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Listening to Women—Obama’s Jobs Proposal

| September 13, 2011

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President Obama discusses the American Jobs Act in the Rose Garden, September 12, 2011

The jobs plan President Obama presented to Congress this week recognizes that out-of-work women need targeted help.

Darlene, a Milwaukee elementary school teacher, was one of hundreds laid off this summer because of the draconian cuts to education from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. She was also one of the women cheering about the latest jobs proposal from President Barack Obama, which he submitted to Congress on Monday this week.

“I was afraid he’d just talk about ‘shovel-ready’ jobs,” she said. “There aren’t many women at the other end of those shovels. But there are a lot of us who might get back to work if this proposal passes.”

The president’s plan would invest $30 billion to save jobs for up to 280,000 teachers. Given that women make up about 78 percent of teachers in this country, that’s a huge investment in women’s employment.

The American Jobs Act does include a lot of construction jobs, and—unlike the 2009 Recovery Act—$50 million in funds specifically geared towards job training for women, people of color and other under-represented groups in those jobs, targeting workers in the local areas where the jobs will be done. They would be trained for transportation-related activities, including construction, contract administration, inspection, and security. Another $10 million will help minority-owned and disadvantaged business enterprises gain better access to transportation contracts, in turn helping strengthen and grow small businesses that help drive local economies.

Jobs would also be created to fix the nation’s crumbling schools. The proposal calls for a robust $25 billion investment in school infrastructure that will modernize at least 35,000 public schools—that means creating jobs that have a direct tie to improved learning for our kids. Funds could be used for a broad range of purposes, including repair and renovation projects, greening and energy efficiency upgrades, asbestos abatement and removal, and modernization efforts to build new science and computer labs and to upgrade technology.

President Obama is also proposing $5 billion to modernize community colleges—another area with many female employees—and to rehabilitate homes.

Several other features of the proposed plan would benefit women:

  • Extending into 2012 additional unemployment benefits. That could help 2.6 million American women currently receiving unemployment insurance from losing their benefits as they continue to look for work.
  • Extending the payroll tax cut, putting more money into workers’ pockets.
  • Supporting legislation prohibiting discrimination against the long-term unemployed.
  • Expanding work-sharing to help avoid layoffs. This would save jobs by allowing workers who reduce their hours to receive unemployment benefits for that time, and all stay on the job.

As the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has pointed out, the so-called recovery hasn’t worked for most people, but men are going back to work “at about three times the speed of women….Since October of 2009 when men’s and women’s total jobs numbers were virtually equal, women have failed to gain any jobs, whereas men have gained 1.6 million. The gap between women’s and men’s employment in August is currently 1.6 million.”

The point isn’t to slow down recovery in areas that benefit men, but to pay attention to the gender and racial impact of the current disastrous economic situation, and target programs accordingly. This time around, the administration has done a better job of getting input from women’s groups, and listening to their recommendations.

Here’s what else women’s groups are saying that must be heard: women will suffer from any changes to Social Security or Medicare that delay the age of eligibility or otherwise make these programs harder to use.

Instead of cutting these programs that working women and middle class families rely on, Congress should focus on cutting tax breaks for those who earn more than $106,000, the current wage base on which Social Security taxes can be imposed. Those who can afford to do so should pay their fair share.

Likewise, we need to close corporate tax loopholes that let giants like General Electric get tax refunds, and axe the right-wing suggestion to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps the working poor climb out of poverty.

We also need job retention policies like paid sick days and paid family leave. Bad times are the worst time to lose a job for being a good mother. Policies that protect working women will help strengthen our families and help the economy grow.

President Obama knows what we all know—this Congress is not about to pass the majority of his jobs proposals. That makes it all the more important to name the policies we really need.

If Congress doesn’t follow the president’s call to pass the American Jobs Act, it’s the responsibility of all of us to hold them accountable in the 2012 elections.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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