*This is an extended and updated version of a 2011 article.
2012 will be a critical election for women if they are to retain their individual rights as well as the ability to take care of their families. Republicans and the Tea Party have proven themselves to be anti-poor, anti-middle class, anti-elderly, anti-gay, anti education, anti-union and extremely anti-woman. So who’s left to campaign to? Here’s how the GOP’s state and federal legislative agendas would impact our futures:
Since the 2010 midterm elections, there’s been a nationwide effort by conservative politicians to strip unions of bargaining rights. Why is this important to women? Because in 2010, almost half of union workers were women, and of those women 61.5% were employed in public sector jobs such as education, libraries, and training. In the next decade, women will likely gain majority status in the labor movement.
The right loves to refer to unionized public employees as “government workers” which, while technically true, misleads by creating an image of Washington bureaucrats, and that’s no accident. If they can get Americans to believe that the majority of union jobs are in government, people will be less likely to sympathize with those having their benefits cut.
Public employees are vilified by politicians and Republican hacks as overpaid burdens on taxpayers. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) stated that the quarter of a million “government workers” who would have lost jobs if the debt ceiling wasn’t raised’ would “need to go find a real job”. (Rep. Broun by the way has been MIA for 127 roll call votes in 5 years; guess he doesn’t consider his a “real job” either.)
So who are those “Public Workers”? New America Media asked just that question in March of 2011, and here’s what they found:
“For black men, the public sector—everything from police officers and firefighters to sanitation workers and government clerks—is the largest employer, providing 18 percent of jobs.
For black women, it’s the No. 2 employer, accounting for 23.3 percent of jobs…the public sector employs 14.2 percent of white male and 19.8 percent of white female workers.
Much of the outrage over Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s actions center[ed] on his targeting of the state’s female employees. In his attempt to bust public-sector unions, the GOP governor…exempted police and firefighters’ unions, whose members are mostly male…going after unions in professions dominated by women, such as teaching and nursing.”
The right claims ad nauseum that public workers’ pay greatly outpaces that of private workers using catchy little phrases like “runaway public sector” and “weight around taxpayer’s necks”; resorting to political talking points instead of facts. It’s a typical conservative tactic to make Americans resent each other.
As economist Robert Reich explains:
“The Republican trick is to compare apples with oranges — the average wage of public employees with the average wage of all private-sector employees. But only 23 percent of private-sector employees have college degrees; 48 percent of government workers do. Teachers, social workers, public lawyers…government accountants…all need at least four years of college.
Compare apples to apples and you’d see that over the last fifteen years the pay of public sector workers has dropped relative to private-sector employees with the same level of education. Public sector workers now earn 11 percent less than comparable workers in the private sector, and local workers 12 percent less. (Even if you include health and retirement benefits, government employees still earn less than their private-sector counterparts with similar educations.)”
As Linda Lowen points out:
“Not every woman can go to college, and for those who work in the expanding service sector, unions can close the wage gap between workers with four-year diplomas and those without.”
John Schmitt, a Senior Economist at the Center for Economic Policy and Research sees union membership as
“essential for women in the workforce, especially those in low-wage jobs”.
Unfortunately, only 11% of working women are currently union members; and conservative lawmakers are doing their best to further weaken union strength; because another threat to Republicans and their corporate masters is that unions have been proven to help raise wages for non-union workers as well.
Regarding Social Safety Nets
The recession, which according to some began as early as 2006, has resulted in 46.5 million people currently in need of food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) compared to 26 million in 2007. Conservative minions post a quote and a graph, add a few lines attempting to place blame on President Obama of course, and thus fulfill their only purpose – to pander to the party.
They don’t discuss why it’s happening or who it’s happening to because, quite frankly, they don’t care. Their job is not to inform, it’s to incite – to keep the base whipped up, so I’ll inform:
- Most SNAP recipients are children or the elderly.
- Many SNAP recipients have jobs.
- The majority of SNAP households do not receive cash welfare benefits.
- Only 14 percent had income above the poverty line
- The average monthly benefit received by SNAP households was $287.
- Forty percent of SNAP households received the maximum benefit for their family size – $668 [or $167.00/wk] to feed a family of four.
