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One on One with Rosa DeLauro, Congresswoman and Champion for Women and Families

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro speaking at IWPR's 25th anniversary event.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro speaking at IWPR’s 25th anniversary event.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is known in Washington, D.C., is a champion for women. Her dedication and continued work to improve policies for women and their families demonstrate why more women should run for office.

Rep. DeLauro represents Connecticut’s Third District, which stretches from the Long Island Sound and New Haven to the Naugatuck Valley and Waterbury. She serves in the Democratic leadership as co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee, and she is the ranking member on the Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. From that position, Rep. DeLauro works to increase support for education and innovation, to fully implement the Affordable Care Act, to protect the rights of employees and unions, and to raise living standards.

Rep. DeLauro has led efforts in Congress to achieve full pay equity for women and to ensure that all employees have access to paid sick days. Soon after earning degrees from Marymount College and Columbia University, she followed her parents’ footsteps into public service, serving as the first Executive Director of EMILY’S List, a national organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in elected office, Executive Director of Countdown ’87, the national campaign that successfully stopped U.S. military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, and as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd.

In 1990, Rep. DeLauro was elected to the House of Representatives, and she has served as the Congresswoman from Connecticut’s 3rd District since. She is married to Stanley Greenberg, President of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a public issues research firm. Their children—Anna, Kathryn and Jonathan Greenberg—all are grown and pursuing careers. They have four grandchildren, Rigby, Teo, Sadie, and Jasper.

Tell me about yourself. What was your personal journey to your current career?

My family always stressed the value of public service. Both of my parents served on the New Haven Board of Aldermen and my mother is the longest serving Alderman—or Alderwoman!—in New Haven’s history. They really imparted to me the importance of giving back to your community and trying to better the world around you.

I have attempted to live up to the example they set throughout my life. For a long time I worked in more of a behind-the-scenes role… Eventually, I decided that I wanted to hold elected office myself and have been privileged to serve in Congress ever since.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievements?

A few things stick out. One is doubling the funding for the National Institutes of Health between 1998 and 2003. As an ovarian cancer survivor, one of my explicit goals when I came to Congress was supporting medical research and the fight against cancer. That doubling has reaped real dividends and we have made amazing progress, but we really need to do it again!

Another was passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Because of that law women’s health care is finally on the same footing as men’s and millions of women will no longer have to pay more for their insurance just because they are a woman. It is truly transformative and people across the country will continue to see more of its benefits in the coming years.

What obstacles did you encounter along your path to a successful career?

While serving as Senator Dodd’s Chief of Staff I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was supposed to be running his reelection campaign and worried about what would happen. When I told Senator Dodd, he was so supportive and told me to take all the time I needed to get better. I will never forget that and it has been a huge part of why I am so driven to ensure all Americans can take time off, without having to fear for their paycheck, when they or a loved one are sick.

How do you think that the landscape has changed for women in the past 25 years or, more recently, in the past decade?

Clearly we have made great strides. Women make up about half of the workforce and we see more women in leadership roles in both the public and private sector—though still far too few!

But women still make just 77 cents for every dollar a man does and make up the majority of minimum-wage workers. This mirrors the growing gap between the wealthiest and poorest in our society. Electing more people to public office who will fight for equal pay, family-friendly workplace policies and better educational opportunities is crucial to righting this.

Are there certain policies to support women that you think are still lacking in the United States?

I have introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in each of the past eight congresses and I will continue fighting for it until we truly have equal pay for equal work. The bill is very simple—it says same job, same pay, regardless of gender. Nearly 50 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law we should not still be having these same battles.

And as I mentioned earlier, we need policies that will make our workplaces more family-friendly and reflect a society where both men and women work outside the home. I have repeatedly introduced legislation to ensure workers can take paid leave when they or a loved one are sick. We have seen similar policies passed in cities across the country and I am hopeful it is only a matter of time before people nationwide have that right.

What are your goals for women in the United States and across the globe?

Women should be recognized for their skills, talents, and intelligence on an equal playing field as men. Girls should have access to education and be encouraged to thrive in those environments. Young women should be paid the same as their male colleagues and have the same opportunities to blaze whatever career path they choose. And older women should have a dignified retirement and not have to make the terrible choice between food, housing, medicine, or other necessities. At times it may seem like a struggle, but I know that one day all of these goals will be reality.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro spoke about “An Economic Agenda for Women’s Equality” at IWPR’s 25th anniversary event on May 22, 2013, at the AFL-CIO in Washington, DC. Watch the full video of the event.

