Up With Women in the Downturn

Randy Albelda

Thanks to lobbying by women's advocacy groups, Obama's stimulus bill offered women a good deal in terms of targeted funds to sectors in which women are employed as well as in human infrastructure investments.

Economic downturns like the one we are
currently facing are equal-opportunity disasters. This is not a "man’s
recession" or a "woman’s recession." Nonetheless, gender
differences play out within this financial crisis.

The
Chinese proverb "Women hold up half the sky" provides a good starting
point to understand the current place of women in the U.S. economy,
and thus the differential impact they face from this downturn. But which
half
of the sky are women holding up? A good deal of work in our
paid economy – and also the unpaid work in homes – is still sex-segregated.
Blue-collar jobs remain primarily the province of men (87 percent of
all construction jobs and 70 percent of all manufacturing jobs in 2008)
while administrative work is still largely done by women (75 percent
in 2008), as are care services. Women last year held 89 percent of health-care
support jobs and 79 percent of personal-care jobs. While professional
and managerial jobs are held almost equally by men and women, some professional
occupations remain stubbornly women-dominated, such as teaching and
nursing.

With
the rise in women’s paid employment – women are now just less than
half of all paid workers, whereas in 1960 they were only one-third – has
been a corresponding rise in women-headed households. In 1960, 18 percent
of households were headed by a woman who was divorced, widowed or had
never married; by 2007 women-headed households had risen to 30 percent
of all households. Even within married-couple households, women’s
earnings comprise an ever-larger share of total income: In 1970, women
contributed 27 percent of household earnings, but by 2006 the percentage
had risen to 37 percent.

Given
the realities of women’s place in the U.S. economy, when then-President-elect
Obama first proposed a stimulus package late last year, feminists were
concerned. It promoted "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects, which
could preclude many women from newly created jobs since the construction
and manufacturing sectors are so male-dominated. If the package were
only geared toward these sectors it would be a "macho" stimulus,
disproportionately employing men while ignoring other crucial investments
in human infrastructure.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

But
thanks to lobbying by women’s advocacy groups for attention to the
place of women in the U.S. economy, Obama’s stimulus bill offered
women a good deal in terms of targeted funds to sectors in which women
are employed as well as in human infrastructure investments. Key provisions
include $144 billion to state and local governments-including large
amounts for education and Medicaid, $53 billion for other education
and training and $59 billion for health care. There is an increase in
unemployment benefits and the length of time unemployed workers can
collect, but equally important to women workers are incentives for states
to extend unemployment benefits to low-wage and part-time workers – which
tend to be women.

For
low-income families (about half of which are single-mother families),
the stimulus bill includes $4 billion for childcare, an increase of
$20 billion in food stamps benefits and increased cash assistance for
needy families. Of the $288 billion in tax cuts included in the stimulus,
a good portion are directed specifically at low-income workers and parents,
all of which will help women, especially single mothers.

But
more needs to be done, including protection for women during the current
debt crisis in the country. The declining value of homes and pensions
in this downturn has affected everyone, but women – especially those
of color – are overrepresented among those experiencing the subprime
mortgage meltdown. Many of those women didn’t just make a poor mortgage
decision: They were targeted by purveyors of high-risk loans,
even though, on average, women have better credit ratings than men.
About one-third of women borrowers held subprime mortgages in 2006 compared
to one-quarter (24 percent) of men. African American women were 2.5
times more likely to receive a subprime loan than white and Latina women.

Women
also need to know that the safety net of unemployment insurance will
hold them in a time of need. But unfortunately, like other safety nets
such as food stamps and cash assistance, that net has some gaping holes
in it through which women can fall through. In 2007, only 37 percent
of unemployed workers actually received unemployment benefits, and those
with lesser pay – women, usually – are less likely to meet the requirements.

Obama’s
stimulus provides a jump start to recovery, and a serious recognition
of women’s needs at this time. However, to address the structural
problems that caused this deep recession -as well as to rebuild the
set of supports that women (and men) need when they lose their jobs
or don’t earn enough to support themselves – will require substantially
more effort.

For the full version of this article,
pick up a copy of the Spring 2009 issue of

Ms. on newsstands, or have a copy sent to your door by joining the
Ms. community at www.msmagazine.com.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

credo_rewire_vote_3

Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!

VOTE!

Thank you for supporting our work!