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Three Steps for Women to Weather the Stormy Economy

The economic rescue plan must be bigger and more tailored to women.

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Doctoring the Sick Patient

Yes, all this means spending big money to restore health to the economy. But the patient is really sick. The housing sector is floundering, the financial sector is badly damaged, unemployment is historically high and rising.

Remember the mean, lean years of 1982 and 1983? Unemployment hit 11 percent in November 1982 and remained at or above 10 percent for most of 1983. Of the 103 million people in the 1983 labor force 10 million were without work.

Today's labor force is far larger, roughly 144 million people. If unemployment rates hit the levels of 1982-1983 -- and most economists agree it will -- the number of people out of work will exceed 14 million.

Because today's labor force is so much larger, the current unemployment rate of just under 7 percent means the same number of people are out of work now as there were in 1982-1983 when the unemployment rate hit 10 percent.

All that places enormous pressure on the federal government to spend, which means that there must be much more federal borrowing.

Deficit financing is the only way to get households, states and localities, and private firms back on track.

Firms are only going to hire when they can sell what they produce. State governments are only going to hire when their sales and income tax receipts go back up. Consumers will only start spending once they have jobs and job security.

To get all that going again, the rescue plan has to be big enough. And it has to include women.

Three Big Issues

Which gets me back to the three big issues framed by W.E.A.V.E.

No. 1: Affirmative action plans:

These ensure that women and people of color are actually hired and trained for public-sector jobs. In the years since Bush took office, the number of federal contracts has risen sixfold. Spending has also gone way up, to almost $368 billion currently from $209 billion in 2000. Staff to monitor these contracts at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, meanwhile, dropped. In his inaugural address Obama talked about government conducting its business in the "light of day" and on his first working day in office he emphasized financial transparency. Government contracts are the place to put those sentiments into action.

No. 2: Infrastructure projects:

In 2003 only 4 percent of the roughly 400,000 registered apprentices were women. Scholars with expertise in these matters must be brought to the policy table so this gross discrepancy can be fixed. This is critical because while women hold 10 percent of construction jobs, most -- 5.8 percent -- work in offices where wages are about 16 percent lower. Unless the Labor Department recommits to workplace integration -- by gender and race -- the jobs that pay a truly livable wage will not benefit women or people of color in proportion to their presence in the labor force.

No. 3: Spending on health care, child care, education and social services:

This spending both provides jobs to women and provides services needed by all families. The fastest-growing segment of the homeless population is families. Forty percent of requests for emergency shelter come from families. More than 85 percent of homeless families are headed by a lone parent, and most are women.

If states get enough federal money from Obama's program they can meet the challenges of homelessness. They can sustain school districts, reopen libraries, fund water purification programs, rebuild parks and expand reforestation efforts. They can funnel money to local nonprofits that teach work force skills and literacy and provide care for children, mothers and the elderly. They can shore up state public higher education, where rising tuition costs -- up almost 40 percent in the past two decades -- is putting college out of reach.

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