New Guide to Illustrate Women’s Needs in the MENA Region

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

A new toolkit by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research  and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), serves as a guide for the creation, dissemination, and promotion of reports on the status of women in the Middle East and North Africa. Using Research on the Status of Women to Improve Public Policy:A Capacity-Building Toolkit for Nongovernmental Organizations lays out a blueprint for using accurate research on the status of women as a means to shape public policy and give women in the MENA region a voice.

The toolkit, Using Research on the Status of Women to Improve Public Policies, outlines how to:

1. Create a diverse working advisory committee;
2. Identify relevant data sources and key research indicators;
3. Plan and create a press release strategy;
4. Communicate with aligned or peer organizations to push advocacy forward; and
5. Train women for leadership roles through mentorship and other programs.

A report on the status of women is a powerful tool for informing policy decisions. The reports are useful in indicating where women need to be better served through educational and health care systems, and how they can be better integrated into the labor market. International advocates and NGOs, and other individuals and groups in the private and public sectors, have long argued that women’s empowerment and full participation in the economy can help them, their families, and their communities, and can strengthen the productivity and economy of an entire nation.

In September 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the economic cost of lack of inclusion or restrictions to women’s full participation in the economy: “By increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can have a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies,” she said in her remarks to the APEC Conference that year. In October of this year, at a meeting titled “Power—Woman as Engine of Growth & Social Inclusion”,  Clinton cited the economic costs of lack of women’s participation or supports for women in the Asia Pacific, Eurozone, and other regions.

As part of a joint project on the Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa, in 2010, IWPR and IFES released topic briefs on the status of women in Yemen, Morocco, and Lebanon. Among the findings in Yemen, for example, is that women who work for pay have greater freedom of movement, and have greater financial savings and access to credit. The surveys in Yemen also found that women with higher levels of education tend to have more access to health care resources.

IWPR’s new capacity-building toolkit provides information for non-governmental organizations to organize and use similar research to to support women in leadership roles, and how to design an advocacy campaign and a call-to-action for improved policy to support women.

The toolkit is available online at the IWPR website and IWPR experts are available to comment on its recommendations. 

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

Four Key Policy Priorities for Women Missing from Election Debate


By Caroline Dobuzinskis and Mallory Mpare

As we head into the elections, and looking forward, what are some of the less-talked about issues that will be important to women after November 6? Women are often those making family decisions on education, child care, and health care. They are also more likely to serve as caregivers for children or older relatives. Perhaps as a result, they tend to be more likely to support providing services for families, children, and the elderly.

The wage gap, women in the workplace, and access to reproductive health services have received much of the focus in this campaign, but there are some other key areas that are likely on the radar of many women voters:

1. Paid Sick Days: Several city and state legislatures are considering paid sick days legislation. At the national level, the Healthy Families Act was re-introduced to Congress in 2011, but has not moved forward. Earned sick time laws provide paid time off to workers in the event that they fall ill or need to care for a sick family member. According to IWPR research, paid time off for workers improves workers’ self-reported well-being and also can reduce health costs. Also according to IWPR research, in 2010, 44 million American workers lacked paid sick days, and could put their jobs at risk for taking a sick day. Although this year’s campaign talk focused largely on the costs of Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, the lack of paid sick days also contributes to government health care costs. Workers without time off are more likely to put off care and visit emergency rooms instead of promptly visiting a doctor. This means higher costs for public and private insurers—costing up to $1 billion nationally (including $500 million in taxpayer-funded public health care programs for children, seniors, and low-income Americans). Women benefit disproportionately from paid sick days because they are more likely to serve as caregivers for children and older adults, and time off to care for an ill child or parent would be covered under the Healthy Families Act and other paid sick days legislation.

2. Health Care Reform. Famously, the much contested Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act stopped insurance companies from considering being a woman a pre-existing condition and charging higher rates to women than men for similar insurance policies. Lesser-known provisions in the Affordable Health Care Act are also already benefiting women in education and in the workplace.

The Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) was implemented as part of the ACA in 2010 and has since quietly supported women in achieving education by awarding competitive grants to state programs to help parents and pregnant students complete or stay in school. For example, a “Steps to Success” program in Minnesota provides counseling and merit-based scholarships to college students with children (learn more about similar programs by listening to our webinar on the topic). Research has shown that a mother’s achieving higher education can contribute to the well-being of both mother and child.