- The primary source of income among SNAP participants has shifted from welfare to work – In 1989, 42 percent of all SNAP households received cash welfare benefits and only 20 percent had earnings. In 2009, less than 10 percent received cash welfare, while 29 percent had earnings.
More importantly, according to the Denver Post:
“A new study by the Agriculture Department has found that food stamps, one of the country’s largest social safety-net programs, reduced the poverty rate … by nearly 8 percent in 2009, the most recent year included in the study.”
And yet Conservatives continue to disparage the SNAP program and its users; for example:
And Minnesota State Rep. Mary Franson, got a kick out of sharing a “friend’s” email that compared the SNAP program to feeding wild animals:
Struggling families who take advantage of subsidized school meal programs get bashed by Conservatives as well;
Kate O’Beirne, the paragon of pseudo-Christianity, had this compassionate take on poverty:
“…what poor excuse for a parent can’t rustle up a bowl of cereal and a banana?” (Video)
Even going so far as to accuse parents who participate in these school programs of being,
“…criminally negligent with respect to raising children.”
Even more ignorant was Rush Limbaugh’s suggestion for the 16 million children who could go hungry over the summer without school meals:
“…there’s always the neighborhood dumpster. Now, you might find competition with homeless people there, but there are videos that have been produced to show you how to healthfully dine and how to dumpster dive and survive until school kicks back up in August.” (Video)
This from a man who has obviously never missed a meal or the leftovers of anyone else’s for that matter. These attitudes, aside from being disgusting, are un-”Christian” and wholly un-American. With more people currently in need of SNAP, and the poverty rate actually declining due to their use, it’s a sad commentary on Republicans that just this week a GOP
“…congressional panel approved about $33 billion in cuts over 10 years from food stamp benefits.”
Those “Lazy” Unemployed
The unemployment rate was 8.2 % in March, down from 9.2% in June.
Let’s be clear – you can’t just decide one day to quit your job and collect unemployment; you must become unemployed through no fault of your own. Republicans should be complaining about the corporations that are outsourcing jobs, moving facilities out of the country, or holding billions of dollars hostage overseas while demanding a “tax holiday” to bring it home; but those large corporations have bought and paid for Conservatives, so the GOP has shifted the focus to the unemployed.
Conservative lawmakers have painted the unemployed as lazy drug users, not at all interested in going back to work. In a foolish exercise in futility, states such as Florida and Arizona, and now predictably the Republican House, want to tie unemployment to drug tests, something that is both unwarranted, and likely to be found unconstitutional.
By then however, Republicans will have already succeeded in convincing their base that unemployment is the fault of the unemployed, because as everyone knows, people love living on half or less of what they used to make, seeing their homes foreclosed on and being denigrated by politicians on top of it.
The latest GOP- talk- to- women- like- they’re- stupid- claim is that women have suffered disproportionately under the President’s watch. Mitt Romney is making the outrageous statement that 92.3 percent of the jobs lost since Barack Obama took office were lost by women. He’s cherry-picking facts and he knows it. As Slate explains:
“The story within the story is that recessions hit male-dominated highly cyclical sectors like construction and manufacturing first. Women tend to disproportionately work in sectors like health care and education that show slow and steady job growth. But those male-dominated cyclical sectors also bounce back relatively quickly.
So since the recession started more than a year before Obama’s inauguration, male job losses were close to bottoming out by the time Obama took office and he’s presided over a lot of rebound growth in male employment. Women, by contrast, have been devastated by cascading waves of teacher layoffs.”
Those would be the Republican union busting layoffs I mentioned earlier. The fact is, women have not only lost their own jobs, but many have seen their husbands, partners, siblings, children or parents lose theirs as well. We are not interested in nit picking the demographics of the unemployed; we want to reduce unemployment across the spectrum.
The Big Social Security Lie
Conservatives like to paint Social Security as a major factor in reducing the size of our current debt. This isn’t just a falsehood; this is an orchestrated lie to the American people.
