Economic Security Summit: Where are we Going?

By Kyla Bender-Baird

The second panel this morning tackles the question, "where are we going?" We are interested in the innovative city, state, and national initiatives already underway addressing the impact of the economic crisis on vulnerable communities. We also want to identify the current gaps in knowledge and what new partnerships we can form to move us towards an economy that works for all. Here to help us address these important questions are Laura Lein, Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan and an expert on families in poverty; Anna Wadia, program officer at the Ford Foundation focusing on job quality issues in the U.S.; Lucie Lapovsky, an economist who consults, writes, teaches and speaks widely on issues related to higher education finance, strategy, leadership, governance, enrollment management and women’s leadership; and Deborah Richardson, Chief Program Officer of the Women's Funding Network, who is kindly serving as the moderator for this panel.

Deborah: Data is important. Funding is important. But at the end of the day, it takes the bridge with the community and real women on the ground to get at the solutions we need.

Laura: Not every community has healthcare. My very first field research as an anthropologist was in migrant labor camps along the eastern coast, primarily comprised of African American families. There was no care in those communities. In one family, the man would disappear during the middle of the night. Turns out, this man was a universal blood donor and would contribute blood so that members of his communities could receive care. Currently, interrupted healthcare is all too common. People use informal negotiations to get care and experience episodes with bureaucracy where they are denied healthcare. One woman with an at-risk pregnancy was denied care because she didn’t have “proof of pregnancy” when she was nearly 8 months pregnant. She lost the child. People come in for tooth aches when they won’t come in for other types of care—one dental office recognizes this pattern and is looking on how to provide more holistic care to the patient clients who come in with such dental complaints. At a Michigan-based health Summit, we discovered significant disparities in healthcare access and outcomes. Issues and concerns were also raised about the healthcare workforce. If you identify good health care and innovative policy for women, it’s likely to be very good for everyone else too. That’s why it’s important to do this type of analysis. In Michigan, we are losing protections for mental health services specific to domestic violence survivors. Those are the kinds of things that need to be examined as we move forward. We need to expand the kinds of services that are available to children and their families through schools, as a very present institution in families’ lives. This is a real battle in many states. Texas banned all clinics in public high schools in the fear that they would engage in sex education and family planning. We need to expand home visiting services for pregnant and parenting families. We need to look at the ways we support or don’t support the workforce in this sector—particularly in regards to loan repayment plans. We need to be aware of where the political alliance is drawn around these issues.

Anna: One in four working families is dependent on employment that offers poor security, low pay, few benefits, and little opportunities for advancement. At the Ford Foundation, we work on policies that improve quality of jobs at the bottom of the career ladder. In order for people to move up the ladder, they need the supports we’ve been talking about such as TANF, food stamps, etc. We are especially focused on policies that guarantee paid days off for all workers; reforming unemployment insurance system; raise minimum wage and making sure it covers everyone. How can we look at these policies as economic growth policies? How do we make the case that whether or not you give a hoot about women, you should care about these issues? What percentage of tip workers are women? 62%. Recovery Act included $7 billion to award states that reformed their unemployment insurance system to make them match the workforce of the 21st century: to cover part-time workers, low-wage workers, quits due to domestic violence or compelling families reasons. 29 states have passed at least one of those reforms. What percentage of the private sector does not have a single paid day off when they are sick? 40%. Less than half of mothers receive pay during maternity leave. What policy did FDR “an essential part of economic recovery” in 1938 when one out of 5 workers was unemployed? The first federal minimum wage. A decade earlier, Henry Ford deliberately raised the wage of his workers so that they could buy his cars. Both men recognized that our economy is driven by consumer spending. Increases in minimum wage goes straight back into the economy. 77 cent increase in minimum wage generated over $5 billion in consumer spending. Each dollar government spends in unemployment insurance generates $1.67 in economic growth. Long-term stagnation of income and wages at the middle and lower levels of economic rungs contributes to mounting household debt, which in turn contributed to the housing bubble collapse and economic downturn. Paid sick leave is the best policy for the least cost. Labor provisions are too often talked about as a job killer. How do we make the discussion about how these are policies that CREATE not kill jobs?

Lucie: I want to go back to what Ana started us off with this morning: We need to design an economic system that we believe in and how we need to increase our political power. In fact, women are 18% or less of leadership across the sectors. We are not at the top. But we do know that women are getting more college degrees than men. For the first time this year, we got the majority of PhDs. We ought to be in leadership positions at equal or greater numbers than men. But we’re just not getting through. We used to be at the top in terms of an educated country in the world. We now rank around 10 or 12. Education is a significant economic stimulus. What percentage of high school grads go right into college? 62%. It differs by socioeconomic status. Among the top economic quintile with the lowest academic achievement, about 70% go to college. That’s the same amount as the lowest economic quintile with highest academic achievement. What percent graduate from college (in six years from a four year school)? 52%. From a two-year college, it’s more like a third. There’s not access to the information students need—we don’t have a system of counseling that’s effective. The pricing system for education does not make sense. Students see the price and are put off—they don’t think they can afford it. It’s very difficult to see what you’re actually going to pay. We need system in place to get these students through—all the way to graduation. For older people (most of which are independent women), there are very high tax rates for financial aid. The faster you get through college, the more likely you are to graduate. Highest cost of college is the opportunity college (lost wages while out of workforce)—most cost-effective way to pay is through loans. College graduates have shorter periods of unemployment. There is a tremendous amount we can. Pulling up the whole country takes an educated workforce. Women need to rise to the top because there will be more transformation when we are leading at all levels.

