What Kind of Economic Stimulus Do American Women Want?
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There is no doubt that women could be quickly trained for such construction projects, as occurred during the second world war. But would Congress fund this?
Remembering the gender and racial discrimination that characterized the New Deal, 1,200 women historians and economists (including myself) urged President Obama not to repeat FDR's mistakes of directing most jobs to white men. Their petition asked the president to require affirmative action for all federal contractors, and to set aside apprenticeship and training programs in infrastructure projects for women and people of color. They also argued that more money should be spent on projects for health, childcare, education and the social services, the economic sectors where women traditionally work.
The voices of women insisting upon such equality in the recovery plan have been loud and insistent, even though the establishment media have tended to ignore them. Leaders of national women's groups were quick in grabbing a seat at the table of Obama's transition team and lobbied hard for the stimulus legislation to include women workers as part of the recovery plan. Blogs and essays written by women have ricocheted through cyberspace, urging Congress to include women and minority workers, along with white men, in the stimulus package.
And what was the result? It depends on how you view the entire stimulus plan. Many well known economists have argued that the recovery plan needed to be much larger. More than one-third of the funds, moreover, went to tax cuts, which will provide less of a stimulus than spending. As a result, women and other low-wage earners didn't get nearly enough jobs.
The back-story is that President Obama has been held hostage by troglodyte Republicans who still believe that a dismantled federal government, a free and unregulated market, and tax cuts for the wealthy are the solution to America's economic collapse. Using the tactic and rhetoric of "bipartisanship", the new president chose to make serious compromises in order to secure sufficient votes from these Senate Republicans. For all his efforts, he received almost no Republican votes.
When Republicans fumed about money to fund comprehensive contraception, for example, Obama and other Democrats decided to strip it from the bill to secure necessary Republican support. (Conservative Republicans not only oppose abortion; their war against contraception has been vehement and persistent.) Most reproductive-rights activists, however, are confident that Obama will quickly insert it in another piece of legislation.
Republicans also cut programs that disproportionately target women and children, including Head Start for low-income children, Violence Against Women, school improvement and food stamps and aid to states, all of which stimulate the economy by supporting the "social" infrastructure, not only the physical infrastructure. The irony is, as Mimi Abramovitz writes: "Contrary to popular wisdom, spending on services like health care and education produces a bigger bang for the economic-stimulus buck than billions of dollars devoted to roads and bridges. Japan's Institute for Local Government, a nonprofit research group, says that Japan learned this truth the hard way."
A New Momentum
Still, women's persistent lobbying and advocacy produced some very positive results The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan research group, concluded: "The provisions providing relief to low- and moderate-income families and to states facing serious budget shortfalls are among the most effective economic stimulus in the package. Low-income and unemployed families will spend benefits or tax refunds quickly to meet household expenses."
In their report "How the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Addresses Women's Needs," The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) offered a similarly positive assessment: "The Obama Administration and House and Senate leaders have developed a strong plan for economic recovery to preserve and create jobs, help people through tough times, protect vital public services, and invest in our nation's future."