensation and better understand the ladders to success. This fight takes shape in keeping detailed records of all of this and of your employers responses, good or bad, so that if the day comes when you or they need to get outside help, you’re ready. This fight takes shape in refusing to be silent when you or a coworker is underpaid, passed over for promotion, subjected to harassment, or disproportionately disciplined.

All of those things are necessary and good, but they are not enough. Women workers— indeed, all workers—in a post-Walmart world need to be proactive about this affront to our fundamental right to equal opportunity. Educate family and friends, write letters to your local paper, and contact your elected representatives to let them know you’re paying attention, you’re concerned, and you expect the Supreme Court’s over-reaching on behalf of corporations to be corrected.

Justice Scalia and the four other men of the majority got it wrong when they assumed that our world is a better place than it is, when they assumed that discrimination doesn’t happen anymore. They got it wrong when they decided that protecting corporations was more important than protecting individual Americans, be they men or women of any race. But the underlying faith in people wasn’t entirely misplaced. Every day, I work with men and women whose bravery to stand up for what is right inspires me. The moment now calls for the rest of us to also stand up to a Supreme Court that has gone too far.

Katherine M. Kimpel is a Partner of Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP, a national law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and California.  Ms. Kimpel received her law degree from Yale Law School in 2006. She served as class counsel in the Velez v. Novartis gender discrimination case and authored the amicus brief on behalf of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce in Dukes v. Walmart. Before joining Sanford Wittels & Heisler in 2007, Ms. Kimpel served as Special Counsel to Senator Russell Feingold on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she handled criminal justice and other civil rights issues for the Senator.

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.

Young Women Need Paid Sick Days (Too)

by Claudia Williams

While some workers lacking paid sick leave can take time off without losing pay, many lose pay when they are out sick and cannot afford to take a single day off. This is particularly the case for young women. At an early stage in their careers, many younger women workers are living day to day and others juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.  With limited wealth and savings, a large debt from college or even a steady income, younger women often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when illness strikes. Younger women are often not in a position to take lower pay when sick, especially when medical expenses are involved.

While part-time and low-income workers’ concerns are widely discussed, the needs of younger workers are almost unheard of, as it is usually assumed that their health status—without the burdens of chronic health conditions and age—is excellent, and that they don’t yet have care giving responsibilities.

Data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), however, shows that young workers need paid sick days just like everyone else. In fact, of those private sector workers that reported having fair or poor health, 30 percent were 35 years or younger and a larger portion were young women (18 percent compared to 12 percent for young men). The same data show that a majority of young workers lack paid sick days; only 37 percent have paid sick days, compared to 58 percent of all workers.

Across the board, younger workers have limited access to paid sick days, no matter what they do for living, what their schedule looks like, or the size of the business they work for. For instance, whether young workers are employed in high-end jobs like legal occupations or in lower paying occupations like  health support, data from the NHIS show that only one out of five workers with paid sick days in those occupations are  between 18 and 35 years old.

For younger workers concentrated in traditionally low-income occupations or small businesses, the picture is even grimmer. Along with part-timers, these workers are most often afflicted, and women are overrepresented in this type of work arrangement. The outlook is especially challenging for young women with care giving responsibilities on top of lower earnings: paid sick days are even more essential for them to to stay afloat. For single mothers, usually with limited resources and often living in poverty, having paid sick days can make a big difference when medical problems arise.

Paid sick days are essential to all workers, but even more so to those with limited resources, including younger workers who are more vulnerable and have fewer resources than many of their older counterparts.

Claudia Williams is a Research Analyst with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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