The Christian Science Monitor points out:
“…Social Security is becoming a popular target for fiscal hawks. But Social Security will never add a dime to the debt, and Washington ought to be paying more attention to an actual crisis: the retirement income deficit…Our current problem is that in practice, Social Security is the lion’s share of retirement for most Americans: it’s half the income for two out of three retirees and virtually all the income for one out of five…
In 1980, two out of three American workers participated in traditional pension plans with guaranteed, lifetime benefits. Now, it’s one out of five and falling as employers cancel these plans, rescinding long-standing promises to workers and increasingly turn to do-it-yourself 401(k) plans.”
In 2009, the average annual Social Security income received by women 65 years and older was $12,155. (This is 253.23/wk)
In 2009, 45 percent of all elderly unmarried females receiving Social Security benefits relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.
Women accounted for 56 percent of adult Social Security beneficiaries in 2010.
Women typically earn less in the workplace for a variety of reasons, which I won’t go into here, but that means they’re able to put away less in retirement funds than men. Personal Social Security earnings however, aren’t even the most compelling reasons for women to worry about the program.
What will happen to families if benefits are cut or eliminated along with Medicare and Medicaid? Many of the elderly will not be able to maintain their independence, and will most likely need assistance from their families. Women (who are historically the caregivers) or their partners will begin to shoulder the weight of a job as well as care of their family and their parents or in-laws. For most couples, the choice to leave the workforce to handle these additional responsibilities will not be an option for either of them.
Last year, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont) referred to Pell Grants as “the welfare of the 21st century”. The fact is students and their families are watching college costs move further and further beyond their reach. As CNN reported:
“Tuition and fees at public universities, according to the College Board, have surged almost 130% over the last 20 years — while middle class incomes have stagnated.”
Are people like Rehberg really too stupid to understand the return on investment from Pell Grants? There’s been an increase in these grants recently, as many out of work Americans are going back to school. This will mean higher earning ability; more taxes paid and better job security in the long run. We owe at least the opportunity for an education to every generation regardless of wealth.
As parents have joined the ranks of the unemployed their dreams of providing for their children’s education are fading rapidly; of course, that won’t really matter if Republicans keep getting elected, as they want nothing more than to gut the Department of Education.
Our Reproductive Rights
We have watched Republican and Tea Party politicians wage a ridiculously anti-women assault on this country over the last year and a half. If you have managed to ignore the discussion on women’s reproductive rights up until now, foolishly thinking it didn’t really affect you, you’d damn well better start paying attention.Conservative politicians are now attempting to dictate what physicians can say and do in the patient relationship.
Then there are the personhood bills popping up all over the country; defying all science and logic, lawmakers are taking it upon themselves to declare a fertilized egg a person.
The Guttmacher Institute states:
“According to both the scientific community and long-standing federal policy, a woman is considered pregnant only when a fertilized egg has implanted in the wall of her uterus…”
The definition is critical to distinguishing between a contraceptive that prevents pregnancy and an abortifacient that terminates it. And on this point, federal policy has long been both consistent and in accord with the scientists: Drugs and devices that act before implantation prevent, rather than terminate, pregnancy.”
Anti-choice groups have stepped up their efforts in the states since more conservatives were elected in 2010; throwing everything at the wall to see what will stick. From personhood bills to forced ultrasounds, our rights are being systematically stripped away as if we are chattel.
Since when is it Conservatives’ business what insurance coverage or prescription plans a woman or a woman and her partner opt to pay for, or what their family planning choices are? Why does the religious right condemn birth control yet give a pass to the abuse of Viagra and keep relatively low key about fertility treatments; because these things aid reproduction.
All these crazy initiatives across the country are experiments, for Conservatives to see what they can actually get away with; and the endgame is a complete ban on abortion, something that is both legal and a personal issue. Perhaps what’s most troubling is the idea that the GOP is on a blatant campaign to take us back to the days when men made all the decisions, and the women in their own party are blindly following along.
All of the issues in this country are critical to women, because everything comes down to quality of life; not just your own, but that of your parents, children, brothers, sisters and extended family. This Republican Party contrary to their claims, is extremely anti – family and will continue to take our rights and reduce our standard of living as long as we allow them to; which is why we need to put an end to this very real War on Women and their families in November.
The new far-right agenda of the Republican Party is literally dangerous for the women of this country and their families.