Economic recovery means little to struggling low-income women
For several months now we have heard that the Great Recession may be winding down. Jobs are trickling back. Wall Street has rebounded. And fears of a full blown depression are yesterday's news.
For many Utah residents, however, economic recovery is a luxury afforded to those who had something to lose in the first place. Nowhere is this more evident than among low-income women, especially women of color. Of the 36,000 Utah women who were unemployed in 2009, nearly 14 percent were Hispanic/Latina.
These women were struggling long before the recession began and continue to struggle today. For example, while most people say they have been concerned about the economy for the past two years, 55 percent of African-American women report being worried about it for five years or more, according to a new national poll conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Ms. Foundation for Women and the Center for Community Change.
In the same poll, two-thirds of Latinas reported that their personal circumstances have been affected by the country's economic situation and more than half report that they or someone in their household has lost a job in the past year.
For these women and families, the "everyone for themselves" individualism espoused by the tea party movement rings hollow. The Ms. Foundation/CCC poll makes it clear that most Americans want more not less government help. Overall, 52 percent said they believe the government should play a greater role in creating jobs and training programs, helping to trim health care costs, and combating corporate greed. Those numbers increased to 66 percent for African-American women and 68 percent for Latinas.
Unfortunately, the difficulties confronting women and their families are too often pushed to the back burner in policy debates. Our government leaders have an opportunity to change that as Congress considers several pieces of legislation that could make an enormous difference for thousands of low-income women in our state.
These include bills that would create jobs and provide education and training opportunities, as well as ensure equal pay for women, paid family and medical leave, and affordable childcare.
Many members of Congress consider it politically risky to support such policies, assuming voters oppose any legislation that would cause an increase in the federal budget deficit if only temporarily. But the Ms. Foundation/CCC poll found that most people are less concerned about the deficit than they are about rising health care costs, the lack of jobs with family-sustaining wages, and the affordability of every day expenses like food and gas.
Despite messages from the far right, most people also consider helping those who are struggling key to strengthening our economy. Three out of four said policies that would create more jobs with decent wages and benefits for low-income families are important to them personally and even more believe such policies would be good for the economy.
They also see a need to address structural inequities in the economy that hold back major segments of the population. Three out of four, for instance, consider equal pay and benefits for men and women personally important to them and an important component of a healthy economy.
Whether our country is still in a recession is an irrelevant concept to thousands of Utah women and their families who have struggled for years to make ends meet. Our country and our state will not experience a genuine economic recovery unless helping them becomes a priority.
Caren J. Frost holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a research professor at the University of Utah's College of Social Work. She teaches courses on women's health issues at the national and international levels.