Over the next several weeks, Congress will consider a proposed stimulus package of close to a trillion dollars to help move us toward economic recovery and create or save three million jobs. To do so, the administration will provide money to states for "shovel ready" projects to rebuild roads, highways, and bridges. Among other proposed line items, the package will also provide money to digitize medical records. The problem with these jumpstart efforts is that the number of women who will directly benefit from new jobs created by the package will be microscopic.
Women make up less than 10% of all construction workers and only 20% of Information Technology professionals nationally. And when you subtract the number of women administrative assistants and surveyors, the number of women construction workers plunges to less than 2%.
Digitizing medical records will go a long way to help cut healthcare costs and streamline bureaucratic processes. It will also create jobs for Information Technology specialists that will be needed to develop new systems and train medical professionals on how to use them. However, aside from obvious privacy concerns, it is likely that digitizing medical records will result in a loss of jobs for women as they are most likely to have managed medical records and files by hand in the past.
In attempting to craft a stimulus package that will not only ignite the economy, but help people who are struggling, more consideration should be given to the everyday realities of working people, particularly single women heads of households.
In a vulnerable and weak economy, women and single-women heads of households are hit hardest. They tend to earn less and have fewer assets than their male counterparts. And single mothers and their families are more likely to live in poverty than any other demographic group in the United States.
What should be done? How can we make the stimulus package a little more pink?
As outlined in the current proposal, extending unemployment benefits to part-time workers and making Medicaid available to individuals who become unemployed are good starts. The administration should also provide fiscal support to states to increase childcare subsidies and provide other support services to single women heads of households so that they will be able to survive this downturn. There could also be some additional funding funneled to states for education and training programs for low-income women to help move them out of poverty and into jobs with a future.
Right now, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the Obama Administration to move quickly to turn the rough economic tide. However, I caution against letting this 750 billion or more dollars burn a hole in our pockets. Instead, I say let us be thoughtful and consider the ways in which this package can truly benefit the most vulnerable and least advantaged in our society. And please no rebate checks; they don't work.
C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D., is a political scientist and the executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. She is also a Senior Research Fellow at the National Council for Research on Women.