April 12 2013
Hillary Clinton recently remarked that "in places around America, large and small, the clock is turning back" for women. She's right. During the past few years, many American women have had less happiness and fewer choices in terms of family, work and success.
What's behind this shift? In truth, it's anti-growth economic policies that have decreased employment, led to lower wages and increased poverty levels for women and their families. Today, the biggest threat to women's progress is not the tired, misinterpreted "wage gap," but a stalled economy.
For example, part-time work is a great option for women who also serve as caregivers in their families, a group the Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to as "part-time for noneconomic reasons." But since Obama has been in office, another group -- "involuntary part-time workers" -- has been stuck around 8 million (compared to a pre-recession norm closer to 4 million). These are part-time workers, many of them women, who would prefer full-time work if only they could get it.
What's driving the increase in involuntary part-time jobs? Anecdotally, it seems President Obama's policies have played a big role: Wendy's, Taco Bell, Darden Restaurants (owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster) along with community colleges in Pennsylvania and Virginia point to the Affordable Care Act (or ObamaCare) as the reason why they've converted thousands of workers to part time.
Some women see even these involuntary part-time workers as the lucky ones. At least they have some paid work. Many women simply cannot find jobs in this economy. And married women with children often face some of the most difficult employment calculations.
Child-care costs and the high tax rates imposed on secondary earners mean that financially, it simply isn't worth it for many women to re-enter the workplace. And the more time a woman spends out of the workforce, the harder it is to re-enter.
With so few opportunities available, it's no surprise that work force participation sits unmoved at a 30-year low of 63.5 percent. If left-leaning feminists like Clinton feel that home-making is not an acceptable occupation for women, the employment crisis should concern them.
Even for women working full-time, the painfully slow economic "recovery" of the past five years has wrecked havoc on our wage growth. Between February 2012 and February 2013 (the latest data available), real hourly wages grew a measly 0.1 percent. This means women -- and men -- aren't earning enough to pay off debts or save for a rainy day. We are all simply trying to get by.
And for many women, there's no getting by. Under President Obama, not only has the number of people in poverty increased, but the poverty rate has increased, including the rate for female-headed households. In fact, poverty rates reached a new high since the 1960's when the "War on Poverty" began. Now that's turning back the clock.
Instead of dreaming big, many American women are settling for less, and that often means dependency on government programs. After the recession of 2008, the number of Americans on food stamps grew 51 percent (and the majority of recipients are women). Today, this number remains stubbornly high, suggesting that for many American women, the flypaper of dependency has slowed their progress, and the progress of our nation.
There is a slippery slope between a social safety net and policies that discourage advancement. Another bright female leader, the recently passed Margaret Thatcher, would have explained that the latter makes the poor poorer. This is exactly what we have seen during Obama's tenure, and it's taken a particular toll on women.
In that sense Hillary Clinton is right: The clock is turning back. And President Obama's economic policies -- not widespread discrimination -- are responsible. Too many women's opportunities are limited in today's America not because of sexism, but because of our stalled economy. Leaders who truly want to ensure women's continued progress should stop pandering to one sex, and instead refocus on creating a growing economy that provides opportunity for all.