Congressman Anna Eshoo explained why continuing to fight for women’s economic equality is so important. Eshoo came to San Jose City College on February 21 to speak to students about the work she is doing to promote the Women’s Economic Agenda supported by American Association of University Women (AAUW). Our local League or Women Voters publicized this event as of interest to our members. The Eshoo event was headlined “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families.” Keynote speakers were Eshoo along with Esther Peralez-Dickman, Director of the County of Santa Clara Office of Women’s Policy and Suzanne Doty, who serves on Santa Clara County’s Commission on the Status of Women.
Economic Disparities cost women and their families
First Congresswoman Eshoo spoke about the reasons why continuing to fight for women’s economic equality is important. Although gains have been made, Eshoo reminded the audience that women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, and the gap is even larger for women of color: African-American women earn 64 cents and Latina women only 55 cents for every dollar earned by men. Two-thirds of low-wage workers are women and in 40% of households with children the mother is the sole breadwinner. Clearly these disparities are costing America’s women, children and families. They are also costing the American economy between $400,000 and $2 million per year.
It is one thing to look at numbers, no matter how staggering they may be. It is another to hear how the numbers affect real-life women and families. So Eshoo invited Peralez-Dickman and Doty to share their personal stories of how lack of economic equality affected them and their families.
Peralez-Dickman bravely shared her family’s painful struggle with domestic violence. She was born in rural Texas to a family of immigrant parents and several siblings. Her father owned a construction company that depended on government contracts to stay in business. However, with government contracts come onerous government documentation requirements, which her father was unable to keep up with. Eventually the business went bankrupt. After losing his business Peralez-Dickman’s father, who had always had a drinking problem, became a hard-core alcoholic and began to beat his wife. He later abandoned his family, leaving Peralez-Dickman’s mother to raise her children alone.
Suzanne Doty has also faced numerous struggles in her life. Doty was a business owner for 25 years and during that time experienced numerous personal and family health problems, including a high-risk pregnancy, a child with asthma, a mother with dementia and being diagnosed with breast cancer not just once but twice. The business she managed with her now ex-husband rented four retail stores and when the business ran into financial difficulty, three of the four landlords refused to negotiate for reduced rent payments. This forced the business into bankruptcy and the landlords to forgo all of the unpaid rent they would have otherwise received. Doty, at age 63, is now unemployed and unable to find another job. She has submitted more than 400 job applications and been invited to three interviews, with zero offers. She believes the cost of her health benefits, which cost approximately $900 per month, is scaring potential employers away from hiring her despite her MBA and years of experience. She is surviving on Social Security, which doesn’t pay enough to live in high-cost Silicon Valley. She also receives a $722 per month health care subsidy thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which has enabled her to purchase health insurance.
Audience Solution Ideas
The stories of Peralez-Dickman and Doty show that the issue of women’s economic equality touches on many other issues, such as domestic violence, health care, unemployment and the need for support for women entrepreneurs and small business owners. Audience members raised additional concerns. One Iranian-American woman expressed concern about helping immigrant women, especially those from highly oppressive countries, who are often unaware of what rights they have and how to exercise them. De Anza College statistics professor Andrew Phelps asked about how to make reasonableness play a larger role in public policy. In response to another audience member’s question, Suzanne Doty suggested that large corporations hire people to work at local nonprofits. If they did, Doty said, people could get jobs, nonprofits could get help, and corporations could get a tax write-off, making it a win-win-win. Congresswoman Eshoo agreed this is a good idea and promised to present it to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
The event concluded with some inspiring words from Eshoo. When President Obama, in his State of the Union address, declared that “When women succeed, America succeeds,” it was the highest-rated phrase in all of Obama’s speech.
The economic agenda for women and families
So what can be done to help women succeed? The AAUW and the LWV often have similar goals and collaborate, including here locally in the Mountain View – Los Altos area. The AAUW’s economic agenda for women and families will enable women to achieve greater economic security, raise wages for women and their families, and allow working parents to support and care for their families. It covers the areas of pay, work and family balance, and child care.
- Paycheck fairness
- Increase minimum wage (including tipped)
- Invest in job training and education opportunities
- Protect and restore employment rights
- Support women entrepreneurs/small businesses
- Pregnant workers fairness
- Adequate tools to investigate wage discrimination
Work and Family Balance:
- Paid sick leave
- Paid family and medical leave
- Expanded family and medical leave
- Federal employees paid parental leave
- President Obama’s preschool and Early Head Start/Child Care Initiative
- Promote affordable and high-quality child care
- Adequate funding of child care programs
- Adequate training and pay for child care workers
- Expand child care tax credit
- Make child tax credit permanent and indexed
- Increase access to child support
To achieve paycheck fairness the AAUW supports passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. To expand educational opportunities the AAUW supports expanded access to child care for women attending community colleges. AAUW has no specific legislative position on increased access to child support but some ideas that might help are improving the functioning of the child support enforcement system our state already has (possibly by implementing a volunteer program for California’s Department of Child Support Services, modeled after a similar program in the state of Texas) as well as helping parents obtain higher-paying jobs so they can afford to pay child support.
Collaboration between AAUW and LWV?
Perhaps some League of Women Voters members would be interested in jointly working with the AAUW and starting a dialogue on how to help women more effectively access child support, childcare and educational opportunities in our county and state as well as how to achieve the other social welfare and juvenile justice goals of both organizations.
by Jenny Brooks