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Messaging Social Security Takes Diverse Strategies

Kathryn Anne Edwards, Economic Policy Institute, on the panel at the NASI Conference. David Baldridge, International Association of Indigenous Aging, in background. Photo by Sam Kittner/kittner.com for NASI.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Last week was the 24th annual conference of the National Academy of Social Insurance held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. At a roundtable session on Friday, January 27, panelists discussed how to craft effective messaging on Social Security to reach different audiences—including young people, as well as those from diverse ethnic and racial groups.

Covering all American workers and their families, Social Security has an enormous reach. This accounts for the both the program’s success, as well as the difficulty in communicating its importance to all those who will likely receive Social Security benefits at some point.

Panelist Wilhelmina A. Leigh, Senior Research Associate on Economic Security with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, served as a member of the Commission to Modernize Social Security. She emphasized the importance of communicating that the program could be improved both to restore solvency and enhance benefits, which was a goal of the commission. The challenge of communicating Social Security is reaching those who have not yet had to apply for benefits. “People who have gotten the message about how the system works have generally had to use the system,” said Leigh.

Moderator, Thomas Bethell, Visiting Scholar with the National Academy of Social Insurance, reminded the audience that Social Security could be equated to a house that needs maintenance: “If your house needs maintenance, are you going to tear it down to fix it?”

David Baldridge spoke on the panel as Executive Director of the International Association of Indigenous Aging (IA 2), an organization that received NASI grant funding in order to conduct outreach and education on Social Security among Indian elders in New Mexico. Baldridge explained that it was imperative to get support from Indian elders in order to engage tribes living in more isolated communities and reservations.  Listening to and incorporating recommendations on Social Security from members of the community was also essential.

The effort proved to be a success, eventually leading to the buy-in of more than 500 tribes for the report that included formal recommendations based on the tribes’ own input. The process is intended to serve as a national model for engaging indigenous tribes across the country on these issues.

Valerie Rawlston Wilson, Vice President of Research and Economist with the National Urban League Policy Institute, faces several main challenges in communicating the importance of Social Security to the African American community: reaching a diverse audience, capturing people’s attention, simplifying a complex issue, and obtaining buy-in from local affiliate leaders.

To reach a younger audience, Wilson relies on social media and the Urban League’s “I am Empowered” campaign. The website for the campaign includes an easy-to-follow quiz to test users knowledge of the Social Security program. Leigh added that scenario-based exercises can help young adults think about ways that Social Security benefits could actually help them down the road, if they lost a job or a spouse.

Kathryn Anne Edwards, Research Assistant with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), also aims to reach young people with the message of preserving Social Security. In this case, she is reaching out to her peers. Edwards, who is in her twenties, wrote a textbook on Social Security directed to her own generation that defines Social Security, outlines its benefits, and offers a perspective in support of the program.

Edwards found young people might not understand why they need to support Social Security. They may feel helpless believing simply that the program will be gone by the time they retire. Her response is that it is a matter of responsibility and young people are not as forsaken as they perceive themselves to be. “If you are under 30, Social Security is yours to lose,” said Edwards.

As one of NASI’s grantees charged with conducting outreach and education on Social Security, IWPR is working to communicate the importance of the program. Our research has shown that reliance on the program increased among older Americans in the past decade and that it is widely supported across lines of gender, race/ethnicity, and political affiliation. IWPR continues to work closely with the National Council of Women’s Organizations to conduct outreach on the importance of Social Security to Americans, particularly vulnerable populations such as low-income seniors.

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

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.

One-on-One with Former IWPR Leadership in Democracy Fellow Intisar Al-Adhi

By Amanda Lo

Intisar Al-Adhi is a former Leadership in Democracy Fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The competitive internship program was sponsored through an American university. Intisar assisted with IWPR’s Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa (SWMENA) project in the spring of 2009, helping to prepare for a SWMENA workshop in Lebanon. In an e-mail interview from Yemen, Intisar shared experiences as the founder of All Girls Society for Development, an organization that aims to educate and empower girls in her home country, as well as her views on how the Arab Spring has affected Yemeni women.

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Intisar Al-Adhi with fellow staff at IWPR's office in Washington, DC.

IWPR: What has been your experiences and background with women’s issues?

Intisar Al-Adhi: I have been working with women in particular and young people since 2003 to plan and implement development programs of interest related to Yemeni women’s issues. We also advocate socially and politically for educational issues.

IWPR: I know that you founded an organization in Yemen to help girls. Could you tell me why you started it, and what is the organization’s goal and work?

Al-Adhi: I have a great interest and purpose in my life to be an effective leader in society and to do my best in women’s development and serve as an advocate for women’s issues. I had the opportunity to establish the All Girls Society for Development after receiving a diploma in Management of Non-Governmental Organizations. I am able to apply what I have studied to support development on the ground.

There is also a great need for Yemeni women in development and awareness programs to contribute to the development of personality of girls and increase girls’ self-confidence.

