October 21 2010
New Report on Women in the Economy is Tone-Deaf and Misguided
Carrie L. Lukas
The National Economic Council just released "Jobs and Economic Security for America's Women," and the report is, in many ways, about as ho-hum as you can get: women's increased role in the economy and as family breadwinners, women's gains in education, and the challenges women face, such as the much ballyhooed "wage-gap." Naturally, this assessment is followed up with a list of the initiatives the administration has launched or plans to launch. But there is something notable about the report: It exemplifies everything that's wrong with this White House in terms of both tone-deafness and policy.
First, there's the report's most obvious problem: It's men, not women, who have been hit hardest by the "great recession." The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of September 2010, the unemployment rate for men over age 16 was 10.5 percent while the rate for women over age 16 was 8.6 percent. The NEC report itself provides statistics such as this: "Almost 42 percent of the long-term unemployed are women." Which means - as even the only mildly mathematically astute reader recognizes - that 58 percent of the long-term unemployed are men.
It's fine to do an analysis of how one particular group of Americans is faring, and the group doesn't always need to be most disadvantaged one. Yet in focusing on women's economic challenges, the report misses one of the largest factors that determines women's financial security: men's economic prospects. Men's deteriorating employment greatly impacts married women and women with children who depend on fathers for support. Few people (outside of women's studies departments) see the world in terms as a war between the sexes. Women's and men's fates are inexorably tied in family finances, so to ignore men's bleaker economic situation makes this report more an exercise in politicking than a useful analysis of women's current economic challenges.
The long list of programs to allegedly boost women is similarly off-key. Does anyone really think "regional women entrepreneurship forums" or adding four new "women's business centers" to the 110 that already exist will meaningfully help women? What do they really do, anyway? Presumably, assist would-be women entrepreneurs navigate the labyrinth of legal and regulatory red tape that make it so hard to start a business. Perhaps the White House could just cut the middle man and reduce the federal burden on the private sector. That way, no tour guides for the bureaucracy would be necessary.
The Obama administration also wants to make it easier for women to sue employers, force businesses to provide more paid leave, and impose new health insurance mandates - just to name a few items on the wish list. All these move in the wrong direction by making it more expensive to add jobs and retain employees. The long list shows that the administration is missing the big picture: Our economy is suffering under the strain of a bloated, burdensome government and from the tremendous uncertainty created by pending tax increases, the yet-to-be-detailed health-care mandates, the new financial-services regime, the continued flirtation with a carbon tax, and by countless other proposals that make it impossible for businesses to plan.
Women aren't going to be impressed with this hodgepodge of small-ball programs. It instead confirms for most women their suspicions that this administration has no idea what it's doing when it comes to promoting economic security.
(By the way, check out the Independent Women's Forum's newly released Agenda for Women 2010, which has better big-picture ideas for turning the economy around for men and women alike.)