Economic Security Webinar Series

Pathways to Greater Economic Security for Women and Families

In presenting this webinar series, we aim to stimulate research ideas, identify areas for partnerships among researchers and members of the policy and advocacy community, and set an agenda towards greater social investments for low-income women and their families.

Transforming Pink to Blue/Green: Moving Women into Nontraditional and Green Jobs
June 22, 2011
Françoise Jacobsohn, Legal Momentum
Lauren Sugerman, Wider Opportunities for Women
Shyama Venkateswar, National Council for Research on Women (moderator)

In this presentation, Lauren Sugerman and Francoise Jacobsohn discussed how the expanding green economy offers pathways into non-traditional jobs for women (or what they call blue/green jobs). Such jobs include work in infrastructure development, clean energy, weatherization, mass transit, urban forestry, and smart grids. In 2006, $970 billion was created in revenue by jobs in renewable energy, transportation, manufacturing, maintenance and construction. As outlined in the presentation, these jobs come with many benefits for workers:

  • diversity;
  • equal employment opportunity and affirmative action regulations;
  • wages that lead to family economic security; pride of accomplishment;
  • increased self-esteem;
  • ownership and control;
  • self-reliance;
  • jobs with good benefits;
  • on-the-job training;
  • portable skills;
  • and environmental justice. 

Using an example of Nicaraguan women who have been building jails in small towns, Lauren expanded on this idea of women improving their own neighborhoods and homes by working in traditionally male-dominated jobs. Women’s economic empowerment improves communities and the world. In addition, many of these jobs will not be outsourced and if they have, these jobs will come back to the States.

To begin to build the pipeline for more women working Blue/Green jobs, Lauren recommended starting with recruitment by incorporating diverse applicants, conducting targeted outreach, cultivating and using role models. Part of strategic recruitment also involves the development of outreach materials. A majority of heavy advertising for Blue/Green jobs are found at male dominated events and venues such as NASCAR, revealing a bias that only men want these jobs. On the contrary, research shows that women want these jobs that often offer good benefits and job security. Annual recruitment results from Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. showed that 700 women came to their orientation, 180 women applied, 96 women graduated, and 54 entered trades jobs. Although statistics show that women want these jobs, more resources are needed to expand preparatory programs in classroom and hands-on training involving testing, interviewing and apprenticeship which is usually comprised of all white men.

Francoise explained that women at every level of education (except doctors and lawyers) earn less than men at the level of education below them. Women high school graduates on average earn less than male high school dropouts. In addition, women are 35% more likely than men to be poor. Women's to men’s earnings ratios are 92% in construction and 71% in financial occupations. Furthermore, the lifetime difference in earnings between a woman working a non-traditional job versus a traditional job (such as a nurse’s assistant) is $1,650,000. Francoise termed this trend “Occupational Apartheid by Gender” as 30% of this wage gap is attributed to occupational sex segregation.

As highlighted in the presentation, persistent barriers to women’s participation in Blue/Green jobs include: gendered socialization from an early age; a lack of targeted outreach to recruit women; limited training and disparate impact of selection criteria; differentiated on-the-job training, hiring, job and overtime assignments; hostile work environments and sexual harassment; and non-traditional day care needs. In hopes of building equal opportunity to increase women’s participation in Blue/Green jobs, Francoise advocated dismantling barriers to economic empowerment for women and girls through public education and improving and enforcing the law through legislative advocacy and impact litigation.

To download a copy of the slides, click here.

A copy of the audio is also available for download here.

TANF Reauthorization and Reforming Welfare
May 25, 2011
Sarita Gupta, Jobs with Justice
Diana Spatz, LIFETIME (Low-Income Families’ Empowerment through Education)
Shyama Venkateswar, National Council for Research on Women (moderator)

Sarita Gupta discussed organizing opportunities presented by the upcoming reauthorization of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the U.S. federal welfare program. (click here for her slides) While some have declared the economic recession officially over, the recession is far from over for the poor. With unemployment reaching over 10% in 2010, the so-called recovery has largely been jobless. Trends in poverty, hunger, and income inequality have been rising steeply. The wealth of the 400 richest families is equal to the wealth of the 150 million families in the lowest income bracket. For real change to happen, coordinated, cross-sector organizing must start pushing back in a concerted effort. A movement for progressive change would push most immediately for the creation of good jobs, modernized unemployment insurance, collective bargaining rights, and protecting and expanding the social safety net, including TANF. In the long-term, a progressive movement will push for such things as the redistribution of wealth, full employment, affordable quality health coverage for all, and child care assistance. To get there, Gupta spoke emphatically about the need to come together and create a long-term grassroots, cross-movement effort with proactive strategies that advances the economic security of low-income families.