All Girls Society for Development aims to cultivate the personality of the Yemeni girl with a desire to empower her and enable her to play her role in society in the most effective manner. This is achieved through programs and activities designed according to the inner potential of the girl. We are interested in education, community development, and youth and awareness.

IWPR: What is All Girls Society for Development’s latest project?

Al-Adhi:  All Girls Society for Development in cooperation with the Responsive Governance Program (RGP) funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and in partnership with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, Save the Children, and CHF International, [implemented] the “Back to School Campaign” from August to September 2011. The campaign includes many activities and events to raise social and community awareness about the importance of education in general and girls’ education in particular.

Image of building in Yemen with banner

A banner is displayed on a building in Yemen featuring the All Girls Society's "Back to School" campaign.

The “Back to School Campaign” outreach and awareness successes include:

[Producing] TV clips on girls’ education and support from important Yemeni figures, distributing 435 banners (shown in photo above) in 11 governorates, [being featured] in 38 radio programs on 12 local radio stations, and producing a TV program session.

IWPR: How has the Arab Spring affected women’s situation in Yemen? What kind of changes has happened?

Al-Adhi: The Arab Spring led to a large increase in awareness about women’s issues in Yemen that has not occurred for 20 years. Despite what is known about Yemeni society as a traditional community, meaning the majority adhere to established customs and traditions when dealing with women’s issues, the first result of this revolution is a shift in social awareness. We see a lot of men becoming more open-minded. Yemeni men did not find it problematic to encourage their wives and female relatives to go to [public] squares and participate in the demonstrations.

In the recent past, the role of women is beginning to emerge, regardless of the speed of its emergence or the quality. There are signs that women roles are changing. We see women currently leading and participating in the revolution. It is a sign of their ability to take high positions, which has enabled her to break the barrier that hinders equality with men in political life. I consider this as a good indicator that women will have the chance to take leadership positions in the future modern state of the Yemeni people.

Educated women have the most mature understanding of the revolution and are heavily involved in improving women’s situations in their respective fields. Doctors work in the field hospital, human rights activists and lawyers work on human rights violations, and political activists work to raise political awareness in tents and through daily lectures.

The Arab Spring has led to positive changes in Yemeni society. It has opened up the horizon and gave an area for ​​women to express her views. We have seen real participation of women in the revolution such as in the planning and implementation. There is a growing trend that men acknowledge the importance of women’s involvement in various aspects of life.

However, the Arab Spring also has its downfalls with respect to women’s plight. There are women who have lost their jobs because of the change in economic conditions and, as a result, their way of living has deteriorated. In addition, some families have lost their breadwinner due to violence in the demonstrations, such as being hurt by other demonstrators, the killing and indiscriminate shelling of civilians. Furthermore, the fear and anxiety of possible violence, both armed violence or collective punishment such as the interruption of electricity, water, and the insecurity and instability caused by oil scarcity, have worsened their present living conditions.

IWPR: How has your experience at IWPR in Washington, DC, been relevant in helping your work in Yemen?

Al-Adhi: During my time at IWPR, I benefited from the working environment and from working with employees. It helped me identify effective communication methods in a team. I had a wonderful and useful meeting with Heidi [Hartmann, president of IWPR,] who responded to my questions with support and patience. I will not forget when she encouraged me to continue working. I liked the attention towards research and I took advantage of this kind of research that seeks to improve the lives of women. I also learned about the relationship between research organizations and the media. Lastly, I try to add the internship component in most of the projects for All Girls Society programs. I believe that internship experiences are essential in building the capacity of girls and youth.

Amanda Lo is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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.

City Takes Action to Address High Rates of Homelessness in New Orleans

2008 photo of the B.W. Cooper housing development in New Orleans. Photo by Jane Henrici.

By Nina Pasha

On November 29, the Associated Press reported that New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) announced a new ten-year plan to address the major homeless problem in New Orleans. The plan includes establishing a New Orleans Interagency Council on Homelessness, opening a 24-7 homeless center in the Veterans Affairs Department hospital building, and adding 2,115 permanent beds for homeless individuals and 516 for families.

Public Housing Demolished, Leaving Homeless Vulnerable

A lack of affordable housing is one factor that may have increased the homeless population in New Orleans, which has one of the largest rates of homelessness in the country. As IWPR and others have reported, 4,500 units of traditional public housing in New Orleans were demolished in the years immediately following Katrina, despite being structurally-sound and while the city had a great need for homes.

Estimates released by UNITY of Greater New Orleans show there are 9,165 residents in Orleans and Jefferson parishes considered homeless by HUD’s definition. The number of homeless individuals has increased by 70 percent since prior to Hurricane Katrina. Similar to the national average, women make up roughly a third of the New Orleans area homeless.

Over half of homeless women in New Orleans live on the streets or in abandoned buildings, where they are at special risk of being assaulted or sexually attacked. In contrast to the national average, a greater proportion (9 percent) of those left homeless in the New Orleans area are over the age of 62—over four times the national average (2 percent).

