Obama Jobs Plan: Women Pleasantly Surprised
While men lost more jobs in the recession than women, women have been slower to recover, losing nearly 300,000 jobs since the economic "recovery" began in 2009. Some women's organizations were concerned that President Obama's jobs plan was going to focus on boosting male-dominated industries, such as construction and manufacturing, to the exclusion of the female workforce. Instead, he laid out a relatively gender-balanced solution to the jobs crisis.
The president's plan provides funds to rehire thousands of teachers, health care workers, childcare workers and social workers that have been laid off by state and local governments. The plan will invest $30 billion to prevent teacher layoffs alone, saving up to 280,000 jobs in a field where 78 percent of the workforce is female.
Obama also emphasized the need to rebuild the nation’s physical infrastructure and committed specific funding for outreach and training to ensure that these jobs revitalizing schools, roads and rails are available to women and minorities.
"There was some effort to get some of the women's jobs saved-- mostly teachers and counselors and education support workers-- and I think that's more than people were expecting him to propose," said Jeffrey Hayes, senior research associate for the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
The President's jobs plan also calls for another yearlong extension of unemployment benefits, which would benefit the 2.6 million women who currently rely on those weekly checks to pay the bills. And the White House estimates that extending the payroll tax cut would directly increase the paychecks of 77.9 million women in the workforce and cut payroll taxes in half for over 900,000 women-owned small businesses nationwide.
But while women's groups such as the National Organization for Women and the National Women's Law Center are enthusiastically endorsing Obama's jobs plan, they said there are still some concerns that need to be addressed. For instance, if Congress votes to reform Social Security or make significant cuts to Medicare, those changes could disproportionately affect women, who have longer life expectancies than men. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, women represent 57 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older and approximately 68 percent of beneficiaries over 85. In 2009, 45 percent of all elderly unmarried females receiving Social Security benefits relied on the program for 90 percent or more of their income.
NOW pointed out in its response to Obama's jobs speech, his plan does not address the fact that American women are still earning significantly less than men -- 77 cents to the male dollar, as of 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"We must close the gender wage gap, pay livable wages to women who work in traditionally female jobs and prepare women to move into higher-paying jobs with real potential for advancement," said Terry O'Neill, the president of NOW. "In other words, as the president would say, we need to 'up our game.'"