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Feminomics: Race, Gender, and Poverty in Economic Recovery

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From an economic standpoint, will 2010 be the year of the woman? As part of the Roosevelt Institute's ongoing 'Feminomics' series, running on the New Deal 2.0 blog, I was asked to reflect on women's changing roles in the economy. Here's my take on focusing on the needs of women of color as a bellwether for the overall economy.

We all need jobs: men and women, people of all races, ages and physical abilities. So it's welcome news that recent jobs numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that we only lost 11,000 jobs -- not the 135,000 we thought we'd lose. And these numbers also tell us that we have a lot more to do to ensure that all who should work can work. To do that, we must make sure that we add the jobs to the economy that we all need. So why talk about women and why talk about women and race?

Talking about women and race will help focus us on where our economy is very broken. Men have lost jobs faster than women. Men need jobs. But most job creation has been in male-dominated industries like construction. Women of all races, and black men too, are grossly under-represented in construction jobs.

According to 2008 Department of Labor data, women are almost 60 percent of the US labor force -- working or looking for work. But women also earn only about 80% of what men earn. And women of color are faring worse than white women. When we at the Center for Social Inclusion crunched the numbers, we found that unemployment has also risen faster for young women of color than for white women in the same age range. Unemployment among young black women has increased by 8.6% to 20.4%. Today, 14.6% of Latina women in that age category are unemployed -- an increase of 7.2% since the start of the recession. Age matters, too. Young, white women are doing as poorly as their young male counterparts -- unemployment has risen 6.2% to 11%.

Another reason to pay attention to women's needs in this recession? In a word: poverty. The poverty rate for black women is 26.2%, and it's 25.5% for Latina women -- more than 4 times higher than the white male poverty rate. And it is not surprising that children are the collateral damage when we fail address the unemployment and poor pay that is behind these numbers. Even in a recession, it is shocking that 30.6% of Latino children, 33.9% of Black children, 15.8% of white children, and 13.3% of Asian children live in poverty.

A democracy needs a democratic economy. That means that we invest our public dollars in our people so that we all can participate in the economy. Our economy is a set of relationships -- childcare, health care, transportation, education and networks. Investing in childcare, access to education -- particularly higher education -- and in critical infrastructure like broadband and public transit that connects excluded communities to job opportunities and job centers, can ensure that our economy and our nation work. The White House is on the right track when it looks to reform health care, invest in infrastructure and fix financial institutions. But neutral decisions will mean that women, particularly women of color, will probably not have the same opportunities. Collecting data by race and gender, understanding where investments are low and unemployment is high, and removing the barriers the excluded face will produce a stronger nation.

This post originally appeared on New Deal 2.0.