Building economic security for women

Women often survive in a near constant state of financial duress, simultaneously juggling the costs of housing, childcare, caregiving, health care and more. This interactive session will include leading voices, participating in a table discussion of subtopics including workplace justice, childcare and universal preschool, affordable housing and aging and retirement. We will wrap up with concrete steps to advance economic security for all women.

Karen Kali, Manager of Special Initiatives, NCRC, Washington, DC

Sehar Siddiqi, Policy Representative, National Association of Realtors, Washington, DC
Lara Hinz, Director of Programs, Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, Washington, DC
Helen Blank, Former Director, Child Care and Early Learning, National Women’s Law Center, Washington, DC
Ruth Martin, Vice President of Workplace Justice Campaigns, MomsRising, Silver Spring, MD

By: Emily Kaplan
Building economic security for women is an integral aspect of a Just Economy. At this year’s Just Economy Conference, one session looked at some of the different aspects of our society that lead to the gender wealth gap, along with some factors that must occur in order to build economic security for women throughout their lives. Each panelist made it clear that there is no one policy that will make the economy equitable for women. They acknowledged that only addressing the topics covered by the panel would not fix this inequity but are a good place to start.

There are different factors that go into the gender wage gap, including occupational segregation, bias against working mothers and direct pay discrimination. Someone’s race and ethnicity, disability, level of education, age and many other factors heighten this gap. In addition, women who are mothers also often face an additional penalty called the “mom wage gap,” because in the United States there is no guaranteed paid time off for caregiving responsibilities. Because women are more likely to be caregivers, not just to children but also to aging parents and aging spouses, the lack of paid family and medical leave make women economically vulnerable.

Ruth Martin, the vice president of Workplace Justice at MomsRising, discussed the importance of paid leave. The impact affects more than just the women who are earning less. An analysis of data over time by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that if we closed the gap it would cut poverty in half for women and families, and it would add $513 billion to the national economy.[1] An essential part to closing the gap is changing the narratives and policies surrounding paid family and medical leave. MomsRising works to change this reality by taking women’s stories right to elected officials and corporate leaders.

Another aspect to building economic security for women and families is access to caregiving. Helen Blank, the director of Childcare and Early Learning at the National Women’s Law Center, asked the audience questions about what they think about childcare. There were two overwhelming responses from the crowd: it costs too much and childcare providers are not paid enough. According to research by the National Women’s Law Center, childcare costs anywhere from $3,000 a year to over $20,000 a year[2], and for low-income families it consumes approximately 30 percent of household income.[3] Additionally, childcare providers make an average of just $11.42 an hour.[4]

There are only a few federal or state programs for parents or guardians looking for government programs to assist with the high costs of childcare, and what does exists does not adequately address the full needs of families. Blank mentioned the Childcare and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the childcare tax credit and the Dependent Care Assistance Program that support parents and guardians. She also mentioned that universal pre-kindergarten exists in 41 states, but it does not address the caregiving needs for children under the age of three. Blank cited two legislative measures Congress is considering right now that are in need of support. Senator Patty Murray [D-WA] sponsors the first bill titled, the Childcare for Working Families Act. This bill would support working families with the burden of childcare. Blank also mentioned that it is important to urge Congress to increase funding for CCDBG by $5 billion this year. The high cost of childcare and the lack of state and federal assistance, especially for low-income families, is a huge burden to economic justice and an essential building block for the economic security for women.

Sehar Siddiqi, a Federal Housing Policy representative from the National Association of Realtors, provided thoughts regarding the intersection of affordable housing and women’s economic security. Siddiqi discussed that despite single women homebuyers being the second largest group of homebuyers after married couples they face discrimination at each stage of the home owning process. First, when women—especially lower-income minority women—look for financing, they face higher rates of subprime loans despite putting down a larger down payment and having a lower rate of default. Some argue that this is due to women’s lower credit scores on average, but Siddiqi argues that the way financial institutions assess credit helps men more than it helps women. 

And then after single women buy a home, they face discrepancies in the rates of appreciation of housing compared to single men. Male-owned homes appreciated by 33 percent over 15 years while female-owned homes appreciated by 31 percent.[5] Although two percent might not seem like a large amount in most circumstances, the high value of homes makes two percent a significant amount of money. Women are not only impacted by the affordable housing crises that affects every homeowner in America, but they are also affected by direct discrimination from the housing market.

Lara Hinz, director of Programs at WISER, discussed how women experience and think about retirement differently than men for several reasons. Women tend to live longer than men do, so they need to plan for a larger nest egg when they do retire. In addition, as was detailed by Martin, women make less money than men, often leaving them with less savings in their retirement. Women are also more likely to leave the workforce to take on caregiving responsibilities of children, aging parents and spouses. This comes with its own financial burden many women do not anticipate. These factors come together to create a difficult situation for many older women, who are trying to stretch less resources for a longer amount of time. Hinz detailed some helpful resources for women and retirement such as the National Resource Center on Women and Retirement Planning, operated by WISER [wiserwomen.org], Eldercare Locator [Eldercare.acl.gov], Benefits Checkup [Benefitscheckup.org] and a booklet from WISER on financial steps for caregivers [www.wiserwomen.org]. Sharing these resources are essential to supporting caregivers and low- to moderate-income older adults.

The session demonstrated how the U.S. has failed to ensure the economic security of women, impacting families and many who depend on them. Addressing these issues from a systemic, inclusive and intersectional perspective is a necessity. As Martin shrewdly pointed out, “we do not have an epidemic of personal failings; we have systemic issues with real policy solutions. And, when we stand up and share our stories…we can help create the culture change we need to make sure these policies become a reality.”

[1] Milli, Jessica, et al., The Impact of Equal Pay on Poverty and the Economy. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2017, available at https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/C455.pdf.

[2] Child Care Aware of America, The US and the High Cost of Child Care: A Review of Prices and Proposed Solutions for a Broken System (Arlington, VA: Child Care Aware of America, 2018), available at http://usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/resources/research/costofcare/.

[3] Lynda Laughlin, Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011 (Current Population Reports, P70-135) (Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, 2013), 15, available at https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p70-135.pdf.

[4] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, available at http://www.bls. gov/oes/current/oes_nat.html.

[5] RealtyTrac, The Housing Gender Gap, 2015, available at https://www.realtytrac.com/news/realtytrac-housing-gender-gap-analysis/.

Helen Blank
Helen Blank – march11ppt.pptx

Lara Hinz
Lara Hinz – WISER-Hinz-Just-Economy-Conference-2019.pptx

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