Diana Spatz presented the case for investing in postsecondary education as a pathway out of poverty, using her work with LIFETIME as a spring board for larger policy discussions. (click here to download her slides) Studies demonstrate that workers with a 4-year college degree make an average of 29% more than those who have only a high school diploma. While such studies clearly show that education and employment are complimentary, current safety net programs do not currently support this pathway out of poverty. Following welfare reform in the mid-1990s, fewer and fewer families living in poverty are receiving assistance. In 1994-1995, just before TANF’s creation, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program served 75 of every 100 families with children who lived in poverty. In 2008-2009, TANF served only 28 families for every 100 in poverty. In seven states, TANF served fewer than 10 families for every 100 in poverty. Even with poverty rates the highest they’ve been in 17 years, many states have made their welfare programs more restrictive, shortening lifetime limits, narrowing work activities, and cutting cash grants. Rather than work to end welfare, Spatz emphasized that the goal must be to end poverty. To get there, she recommended reinstitute the TANF Emergency Fund, in particular the subsidized jobs program; to relax welfare work requirements in light of persistent unemployment, and stop penalizing parents for their inability to find jobs, and states for not meeting work participation rates; and to allow postsecondary education count as work activities under federal welfare.

To download the audio from this webinar, click here.

Reimagining Poverty
April 20, 2011
Melissa Boteach, Center for American Progress Action Fund
Emily Ryder, Single Stop USA
Shyama Venkateswar, National Council for Research on Women (moderator)

Melissa Boteach’s presentation from Half in Ten, “what gets measured gets done,” provided an overview of the forthcoming supplemental poverty measure. (click here to download her slides) The official poverty line is $22,500 for a family of four. The current poverty measure was developed in the 1960s and is based on taking the cost of an emergency food diet and multiplying it by three. Each year, the poverty line is adjusted for inflation but not additional expenses such as rising healthcare, transportation, or child care costs. In effect, this antiquated federal poverty measure masks the struggles of working families earning slightly above the threshold and allows poverty to seem intractable. This fall, the Census will release the new Supplement Income Poverty Measure (SIPM) that will integrate the basic needs of families into the poverty threshold. However, the new measure will not affect program eligibility. It is also unable to take in account assets and the impact they have on a families’ stability, unable to detect the people who cannot make ends meet without public assistance, and cannot register indicators such as work/life balance or job quality. Even with these limitations, Boteach emphasized that SIPM is an important step towards accurately measuring poverty. Boteach concluded by stating that it is also important to put a human face on the data and pull out the consequences of cuts for people, jobs, and communities. 

Emily Ryder of Single Stop USA addressed the question of how to achieve economic security for low-income populations. (click here to download her slides)  Ryder explained that access to multiple benefits is important to families as a “spring board” to economic opportunity and that access to community colleges can bridge the gap between higher education and work support, enabling families can move toward self-sufficiency. Every year $65 billion of government resources and tax credits to help working families going unclaimed, despite the fact that more than 21 million American families live below 200% of the federal poverty line. Single Stop is making an intervention in this pattern by helping their clients access multiple supports. Single Stop believes that combing higher education and coordinated access to the safety net will allow families below the poverty line to climb the economic ladder. Studies show that “community college graduates over a lifetime earn $400,000 more than those with a high school degree.” With the help of tax credits and benefits available through community colleges, students stay in school and advance above the poverty line to economic stability. “By re-knitting our frayed safety net, and weaving it into community colleges to ensure student success, we can solve the crisis of intergenerational poverty and help make our country’s future a better and brighter one,” Ryder concluded.

To download the audio from this webinar, click here.

Job Creation
March 16, 2011
Heidi Shierholz, Economic Policy Institute
James S. Heintz, Political Economy Research Institute, UMass
Shyama Venkateswar, Director of Research and Programs at NCRW (moderator)

James S. Heintz of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts addressed the impact of the economic crisis on employment trends and policy responses from a gender perspective. (click here to download his slides)  Since the onset of the recession, there have been rumors of a “man-cession.” Rather than falling into the trap of this over-simplified characterization of the recession, Heintz unpacked employment trends, highlighting several previously unidentified factors. For instance, men’s employment has recently shown a faster rate of recovery than women’s employment. In addition, Heintz emphasised the important differences within women’s total employment rates, pointing out that single mothers experience dramatically higher rates of unemployment. With unpaid care responsibilities and no second income to lean on, these women are doubly disadvantaged. Finally, Heintz brought attention to precarious employment and part-time employment, for which there are inadequate statistics. Without further research Heintz is doubtful that government will implement policies that adequately address the needs of women, particularly single mothers or those in precarious employment situations. 

Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute addressed the question “Are structural factors causing persistent high unemployment in the United States?” (click here to download her slides)  According to Shierholz, we are now at the bottom of the biggest crater we have seen in seventy years, with a total gap of over 11.3 million jobs in the labor market. If structural factors were behind the high unemployment numbers, some sectors would report a lack of skilled workers qualified to fill open positions. As it stands now, for every open job position there are five unemployed workers, a trend that holds true across every sector, leading Shierholz to conclude that the current high levels of unemployment were not indeed a result of structural factors. Looking at the breakdown of unemployment rates by gender representation in each sector, Shierholz further demonstrated how much of men’s high unemployment may be attributed to their industrial distribution. Men were most greatly represented in cyclical industries that were hit hardest by the economic recession. In contrast, 33.8% of employed women worked in the educational and health services, which saw a 4.6% employment increase from 2007 to 2010. Thus, if women had had the same industrial distribution as men at the onset of the recession, women’s total employment would have decreased 9.3% by 2010, higher than the current rate amongst men. In conclusion, Shierholz stated that the fact women lost fewer jobs in this recession is almost entirely due to the type of industry they’re employed in, not structural factors. In terms of future jobs creation, it is most likely that jobs lost in predominately male industries will go back to men as the economy slowly recovers.

While both Heintz and Shierholz recognized the hostile political climate we are currently operating under—with the federal government talking budget cuts when it should be investing in its workers—they set out a few goals for political prioritization moving forward. Heintz called for greater policy coordination, emphasizing that in addition to a strong job creations effort, we need to ensure that “women have the economic mobility to move into the jobs being created.” The mechanisms available to make this happen include job skills training, enforcement of laws, and improving affirmative action policies that are already in place. In a “dream world,” as Shierholz stated, we would also call for an expanded safety net and infrastructure investment. Since this isn’t the case, the top priority is to push for state and local fiscal relief, which would have the most immediate impact.

To download the audio from this webinar, click here.

 Investing in Child Care
January 19, 2011
C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network at NYU Wagner
Karen Schulman, Senior Policy Analyst with the National Women's Law Center
Shyama Venkateswar, Director of Research and Programs at NCRW (moderator)

Karen Schulman presented findings from the National Women’s Law Center’s report, Supporting State Child Care Efforts with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Funds, examining the ways in which states have used child care funds made available through the economic recovery act (click here to download her slides). ARRA provided a $2 billion increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, with substantial portions of the new funds intended for improving the overall quality of child care as well as the quality of care for infants and toddlers. According to the report’s findings, states have used ARRA funds to maintain funds for families already receiving assistance (who may otherwise lose their coverage due to proposed budget cuts); to delay, avoid, reduce, or eliminate waiting lists; expand eligibility; extend the time during which care is provided while parents are job searching; reduce copayments; and implement or upgrade relevant technology. Despite ARRA funding, Schulman pointed out that in many states such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Ohio, child care assistance programs continue to fall short and many are facing drastic cuts. Schulman stressed the importance of additional funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant in the 2011 budget. Such an investment is key to the economic security of women and their families. With a new Congress keen on reducing federal spending, however, this may be no easy task.

C. Nicole Mason emphasized the importance of childcare subsidies for low-income, working families (click here to download her slides). Studies show that single mothers who receive subsidies are 40 percent more likely to be employed after two years than single mothers who do not receive subsidies. However, not all families have the same access to subsidies. While nationally over 932,000 families and 1.6 million children receive childcare subsidies each month, with African-American and White families comprising 74 percent of all recipients, Asian and Native American families combined make up only 2 percent of families receiving assistance. As Mason shared, barriers such as immigration status, language access, employment status, and eligibility requirements prevent many families in need from receiving adequate care. Greater effort must still be made in terms of outreach and education around eligibility requirements, maintaining and/or increasing funding to states, and ensuring clearer eligibility requirements that do not burden families in need with unnecessary bureaucracy.

To download the audio from this webinar, click here.