In addition, the ACA is helping working mothers through a requirement that employers provide reasonable break time and a private place for nursing mothers. This could help improve the rate of breastfeeding in the country and meet the goals of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 initiative.

3. Social Security. The gender wage gap that women face during their working lives is not stemmed at retirement, but continues to leave older women economically vulnerable. As a result, older women—and particularly women of color—are traditionally more reliant on Social Security. IWPR research has shown that older men have also become more reliant on Social Security due to a shift toward less stable defined contribution pension plans away from defined benefit pension plans  during their work lives.

IWPR, in collaboration with the NOW Foundation and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, released a report in May 2012 calling for modernizing Social Security to help make the program even more beneficial to women and families than it already is.  Proposed changes include increasing benefits to survivors and providing credits to increase recorded earnings for caregivers who are devoting time to taking care of children, elderly parents, or disabled relatives. The report also proposes modernizing the program by providing equal benefits to same-sex married couples and partners. Affordable means of funding Social Security and improvements to the program include “scrapping the cap,” meaning eliminating the cap on earnings on which Social Security payroll taxes are assessed, requiring all workers at all earnings levels to pay the same tax rate.

4. Early Care and Education. Quality, reliable, affordable child care can be key to women attaining education and entering or advancing in the labor market. Currently, student parents at colleges and universities in the United States lack adequate child care. IWPR’s research shows that existing on-campus child care meets only a very small portion of the need—hovering close to just five percent. Student parents make up 26 percent of community college students and many have young children. A recent IWPR toolkit profiles several existing programs providing a wide variety of child care services at institutions of higher learning that attempt to address the lack of child care

Nancy Pelosi believes affordable early care and education can provide “the missing link” for boosting women’s contributions to the economy. According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of mothers with children under the age of 17 now work. Many women and families are already suffering under the strains of child care’s high costs.  As the economy begins to recover and more women enter the labor market, the need for affordable child care will increase.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Mallory Mpare is Communications Assistant at IWPR.

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

By Jennifer Clark

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

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

Ensuring Your Retirement Security Starts Now

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

Social Security is Your Insurance Plan for Retirement

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

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

Especially Vital to Women of Color

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

Countering Political Rhetoric with Informed Voters

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

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

Resources for Staying Informed

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

The Reality of Paid Sick Days

One of the things I love about IWPR is the types of issues we work on. The subjects we conduct our research on are real, everyday issues that most women face. They’re not always the sexiest, most talked-about, hottest topics, but that’s what makes them even more important, because they can be easily overlooked. I’m talking about issues like retirement security, access to quality child care, and paid sick days.
I tutor an 11-year old child once a week. A few months ago, my student’s mother found a job as a guard in an office building. She’d been job hunting for a while, and as a single parent with three kids, she was very happy to have found this position.
When I saw my student last week, he had a cold. His nose was dripping, he was coughing and sneezing, and he kept getting up to either blow or stuff tissue up his nose, in order to stop the flow. After a while, he got fed up and started grousing (who wouldn’t?)

“I don’t wanna go to school tomorrow,” he whined.
“Well, you really shouldn’t go; you sound terrible, and you’re obviously sick,” I told him.
“But I have to go,” he said, sighing.
“Why?” I asked reasonably.
“Because, I can’t stay by myself, and my mom can’t take off work to stay at home with me” he explained. “See, if she stays at home with me, there won’t be as much money for stuff, like our house and everything.”

Here was this 11-year old child’s reality. He sat there, battling a cold, possibly a fever or the flu, and he’d already made up his mind that he’s going to school. Why? Because being sick means less money for his family. His health has a direct economic impact on his household. And he knows this; he more than knows it; it’s part of his life and part of what’s real for him.
This is what we’re trying to get lawmakers to see, to pay attention to. We’re right in the middle of flu season, and 22 million women workers don’t have a single paid sick day . What does this mean? If a woman with no paid sick days gets sick and must stay at home, she takes a pay cut. If she’s lucky, she won’t lose her job for not being able to work. And it affects more than just her. If one of her children gets sick; if her elderly parent she’s caring for gets sick, she has to take a pay cut.
It’s so easy to disengage, to not pay attention. I can’t even accuse myself of being unrealistic – my reality is different from my student’s. I’m not guilty of refusing to listen, just for not paying more attention. Those of us who can absolutely must make those in power listen to this reality.
Dr. Heidi Hartmann, President of IWPR, testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions this past Tuesday on the Healthy Families Act. By paying attention and making this reality known to policymakers, we can all help alter the reality that is true for too many American women.
- Amy Lin

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