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Budget Cuts Most Likely to Affect Women: So Why Aren't There Any Women on the Budget-Slashing Committee?

Women's groups worry that the budget will be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable.
 
 
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On Tuesday, the vice-president and an elite negotiating committee met to start hashing out the hotly contested budget in light of the need to raise the debt limit. As has been the case for months, vital programs are on the chopping block. But for women who will feel the brunt of these budget cuts, it feels as though the deck is stacked when the committee itself is entirely male.

Many members of the National Council of Women's Organizationslooked at the decision-makers with a critical eye. They noticed a distinct lack of women's representation at Tuesday's high-level meetings and as a result, worried that this signals a lack of concern for creating jobs for women--and a lack of concern for ensuring the social safety net that disproportionately affects women's lives.

In a joint release, this distinguished coalition of women's groups called the meeting an "old boys club":

At Blair House, the old boys club meeting has consisted of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), U.S. Senators John Kyl (R-AZ), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Max Baucus (D-MT), Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who have convened for the budget negotiations with Vice President Biden, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Budget Director Jack Lew, and economic adviser Gene Sperling. Where are the women?

The lack of prominent women at the meetings raises suspicion that the problems affecting their constituents, particularly the elderly and most economically and socially vulnerable, won’t be addressed in this budget, said representatives from the coalition, which includes the National Organization for Women, the Older Women’s League, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, and the YWCA. To counter this, they are raising their concerns in public and requesting a meeting with government officials to demand that, in the words of NOW President Terry O’Neill at a Tuesday conference call, women’s needs be “at the center of the analysis.”

In a joint letter to President Obama and Vice-President Biden, the NCWO's Older Women's Task Force made its case: "Women are being asked to shoulder a burden that is not of their making, to pay a 'fair share' of the sacrifice that is needed when they are not getting a fair share of the jobs in the recovery or equal pay for an equal day’s work."

Whose Recession?

The idea that the recession has been primarily male-driven -- a “mancession” -- has resonated with the facts on the ground only to a certain extent. The catchphrase doesn’t cover the whole picture. As Bryce Covert recently wrote at the Nation, new jobs for men (a “hecovery” in her words) combined with a vicious wave of Scott Walker-style attacks on the largely female sector of public workers like teachers and nurses, may herald a forthcoming “womancession”:

...since late 2009, male unemployment has begun to either flatten out or make very modest gains. As of November, it was down .04 percent over the previous twelve months. Meanwhile, women’s unemployment rate is increasing—over that same period it rose .04 percent. According to the National Women’s Law Center, women lost 366,000 jobs between July 2009 and January 2011, while men gained 438,000, a difference of 804,000. These trends are set to worsen. 

Given that this is the case, it’s crucial that stimulus measures and other efforts to add jobs to the economy include women.

“We need federal and state support, not only for construction support but for women in the public workforce,” Cynthia Harrison, vice-chair, Women’s Committee of 100, said on Tuesday's call. “We need additional teachers, nurses and nurse's aids, as well as support for caregivers providing service in the home. And we also need to be sure that when we talk about shovel-ready projects...there’s an opportunity for women to train for male-dominated jobs.”

Harrison also echoed the points raised in the Nation. “Men have recovered 21 percent of their lost jobs, while women have gained back only a 10th of the jobs that they lost,” she said.

Keeping the Safety Net Stable

Meanwhile, the kind of reckless slashing of public programs being proposed in plans like Paul Ryan’s disastrous Medicare overhaul proposal has dire implications for the women who need help from these programs the most: single moms, the elderly and the poor.

Bobbie Brinegar, executive director of Older Women’s League (OWL), was on the call to point out out that the pillars of our social safety net affect women to disproportionate degree. “Women live longer and depend more on Medicare and Social Security than men,” she said. “Women also make up the majority of adult Medicaid recipients." 

Furthermore, the pay gap and the work gap means that when women do receive benefits, those benefits are likely to be their sole means of support.

“Women are less likely to have employer pensions to rely on,” Brinegar said, and that pension--if it does arrive--may be smaller due to fewer years in the workforce thanks to family and caregiving duties that fall on women. 

"Women support their families just as much as men do. We just don't get paid for it," O'Neill said, joining others on the call advocating for some sort of credits that would allow workers who leave the workforce to take care of a relative to continue contributing toward Social Security.

Republicans are already demonstrating their callousness toward women and children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. As the AP reported, "In a bill released Monday, Republicans proposed cutting $832 million -- 11 percent from this year's budget for the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food for low-income mothers and children."

In the face of these kinds of all-out attacks, these women's advocates are adamant about what the government needs to do to avoid hurting women: ask the wealthiest citizens to contribute more and preserve social programs for the next generation. We need “rational approaches that do not include cuts to Social Security,” Brinegar said.

"We're trying to create a budget that will work for everyone in this country, not just the wealthy,” O'Neill said.  
Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at sarahmseltzer.com.
 
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