IWPR Research on Status of Women Post-Katrina

IWPR has been publishing material on the impact of Hurricane Katrina on women’s housing, poverty status, and other related issues since the immediate aftermath of the 2005 storm and flooding. New reports to be released in early 2012 are based on in-depth and long-term qualitative research about women who were residents of New Orleans public housing prior to Hurricane Katrina and their lives in the years just after Katrina in the cities of Baton Rouge, Houston, and New Orleans.

I assisted with the research on women who were residents of New Orleans public housing prior to Hurricane Katrina for these reports. As a result, I read fascinating stories that illustrated the needs of many women and families following the disaster.

One participant explained her public housing unit had a sense of a community and it should not be demolished because everyone who lived there “didn’t have anything and if we had anything we’d been gotten out.” Another participant said public housing provided stability and confidence to those who could not afford to rent or buy housing.

The majority of residents who were renting units in public housing prior to Hurricane Katrina were low-income, single-parent, black women and their families. These populations were directly affected when the buildings were torn down. In fact, New Orleans’s homeless plan notes that many of families who are currently homeless are African American and lived in rental housing (public or commercial) prior to Hurricane Katrina. The city also spotlights the New Orleans Women’s Shelter as one of the participants in the new plan, acknowledging the specific needs of homeless women.

For more information on IWPR’s research on the status of women following Hurricane Katrina, please visit our website.

Nina Pasha is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

One Community of Women and Men: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

By Amanda Lo

The Woodrow Wilson Center and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) brought together a panel of four male leaders to discuss the possible roles men can play in combating gender-based violence. The event, Male Leaders Speak: Critical Strategies for Combatting Gender-Based Violence, launched USAID’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, that began on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and ends on December 10, the International Human Rights Day.

Most of the conversation was focused on the situation of girls and women in Africa. Donald Steinberg from USAID shared his experiences serving as former U.S. Ambassador to Angola, and Major General Patrick Cammaert (retired) spoke about his time when he was former United Nations Force Commander for the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the topics of discussion was on changing attitudes surrounding violence against women. IWPR’s research on the status of women in the Middle East has shown that sometimes attitudes of men and women do not match when it comes to violence. For example, in Yemen, 6 percent of women report that domestic violence is widely or somewhat tolerated within their families or tribe, while 13 percent of men state that violence is widely or somewhat tolerated. According to an IWPR survey in Lebanon, women with higher levels of education were less likely to accept domestic violence than those with lower levels of education. Among men, approximately one in ten found it acceptable for a husband to beat his wife—regardless of levels of education.

Jimmie Briggs, co-founder of the Man Up Campaign, argued that early education to challenge the typical “manhood” stereotype—that boys can feel they need to live up to—is one way to prevent the continuation of sexual violence from one generation to the next.

During the panel, Steinberg pointed out that women made up the majority of the audience. This has been typical for events I have attended on women’s issues. In fact, the most surprising aspect of this event may have been that the panelists speaking about violence against women were all men. Clearly, ending sexual violence will not be possible without the joint effort of men and women.

In order to also solve discrimination against women in the United States, the approach must take into account that women cannot achieve equity without male allies. The entire population, not just a half of the population, needs to want gender equality in economic, political, and social realms.

Find out more about upcoming events taking place during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence on the website.

Amanda Lo is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women’s Rights and the Arab Spring for Morocco

By Amanda Lo

In September, I attended a panel about “Women and Democratic Transition in the Middle East” organized by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Women’s Learning Partnership. Female activists and leaders representing Iran, Bahrain, Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco shared their experiences and views regarding women’s role and futures in constructing a more democratic society in the region as part of the “Arab Spring.” Overall, speakers expressed hope that the protests that have continued across the Middle East and North Africa since January 2011 have opened up possibilities for progress in women’s rights in their countries, while acknowledging that obstacles remain.

With respect to Morocco in particular, Rabéa Naciri from the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc, one of the largest Moroccan NGOs focused on the rights of women points out that activism and policies addressing women’s roles and rights were present long before the Arab Spring, Nevertheless, the revolutions in the region have given renewed vigor to Moroccan feminist activism.

Moroccans were caught up in the fervor of protests against existing disparities and inequalities that began in Tunisia last January so that, on February 20, crowds gathered across the nation. Morocco’s king responded quickly, and within two weeks constitutional reforms were discussed.

The constitutional reforms in Morocco were approved in a referendum on July 1, 2011, by 98.5 percent of voters. A new section called “Liberties and Fundamental Rights” includes Articles 32 and 34 with statements concerning the rights of women, children and the disabled, Article 21 that prohibits sexism, Article 59 that safeguards these rights and liberties during states of emergency and, most importantly, Article 175 that says these rights cannot be retracted in future constitutional revisions.

IWPR and its partner on research about the status of women in Lebanon, Yemen and Morocco, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, will present a workshop in Marrakesh, Morocco in December with women‘s NGOS from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The workshop will discuss “lessons learned” from the IWPR-IFES project as well as some of the many events that are taking place affecting women’s lives in Morocco, and across the MENA region. Previous research on Morocco has covered women’s political participation, social attitudes towards women, family law and gender quotas, and women’s freedom of movement.

Amanda Lo is a Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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