(Photo: Craig Allen / Flickr)
American women have been particularly impacted by the recession, according to a White House report to be released today, which puts forth several measures to combat the blow. The report, authored by the National Economic Council (NEC), notes that women have been seeking and gaining employment in increasing numbers in the past 50 years, making this recent economic hit especially troubling.
The recession has created an economically unstable future for many Americans, but particularly American women, the report states. "From day one, President Obama has been committed to designing and implementing policies to address both the challenges women face in the wake of the Great Recession and the longer-term challenges women have faced over the past decades."
According to the NEC report, because women today make up the majority of college graduates in the US and nearly 50 percent of the country's workforce, the current recession's negative impacts on women affect the economy at a greater rate than in past recessions. Women have seen their median annual earnings fall by 2.8 percent since December 2007 and have lost a total of 2.6 million jobs. According to the US Department of Labor, women who provide the sole income for their households had an unemployment rate of 13.6 percent, their highest in more than 25 years.
Although men have seen a greater statistical drop in employment, with a 4.1 percent median annual earnings decrease, women face additional long-term challenges that affect their ability to endure the recession and the future economic climate. Among the obstacles women face are the gender wage gaps and the disproportionately small representation of women in higher levels of management.
Obama's goals are to "support women in the workforce and help them achieve economic security in retirement," senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said in a press conference call Wednesday. "It is so important that people understand what tools will be available to them to protect themselves."
Marital status, age and race also compound the issues with which women contend. According to the NEC report, women who applied for mortgages and credit cards were often vulnerable to unfair lending practices. "Women are disproportionately disadvantaged," Jarrett said. A large number of women seeking to buy homes or apply for credit cards were saddled with "higher cost loans than were appropriate."
The NEC report details provisions of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 and responsibilities of the recently established Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that will combat these types of predatory lending techniques; particularly, "the Bureau will prevent evasion of the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which bans arbitrary rate hikes on existing balances and other unfair practices. For women who have used credit cards to get by when times are tight, the law will give them clarity on the interest rates they are charged," the report states.
The Bureau will also "for the first time provide ongoing federal oversight of both nonbank companies and banks in the mortgage market and protect borrowers from unfair, deceptive or other illegal mortgage lending practices."
The NEC report also outlines the workplace flexibility, a component of the plan that has garnered increasing credibility since President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a forum on the issue last spring. Workplace flexibility can lead to "increased worker productivity, a better bottom line and help companies attract and retain the best workers," the NEC report states. Employees benefit as well because they are not forced to "relinquish other responsibilities, such as taking care of their families," Jarrett said.
Obama's budget also proposes a $50 million State Paid Leave Fund at the Department of Labor, which would provide competitive start-up grants to states that launch paid leave programs. The program will enable workers to take a hiatus to care for their families without sacrificing paychecks that are essential to their well-being.
In addition to these proposals, the NEC report outlines plans to promote Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, which are three to five times more likely to go to women and minorities; community college funding, where women comprise 56 percent of students; and the importance of Social Security, as women represent 58 percent of all beneficiaries.
Jarrett specified that the report's release is not a political move. "We're not going to let the fact that there's an election coming up keep us from announcing something that's important to women," Jarrett said. However, she added, "the election season allows us to show a contract between [President Obama's] agenda and what he's doing for women and what would happen if the election went the other way."