Women have had a clear stake in voting from the day they were granted the right to do so, but this year perhaps more than ever. While we still see the faces of the "old boy network" splashed across the TV screen when we watch the news of these economic dark days, millions of women have billions of dollars at stake in whatever the new US economic policy will become. It's time to pull our heads out of the sand and pay attention to what the economy means for us now, and for our mothers and daughters, too. It's time to remember that in the 2004 election, women were key - but not key enough.
On September 17, not long before the dynamic Wall Street crashes we are learning about now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi railed against John McCain's economic stance, reminding women that the GOP candidate opposed the expansion of children's health insurance programming, and opposed legislation regarding equal pay for women. Speaker Pelosi reminded us then that McCain's health care plan would shift Americans insurance coverage into individual programs rather than employer-sponsored plans. Through this, the UK's "Guardian" points out that 59 million women would risk losing healthcare coverage altogether.
The same notion holds for the privatization of Social Security. Studies show that, on the whole, women outlive their male counterparts, and therefore draw on their Social Security benefits for longer periods of time. Private Social Security, or investing that security in a stock market that recently plummeted more than 500 points in a single day, and lacks overall stability, is a mistake that would harm far more women than men.
The AFL-CIO reminds us of McCain's support for CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement. In July, 2005 the Bush Administration pushed through CAFTA, which did not include protections for women, who make up the majority of workers in Central American factories. In these areas, women are granted no personal leave, no power to negotiate for fair wages, and no allowance for medical or family leaves or job protections. McCain supported CAFTA as a means to greater trade without tariffs, arguing that it was truly great for our economy. In a speech delivered to the National Press Club in 1999, he even told us what he would do if he found himself in the oval office, "If I were president, I would negotiate a free trade agreement with almost any country." He has maintained this stance, despite its harm to women and the exporting of not good, but more than a million jobs.
Obama refused to support CAFTA in 2005, and continues to rail against the exportation of American jobs, in large part because of what it will do to the domestic economic status of women. Obama wrote, in 2005, that although he understands fully the need to reduce barriers to trade, that these types of economic agreements simply won't work for the women of this country. Pointing out McCain's idea that women don't need equal pay protections so much as they need education and training, Obama said "when they wonder how they will get this training and this education, when they ask what they will do about their health-care bills and their lower wages and the general sense of financial insecurity that seems to grow with each passing day, I cannot look them in the eyes and tell them that their government is doing a single thing about these problems."
Equal Pay isn't really equal in McCain's eyes, either.
To prove it, McCain voted NO on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 2831) which was poised to reverse a Supreme Court ruling making it more difficult to sue employers for pay discrimination. Obama said, in April of this year that "passing this bill is an important step in closing the pay gap", although he admits it is not the final element. He also supports strengthening the EEOC's funding. In the same press release, Obama noted that, "if you work hard and do a good job, you should be rewarded no matter what you look like, where you come from, or what gender you are."
The approach of any candidate to women's pay issues is even more important today, in a movement of layoffs, downsizing, and business closings. The New York Times reported in July that "an economic recovery has come and gone" and that the percentage of working women has fallen. This happened despite the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that, in each of the seven economic recoveries since 11960, more women have entered the workforce. With jobs slipping away, it is likely that when women can find jobs to return to, the rates of pay will hardly make it worthwhile. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the median pay for women has fallen from $15.04 an hour (2004) to just $14.84 an hour (adjusted for inflation) in 2007. On the other side of that coin, though men's wages are falling similarly, they still earn an average of $2 more per hour than their similarly-trained female counterparts.
Why does this disparity mean so much in today's economy, and for today's candidates? The retirement, investments, and social security disbursements for women are based on their lifetime earnings. Over a lifetime, women make less even in comparable jobs. With no jobs, women have little or no access to healthcare, for themselves or their dependant children.
When husbands lose their jobs due to downsizing our outsourcing, women tend to make up what slack they can in their own occupations. When women face the same job losses, they tend to claim that they are staying home to care for their children, according to Heather Boushey of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.
If women aren't looked after in this election, in this economic environment, the losses will be substantial and lasting. If women cannot return to the workforce in droves, the way they did as a result of the welfare-to-work reforms and the growing economy of the 1990s, the stagnation will last and last. The biggest loser in that scenario will not be the "old boys" of Wall Street, it will be the women, mothers, and girls of the next several decades who have no Social Security check to cash, no insurance to ease their health care, and no secure future at all.
This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the policy differences between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. If you have a policy expertise and would like to participate, please see Calling All Policy Gurus.
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