Will Women Save America?

In a speech during a forum on social mobility at the Brookings Institution today, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand stated emphatically: “Let’s do what can do to create new opportunities for those who need it most and change the course of the middle class. And, without a doubt, it will be women who will lead the way. When women lead this fight we will end poverty in America.” That statement should not be interpreted as a declaration of a gender war, but as a genuine call for new thinking, new ideas, and a fresh social policy agenda. Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson made the declaration of a “War on Poverty,” there is much too much time being spent arguing over whether it was a success or a failure rather than discussing what we need to be doing now. Robert Samuelson sums it up fittingly in today’s Washington Post that in ways the War on Poverty was both a success and it fell short of its promise.


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

The War on Poverty successfully created a safety net of programs that allow those with meager incomes and prospects to escape abject poverty. Without that safety net, many more Americans would be living in substandard housing, suffering from hunger and food insecurity, and trying to survive with no access to healthcare. What the safety net doesn’t do is provide enough resources to help most low-income people move up the socioeconomic ladder. It doesn’t get you out of the murky river; it just keeps you from drowning.

Sen. Gillibrand presented a five point plan to enhance social mobility among low-income people: 1) Expand paid family medical leave; 2) Raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour; 3) Affordable child care; 4) Universal pre-K; 5) Equal pay for equal work. These ideas are not radical or even novel, but taken together they address new realities—more kids are growing up depending on a working mother. Others are lending their voices to this cause. Maria Shriver has launched a project, The Shriver Report, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of women. And, Hanna Rosin’s new book, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, may arouse attention.

I think it’s fair to say that men are primarily responsible for the economic malaise that is strangling much of the American middle class—high unemployment and low wages. After all, we have yet to have a woman as President and the vast majority of the leadership in Congress has been and continues to be males. Republicans who hold the majority in the House of Representatives excluded women from leadership roles in all of the major committees—they all have chairmen. House Democrats are behaving better with five women chosen as the ranking member of major committees. Dems are doing even better in the Senate with seven women as chairs of major committees, including social workers Barbara Mikulski (Appropriations) and Debbie Stabenow (Agriculture). Yet women hold only 20 of 100 seats in the Senate and 78 of 435 seats in the House of Representatives

One woman—Nancy Pelosi—has been Speaker of the House and no women have served as the Majority Leader or Minority Leader in the Senate. There are women on the Supreme Court, but none have ever been a Chief Justice. You know there is work to do when you are still getting “firsts.” Janet Yellen broke another ceiling last week when she was confirmed by the Senate as the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve. We may score another first in 2016 as it appears the Presidency is within reach of Hillary Clinton’s grasp. It seems unlikely Vice President Joe Biden will mount much of a challenge within the Democratic Party. And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—the apparent frontrunner for the Republicans—is embroiled in campaign to convince the public that he somehow slept a four-day traffic debacle on the George Washington Bridge.

So as we survey the American landscape in 2014, we can attribute what we see largely to the leadership of men. It’s not pretty. Except if you are blessed to be among the wealthy. That doesn’t mean that men have to step aside. We do need to step up. We can talk about the miracle of the free market and the myth of equal opportunity, but outcomes matter. Americans are among the most industrious people on the planet. Productivity continues to rise; wages not very much. Poverty is not always about slothfulness.

The post Will Women Save America? appeared first on Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy.

Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D

Will Women Save America? was originally published @ Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy » Charles Lewis and has been syndicated with permission.

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