by Julie Vogtman, Counsel,
National Women's Law Center

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) recently co-sponsored a congressional briefing on "The Recession's Deepening Toll on Women." After Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners (LRP) presented results from a new poll showing most Americans believe the government should do more to promote economic recovery, Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Linda Sánchez (D-CA) shared their views on how the recession is affecting women—and how the Local Jobs for America Act can help

Some highlights from the briefing:

  • According to a nationwide survey conducted by LRP, most Americans still feel very negatively about the state of the economy, with two thirds reporting that the downturn has affected their families. Despite talk of recovery, the majority of Americans—and especially low-income women and single moms—do not think their own economic situation is improving. 
  • Although media reports have often focused on the higher rates of unemployment among men, Gail Cohen, Chief Economist for the Joint Economic Committee, presented data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating that women’s job loss as a share of total job loss is extraordinary in this recession—30.3 percent of total job loss, compared with 14.4 percent in the 2001 recession and only 1.8 percent in the 1990s recession. Data also show that unemployment has spiked for single mothers, especially among minorities, at a current rate of 17.7 percent for African-American moms and 13.8 percent for Latinas. And married women have become the sole wage earner in many households as their husbands have lost their jobs; since the recession began, the percentage of married couples in which the husband is unemployed and the wife is working has more than doubled.

  • Despite this bleak picture, a majority believes that the economy can be influenced by government action, and that it is time for the government to take on a larger and stronger role in making the economy work for the average American. Nearly 90 percent of participants in the LRP study agreed that creating more jobs with decent wages and benefits for low-income families is the measure most likely to help get the economy back on track, followed closely by more affordable education and training opportunities (85 percent). Fifty-six percent agreed that the government should focus on creating jobs, even if it means increasing the deficit in the short-term. 
  • As all of the congressional panelists emphasized, these findings make clear that the time is right for Congress to move on the Local Jobs for America Act (H.R. 4812/S. 3500), which would boost employment and preserve services for women and families by providing $75 billion to save and create 750,000 jobs in local non-profits and local governments. Women hold more than 60 percent of local and municipal government jobs, and these positions are particularly vulnerable in a climate of declining tax revenues and strapped state budgets. Without federal assistance, many school systems, health departments, and other entities that both employ and serve women and their families will be forced to lay off workers and cut services. But the Local Jobs for America Act would use up to 50 percent of the $75 billion to preserve local government jobs that otherwise would have been eliminated and up to 25 percent to create new jobs in local government, while also saving 250,000 education jobs and boosting funds for local law enforcement and fire departments. In addition, the bill would devote 25 percent of the $75 billion to create jobs in local non-profit community organizations that provide services not typically made available by local governments, such as child care and domestic violence assistance. With weak employment figures reported for June and Congress' continued failure to address unemployment through the extenders bill, the Local Jobs for America Act presents an opportunity for a real response to ongoing joblessness.
  • As Rep. DeLauro observed, achieving pay equality is also key to blunting the impact of the recession on women and their families. American women who work full-time, year-round currently are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, a gap that only deepens women's hardship in tough economic times. According to the LRP poll, nearly three quarters of Americans—both men and women—agree that there are gender inequalities in the economy right now, and an even higher percentage (79 percent) believe that establishing equal pay and benefits for men and women would help get the economy back on track. The Paycheck Fairness Act, passed in the House of Representatives in January 2009 and still pending in the Senate, aims to strengthen current laws against wage discrimination and provides tools to enable the federal government to be more proactive in the fight. Take action now to support the Paycheck Fairness Act.
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