Deborah: Clearly there is an intersection between all these issues—healthcare, education, and job security. The overriding theme is how do we get this message out? It is through public engagement that we create the political will to get things done.

(Summit participants talk amongst themselves)

Report back from discussion begins…

Diana Spatz, LIFETIME: partnerships grassroots groups who can put a human face to the statistics with the researchers who have been making the case for a long time, but no one is paying attention.

Mary Ignatius, Parent Voices: The thing that unites us all is revenues. We want all our programs protected and want to hold corporations accountable.

Rita Henley Jensen, Women’s eNews: We have the power. Women elected Obama and Congress. We control the elections and we need to focus on that.

Chris Cuomo, University of Georgia: I love the idea of link low-income women’s job with the green economy movement. Get the message to the youth, green movement. Use environmental justice as a entry point to talk about women’s economic interests.

Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, National Crittenton Foundation: Start with young women and tell them they can do it! Good for business means it’s good for the economy.

Deborah: As families, we have to take on our issues. What are we going to do in the family about the role of institutional racism?

Diana Spatz, LIFETIME: 98% of families who have timed off welfare are people of color.

Anna Wadia, Ford Foundation: New polling data on minimum wage show that 2/3 of all Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10. But by race and ethnicity: 85% Blacks. And by gender: 73% of women compared to 60% of men. Get out the vote among communities color and low-income communities.

Deborah: Connection between the power to do the work, mobilizing the base, and recreation not just fixing.

Janice Johnson Dias, John Jay College: Convincing people who benefit from racism and who are the subject of racism that it’s racism that is operative is a HUGE challenge.

Mimi Abramovitz: States with largest black populations had the most punitive welfare policies. That’s no accident.

Jeannette: Institutions are made of people. How do we hold each other accountable? It’s never mentioned in the room.

Mia Herndon, Third Wave Foundation: Start at home. Who is creating the research, in our organizations that are driving the agendas, how are we supporting our employee’s well-being?

Monica Barrera, WOC Policy Network: Keep the focus on institutional. Institutional policies that have clearly contributed to the distribution of poverty rates. For example, wealth distribution and home ownership rates from post-WWII home buying policies. Very real, racist policies have contributed to who we see today on welfare rolls.

Portia Wu, National Partnership for Women and Families: Make change in institutions that are making these policies. Connect not only with elected representatives but also with the Congressional staffers who just don’t have connection to the real world.

Merble Reagon: It’s easier to talk about discrimination than white-skinned privilege. If we’re going to have real conversations about institutional racisms, we have to talk about the ways it works to the advantages of people who are not of color.

Heather Arnet, Women and Girls Foundation: Stimulus funding in Pennsylvania almost felt like a reinvestment in institutional racism and misogyny because of the discourse around “shovel ready” jobs. Almost no training for employers on best practices—too often focused only employees.

Miriam Yeung: How do we heal from institutional racism? This has to be part of the equation—community resilience.

Sara Manzano-Diaz, Women’s Bureau: The issue of race is usually under the table. If we don’t have these conversations, all this institutional racism that has existed for time immemorial will continue to have an impact.

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health: Want to bring into the room the issue of reproductive coercion and how it impacts women of color—something that needs to be thought about.

Caroline Hotaling, Ms. Foundation: ARRA funding is replicating…the same thing we saw after WWII, we’re going to see it again. The way assets got concentrated in white communities, it’s happening again. A lot of the stuff we deal with is Clinton-era policies. We can’t forget that fact.

Ruby Bright: Consider thinking about someone who has experienced discrimination or been disenfranchised—ask them to see what they want to see and have. Get a personal story around your work. Have that person walk with you to learn what you know about policy, we can begin some mobilization to really address these issues.

Joan Kuriansky, WOW: Let’s examine the structure of education in this country—funding is based on property tax. This structure will keep low-income families, many of which are families of color, going down an education track that won’t necessarily lead to economic security. There is a shared vision of all of us in this country of what we need to do and where we need to go.

Mariko Chang: There are men, even white men, who care about these issues as well. We need to think about ways to engage them, especially since statistically they are more likely to have access to power.

Deborah: Building those allies.

Lucie: I want to issue a challenge to everyone here in that we have a lot of financial power. Are you going to female owned businesses? When you go out and get a contract, do you ask questions about gender and racial breakdown of their board? Use your power very consciously with every dollar you spend.

Anna Wadia: It would be great in settings like this to have more policymakers. There are good people in those positions right now that are desperate for good ideas.

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