SWING STATE FORUM--The View from Michigan

October 31, 2008 Posted by Linda Basch

Below is my exchange with Susan W. Kaufmann, Associate Director for Advocacy at the University of Michigan Center for the Education of Women, where she addresses issues important to women through research and action.  She holds an MS in environmental advocacy from the University of Michigan.

Linda Basch: What are the key issues facing women in your state?

Susan Kaufmann: The Michigan economy, the worst in the nation, is taking a terrible toll on women and families.  Since June 2000, Michigan has lost over a half-million jobs.  Our unemployment rate is 8.7%, the second highest in the nation, and is predicted to rise 1.5% in 2009.  Inflation-adjusted median income has dropped by approximately $4,000 dollars since 2001 and is now about $3,000 below the national median, as high-paying manufacturing jobs are replaced by lower-paying jobs in the service sector.  Women are particularly hard-hit, as Michigan women working full-time, year-round earn only 71 cents for every dollar earned by a similarly employed man, one of the highest levels of wage inequity in the country. Poverty rose rapidly in Michigan between 2001 and 2007, with child poverty up by approximately one-third to 19% and family poverty up by about 25%. Michigan is also one of the top five states for home foreclosures and Detroit the top city in the nation. The impact is felt throughout the state but has been particularly brutal in urban cores, disproportionately affecting female-headed households. Finally, my report, Michigan Women in the High-Tech Knowledge Economy, shows that relatively few Michigan women are moving into the high-tech knowledge economy the state is banking on for revitalization.  

LB: What are the most critical policy issues at stake in your region? 

SK: Many issues are at stake for women and families. For instance, preventing foreclosures and keeping families in their homes whenever possible is critical to ending the devastation being experienced by families and communities and to shore up plummeting home prices.

Equal pay legislation, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, is essential to ending sex discrimination in pay.

Furthermore, national paid sick leave policy would enable all workers to care for themselves and their families without losing income or jeopardizing their jobs.

In addition, access to affordable health insurance is ever more critical as workers lose employer-provided benefits.

Both Michigan and the U.S. must produce more college graduates in order to remain economically competitive. After years of continual cuts in state funding, Michigan universities need more state support, and students need more state and federal need-based financial aid, as detailed in “Access to Higher Education: Barriers and Benefits.”

Currently, only one of every seven U.S. children who are eligible for a state childcare subsidy actually receives one, and subsidy payments are too low to secure good quality care. Adequate childcare assistance supports low-income mothers in meeting state work requirements, remaining employed and providing safe and nurturing care for their children.

Changing federal welfare law to permit recipients to meet work requirements by earning a bachelor’s degree would provide permanent economic stability for families and increase children’s educational attainment.

Just to name a few!

LB:  Are there any fears about voting fraud in your state and, if so, what is being done to address this?

SK:  There have been some concerns in Michigan, but hopefully they have been resolved.  In one case, the Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and private attorneys successfully sued the Michigan Secretary of State in U.S. District Court.  They have stopped the state from nullifying new voter registrations if mailed voter identification cards are returned as undeliverable. 

In response to an alleged threat by a county Republican Party official to challenge the voting rights of individuals on home foreclosure lists, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee filed a federal lawsuit against the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee. The Republican and Democratic National Committees settled the lawsuit by agreeing that neither party would engage in such a practice.

In a third case, a U.S. District judge refused to overturn a state law prohibiting voters from wearing campaign paraphernalia, including buttons and T-shirts, within 100 feet of a polling place.  The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had filed the lawsuit.

This is an election with extraordinarily high stakes for women and families.  Many people will be working to ensure a fair and legal voting process.

LB: We all await with eager anticipation.  Thank you, Susan.

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