Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lame Duck Congress: Help American Families Today, Don’t Let Unemployment Benefits Expire

by Linda A. Meric

There was good news for our flailing economy from the Bureau of Labor Statistics this month. More than 150,000 jobs were added in the United States in October and private sector payrolls grew by 159,000.

But there was some news that didn’t change: unemployment held steady at 9.6 percent. Almost 15 million Americans are out of work and more than 41 percent of them have been unemployed for six months or more. So, adding 150,000 jobs, while a good sign, is still just a drop in the economic bucket.

With job growth still sluggish, and with so many people out of work, it’s critical that unemployment benefits not be allowed to expire. President Obama has even expressed his support for this important step, saying “I think it makes sense for us to extend unemployment insurance because there are still a lot of folks out there hurting.”

But the President obviously can’t do it alone. This is a job for the lame duck Congress, returning to the hill this week – and partisan politics should not get in the way.

Emergency unemployment benefits are set to expire at the end of this month. If no extension is approved, two million American workers will lose their unemployment benefits – and more importantly lose their lifeline to economic security for themselves and their families – just in time for the holidays.

“The current expiration date will cause a cascade of unemployed workers to fall off the unemployment rolls, prematurely cutting benefits for some and making any form of an extension completely unavailable for others,” according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP). Plus, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted, there are still far more unemployed workers than there are job openings.

This is worth noting, too: An extension of benefits does not mean that workers who have completely exhausted their benefits will get even one penny more. It only means that those who are currently receiving UI benefits will not get cut off mid stream.

It means that working women – who face staggering unemployment at the same time that women are now the primary or co-breadwinner in more than 2/3 of American families – will be able to provide for their families; to make ends meet. Really, every dollar provided in UI benefits for struggling families pumps two dollars back into our economy because they have so many needs. These aren’t dollars that get stored up somewhere for savings. These are dollars that are needed and spent right now; for food, for clothing, for rent, for utilities – to keep the lights on and the furnace going.

The lame duck Congress can’t leave American families out in the cold this holiday season.

It doesn’t have much time. It must extend emergency unemployment insurance benefits and do so quickly.

America’s families are waiting.

Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Congress Must Pass PFA & Other Critical Legislation

With the House and Senate expected to reconvene on November 15th, this will be the last opportunity for the 111thCongress to pass legislation deemed imperative by the coalition of more than 200 national civil and human rights organizations.

Passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act and the DREAM Act, a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” an extension of unemployment insurance, and the confirmation of President Obama’s judicial nominees have been identified as top priorities for the final months of 2010. Also, critically important is a Senate vote on the ratification of the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Here's what Wade Henderson, President & CEO of The Leadership Conference, has to say about these final months and lame duck priorities: “Now that the midterm elections are over, Americans expect Congress to work together on the important needs of our country..Each of these priorities will make our nation stronger and more just, and they deserve to be high on the list of ‘must-do’ legislation before the current Congress adjourns.”

As a member of the LCCR coalition of 200 organizations, 9to5 agrees with these priorities:

  • Passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act would deter pay discrimination by strengthening penalties for equal pay violations. “This Congress showed some remarkable backbone for women’s equality when it passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference. “Passing this legislation would reinforce this Congress’ commitment to narrowing the pay gap to help support family incomes and strengthen our economy.”
  • An extension of unemployment insurance, which is set expire at the end of this month, would provide a lifeline for millions of workers in the stalled economy. “Congress has never cut off unemployment benefits when the jobless rate was this high. Extending them will help the economy recover while providing badly needed assistance to workers unable to find jobs,” Henderson said.
  • Passage of the DREAM Act, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pledged to bring up for a vote during the lame duck session, would allow immigrant youths the opportunity to serve in our military, attend college, and earn citizenship. “The DREAM Act will help ensure that children who have worked hard, graduated from high school, and obeyed the law have the opportunity to be productive workers in the American economy,” Zirkin said.
  • The repeal of “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell,” which has been under consideration for several months, would strengthen our military and advance LGBT equality. “Our service members should not have to live in fear of dismissal simply for being gay or lesbian. In the face of two wars and dwindling recruitment, our military needs our best and brightest citizens to serve regardless of their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation,” Henderson said.
  • The confirmation of pending judicial nominees who have faced a level of obstructionism that is unprecedented in American history. “People all over America are being denied justice because our overworked courts have more than 100 empty benches without judges to hear cases,” Zirkin said. “The Senate must put aside petty partisanship, eliminate obstructionist tactics, and commit to taking yes-or-no confirmation votes on the pending judicial nominees before adjourning.”
  • Ratification of CEDAW, a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law has scheduled a hearing on the CEDAW treaty on November 18. “Ratifying the CEDAW treaty would continue America’s proud bipartisan tradition of promoting and protecting human rights,” said June Zeitlin, CEDAW Project director.
Write or call your members of Congress and ensure they know that these priorities are YOUR priorities.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Report Surveys Economic Landscape for Women

This might not seem like the Year of the Woman – especially if you peak into the pockets and purses of working women and especially if you consider the fact that we are still waiting for the U.S. Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

But if things seem grim, consider this: The White House has recently released a report, “Jobs and Economic Security for America’s Women,” written by the National Economic Council. The report gives us a lay of the land; tells us exactly how these tough economic times have affected women and our families and provides some next steps for us from the Obama Administration.

First of all, the bottom-line – women are pivotal to the economic recovery of this country.

“The economy has changed where women have made such enormous strides that they now constitute fully half of the workforce,” President Obama said in remarks accompanying the release of the report. “They actually constitute probably more than half of the money that’s coming in to middle-class families. And business—small business owners are now a much higher proportion women than they used to be. And so when you talk about what’s happened to the middle class, part of what you’re talking about is what’s happening to women in the workforce."

For one thing, as the Center for American Progress has told us, women are now the primary breadwinner or co-breadwinner in two thirds of American households. As of December 2009, 2.1 million women whose husbands were unemployed were working as the primary revenue earners for their families and 6.1 million single mothers are the sole providers for their households. Additionally, women own 30 percent or 7.8 million American small businesses that generated sales of over $1.2 trillion in 2007—an increase of 46 percent since 1997—and created roughly 500,000 jobs in those 10 years.

But all is not good for women workers.

Of the jobs that are being lost, more of them are occupied by women than by men. Women who are employed still face a wage gap, earning only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man – and for women of color the gap is even wider. There is still a glass ceiling in many sectors of the economy, especially in the highest earning professions. And, many women still have to make choices that place their economic security at jeopardy; choices like whether to go to work or stay home and care for an ill child because of the lack of paid sick days.

Year of the Woman – that remains to be seen.

Read the report for yourself.

And there’s something else you can do. Be sure to contact your U.S. Senators and let them know that the Senate must make a priority of passing the Paycheck Fairness Act before this year ends. For more info, visit www.9to5.org.

Women and our families just can’t wait any longer to win economic justice.