A View from the States
December 15, 2010
Randy Albelda, professor of economics and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Social Policy at University of Massachusetts Boston
Sangeeta Budhiraja, Program Officer at the Ms. Foundation for Women
Shyama Venkateswar, Director of Research and Programs at NCRW (moderator)

Professor Randy Albelda’s presentation “Recession, Recovery and Renewal: Investing in Women and Families at State and Community Levels” examined the impact of state and local initiatives on women’s economic security. (click here to download her slides) Citing data from Massachusetts, Albelda noted that the statistics for state and local spending on women and families was similar across the country. She clarified that the recession was not a “mancession” as it has been portrayed in the media. Both women and men have been affected but in different ways due to their different economic activities. In an increasing number of households, women are becoming primary breadwinners, contributing 50% or more of the household earnings. However, gender pay inequity means that these female breadwinners are earning less than half a loaf. States were reluctant to investment in human infrastructure when spending American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. Now, the small funding that did go to social supports is drying up. To improve the lives of low-income women and families, especially women of color, Albelda recommends fighting to reform low-wage work. She suggested emphasizing the economic benefits of investing in social supports now to prevent a bleaker picture in the future, and drawing upon the moral imperatives for human investment at the state and local level.

Sangeeta Budhiraja shared the Ms. Foundation’s work on economic justice in the Southern United States. (click here to download her slides) The main goals of the initiative are to strengthen the progressive social justice infrastructure of the South, to provide a network for their grantee partners to build coalitions, and to highlight the work of their grantee partners on a national level. The project is focusing on issues such as childcare, green jobs, job creation, immigrant rights and legislative priorities such as TANF and Unemployment Insurance. She cited high poverty rates in the South and the often insurmountable cost of childcare and housing to demonstrate the necessity of mobilizing for economic justice in the region. Budhiraja showcased the work of a Ms. grantee partner, Georgia Citizens Coalition on Hunger, a statewide coalition that fights for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) reauthorization and an increase in minimum wage. The Coalition employs creative strategies, leading with the voices of those most impacted by injustices to organize support. In one example, the Coalition brought together people impacted by TANF cuts to tell their stories at a briefing for a bill to increase TANF supports. The power of their stories increased the number of co-sponsoring legislators on the bill from 10 to 70 overnight. 

Budhiraja then turned the floor over to Carol Burnett, representing Moore Community House and the Mississippi Low-Income Childcare Initiative. The former program, funded by the Ms. Foundation and Wider Opportunities for Women, prepares women to enter the male-dominated construction industry by providing vocational training. Women graduates credit the program with giving them the skills to access higher paying jobs and empowering them to have the confidence and the economic ability to leave abusive relationships. The latter initiative, the Mississippi Low-Income Childcare Initiative, campaigns for increased childcare financing, policy and subsidy reform, and quality enhancement. In Mississippi the cost of childcare can approach the cost of college, with some women spending 31% of their income on childcare alone. Burnett emphasized that Mississippi is almost entirely reliant on the federal Childcare Block Grant for funding, especially since ARRA state funding is drying up. She emphasized that improving childcare is a critical issue in improving the lives of women, children and families.

The discussion highlighted local initiatives like the Tennessee Alliance for Progress’ Green Collar Jobs Taskforce, part of Green for All, that are improving the lives of women in their communities and could be replicated on a national scale. (click here to download Green for All's policy brief, Clean Energy Works Portland: A National Model for Energy-Efficiency Retrofits)

To download the audio from this webinar, click here.

A Path Forward
November 17, 2010
Mariko Chang, author of Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It
Julie Rowe, Framing and Messaging Coordinator at The Opportunity Agenda
Shyama Venkateswar, Director of Research and Programs at NCRW (moderator)

Julie Rowe of The Opportunity Agenda discussed effective framing and messaging in talking about equitable economic recovery. (click here to download her slides) How can activists and policy makers engage a desired audience? How can they utilize information on public opinion to enhance their advocacy strategies? Rowe addressed these and other questions through a discussion of the prevailing media narratives of low-income communities, presenting several conclusions about how best to create cultural change. She recommended telling thematic stories, employing three narrative frames to engage the public: the American Dream, Workable Solutions and the National Interest. As for messaging guidance, she urged participants to paint the government’s role in the recovery effort in a positive, proactive light; to stress the importance of investing in quality jobs; and to acknowledge the progress that has been made. Rowe stated that public opinion research demonstrates that messaging which emphasizes the value of opportunity resonates with a broad audience.

Mariko Chang presented data on the intersection of racial and gender wealth disparities, the reasons why women lack access to the “wealth escalator,” and possible asset-building solutions for a more equitable economic future. (click here to download her slides) Women often do not have access to factors that contribute to wealth, such as fringe benefits. Women are overrepresented in part-time and low-wage jobs that do not offer fringe benefits such as health insurance and sick leave. The lack of fringe benefits bars women from getting on the “wealth escalator”, which compounds net wealth and fosters future financial stability. Chang recommended the use of Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) and micro-finance institutions as two short-term strategies for narrowing the wealth gap. For the long term, Chang recommends encouraging the development of government policies supporting childcare and/or care-giver credits that would help women increase their net wealth over the course of their lifetime.

To download the audio from this webinar, click here.