Women’s Representation in the State of the Union
Several weeks ago the president in his second State of the Union speech presented his vision of our national well-being. Prior to the State of the Union address, the Women’s Media Center asked experts across the country to assess and grade the administration’s performance on global issues relevant to women.
Many cited the president’s creation of the Office of Global Women’s Issues and the appointment of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State as positive steps. President Obama has also expressed a commitment to continue advocacy for ratification of the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). United Methodist Women would also like to see the same support for the International Violence Against Women Act, which failed to get out of congressional committee.
The president’s address forewarned us that we could expect budget cuts in programs such as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and others that he "cares deeply about." While he painted a picture of an America second to no other nation in the world, such optimism is at odds with the world of Americans who rely on CDBGs. This duality offers us a vision of a divided America.
Ours is a nation where wealth is concentrated in the hands of a financial elite:
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- The top 1% of Americans control 42% of financial wealth.
- The bottom 80% control 7% of the financial wealth.
- A recorded 13.9 million Americans are unemployed as of February 2011.
- More than 43 million are on food stamps.
- Only 34% of American households earn more than $65,000 per year.
- Goldman Sachs offered bonuses of up to $500,000, while more than 43 million Americans are now on food stamps.
- Unemployment among Hispanics is around 12%, blacks at 16%, and teen unemployment hovers around 26%.
- In Nevada, unemployment among Hispanics is over 20%, and in Michigan unemployment among blacks is 27%.
- USA Today has reported that female veterans are "increasingly battling homelessness and unemployment." The unemployment rate among female veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was 13.5% in January 2011.
- 15.5 million children in the United States now live in poverty.
- At Iowa State University students launched SHOP (Students Helping Our Peers), a food pantry for students.
Women and work was an area that generated acknowledgement of White House efforts for the support of pay equality, given the president’s signage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Several key issues did not get through Congress: paid parental leave for federal workers, the White House backed State Paid Leave Fund to encourage states to being paid programs, and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was defeated in the Senate. Creation of the position of White House Advisor on Violence Against Women was also applauded during the address, as was Attorney General Eric Holder’s Task Force for Violence Against Women Tribal Prosecution in Indian Country.
However, undocumented and immigrant women failed to receive special note in the president’s address, although he did recommit to push for passage of the DREAM Act, offering citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States. Key elements of the president’s speech focused on a spending freeze, investments in infrastructure and education, and a desire to "out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world." However, the president’s proposed five-year freeze on nonsecurity discretionary spending, the lack of focus on our growing income inequality and the lack of a strong emphasis on programs that undergird the poor, the low-income and working class, left many perplexed.
Financial and political support for the training of our nation’s youth is the best way to provide lasting relief from poverty. In the words of the Children’s Defense Fund, "Especially in this time of high unemployment, when young people have been disproportionately left out of the job market, we need to support effective job training programs. YouthBuild, Job Corps, and other programs in the Corporation for National and Community Service should not be cut as all are helping our young people to be able to compete for jobs today and tomorrow."
The National Council of La Raza has called attention to another issue of concern to many Americans by noting the failure of the financial community to meaningfully engage with those who are facing foreclosure. La Raza has stated the following:
Lawmakers must also continue to invest in foreclosure prevention programs. The proposed cuts would undo our progress toward recovery. Rescue scams remain rampant, particularly among communities of color. More than one million Latino homeowners are at risk of losing their homes or have already lost their homes to foreclosure. More funding will allow housing counseling programs to continue helping families with foreclosure prevention, rental, and financial counseling that contributes to a successful recovery.
The disparities of opportunity for work facing one in 10 unemployed Americans; the need for affordable housing, quality education, and help with foreclosure relief; and the gap that relegates women to an economic treadmill of stagnating immobility or regression into poverty still confront our nation. Full time working women still earn 77 cents compared to one dollar paid to a man for the same work, 61 and 52 cents for Black and Latina women respectively.
This was not a reality reflected in the president’s State of the Union address. Instead the address challenged the nation to "win the future" by revitalizing America’s economy through innovation. President Obama said, "This is our generation’s Sputnik moment." While spinning yarns about the average American’s extraordinary accomplishments, the president gave examples of how we as a nation can rise out of this recession. Yet he spoke little of how the average American who is not college educated or is not creatively inclined can expect their lives to improve.
Lacking as well in the State of the Union was the president’s acknowledgement of women in these trying times and the problems facing them.
President Obama spoke about creating jobs through building our country’s physical infrastructure, investing in research and development, and reinventing our energy industry. Worthy objectives—but currently these fields are dominated by men. Much work remains to be done to bring women into parity in these vocations, known as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). For example, when we talk about "green jobs," Wider Opportunities for Women found that two-thirds of all women are clustered in only 21 of the 500 green job categories. If these jobs are our future, women must be included.
Another area that was targeted in the State of the Union was education reform. The president reiterated his promise to end the No Child Left Behind Act and focused on his Race to the Top program.
"And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids," President Obama said.
The Race to the Top program is a competition between states to find innovative ways to improve teacher quality and student achievement instead of tying government money to standardized test scores. This departure, as the president stated, will put states in control of education reform. The president later called on young Americans exploring career options to consider teaching.
One 55-year-old working mother was praised for going back to school at a community college after losing her job. The president made an example out of Kathy Proctor for embarking on a new career in biotechnology. She had worked for 18 years in a furniture factory but now is earning her degree to better her family and inspire her children. The president quoted Ms. Proctor, "I hope it tells them to never give up."
While stressing the importance of higher education and the improvements in student loan restricting, the president failed to address how the average American who lost his or her job, absent going back to college, was to succeed in the future. He neglected to mention a plan for these individuals who can’t afford to put their lives and families on hold while earning a degree. Our nation needs the talents and contributions of all Americans if we are to "win the future." Yet many may still wonder if this generation’s "Sputnik moment" with its innovations and prosperity will affect their lives.
- Raise your voice! Share your vision of America. What do you see when you look at your community? Let the president and Congress know what you think it will take for all of us to win.
- Call the White House and your representatives and tell them that the well-being of women and children are key to America’s ability "to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world."
- Let us know what you think the Obama Administration and Congress should do to promote the well-being of women and children. Send us a tweet @UMWomen or visit the Women’s Division on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/UMWomen.
- You can reach your congressional representative at (202) 244-3121.
- You can reach the White House at (202) 456-1414.
- Read: The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 2008, pages 169-179, Resolution 162: "The Social Community," and pages 563-570, Resolution 4052: "Economic Justice for a New Millennium."