Monthly Archives: August 2011

“Chaining” Social Security Would Harm Women

On July 11th President Obama urged congressional Democrats to make cuts to cost-of-living social security adjustments in return for Republican support for a tax raise. In the words of Maria Freese, Director of Government Relations of the Washington-based National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare in an interview with WeNews, “Proposing cuts in a self-financed program paid for by Americans throughout their working lives to get Republicans to close tax loopholes and end tax breaks for the wealthy few is not shared sacrifice.” While this cut in social security would be unfair to everyone, Richard Eskow points out that it would be particularly detrimental to minorities, lower-income people, and women.

Republicans want to replace current cost-of-living allowances (COLA) for social security with a “chained” cost of living index. This formula takes into account that when prices of goods go up, consumers substitute cheaper items for those that have become more costly. Eskow points out how dangerous this reasoning can be:

As a government agency explains, “Pork and beef are two separate CPI item categories. If the price of pork increases while the price of beef does not, consumers might shift away from pork to beef.” So if people can no longer afford pork, they’re spending less. Under a chained-CPI approach cost of living adjustments (COLAs) would then go down….

That’s not a sound way to calculate the overall cost of living. If I can’t afford cable TV and stop watching it, Time Warner’s prices don’t go down. But under this plan, my misfortune also becomes my little contribution to next year’s benefit cut.

How would this work for Social Security? Let’s see: If old people stop buying pork their “chained CPI” benefit will go down. If that forces them to live on catfood, their benefit goes down again…It’s a death spiral. Soon we’ll be calculating the cost of survival, not the cost of living. It’s a process that leads nowhere but down, until even survival is factored out of the equation.

If COLA were “chained,” a woman who received a $1,100 benefit at 65 would receive $56 dollars less per month by age 75. Joan Entmacher, Vice President for Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center told WeNews that by ” 90 that would mean $87 per month [decrease from the benefits received at age 65], an equivalent of 20 weeks of food a year.”

The negative effects of chaining the cost of living adjustments would be particularly detrimental to women “who receive less in benefits on average than men and can least afford the cuts. They live longer than men, too, so they’re more likely to see their benefits dwindle with every year that passes.” Some supporters of chaining COLA argue for a “birthday bump” that would entail small benefit increases after an individual has been retired for twenty years. However, this “bump” would not off-set all of the cuts individuals would have faced before then and would only benefit those who live long enough to receive the increased benefits. Since minorities and low-income people have lower life expectancies than their wealthier, white counterparts this plan would be particularly unfair to these communities.

Social security has not contributed to the national debt and its benefits have not been raised due to COLA in two years. However, some politicians are willing to reduce everyone’s benefits and risk increasing the number of women in poverty by “chaining” social security. We will keep you updated on this issue.

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Filed under Economic Justice, Government, Social Security

Gay Couples Less Likely to Have Access to Health Care Benefits

The Bureau of Labor Statistics added two questions about domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples to their National Compensation Survey, resulting in the first comprehensive count of domestic partner health care benefits by a federal government agency.  The survey revealed that only one-third of workers in the U.S. have access to health care for same-sex partners.

Among all U.S. employers, 31% provide coverage for unmarried opposite-sex partners, whereas only 21% of U.S. employers provide coverage for same-sex partners, regardless of their marriage status.  These discriminatory health care trends are not just evidenced in  those states where gay marriage is illegal.  Indeed, “even in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, only 71% of employers reported offering benefits to same-sex spouses in 2009, as opposed to 93% who give them to opposite-sex spouses.”

Because gay employees are less likely to receive health insurance for their partners than their counterparts in opposite-sex relationships, their families spend more on average for health insurance.  M.V. Lee Badgett, the research director of the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law told MSN that roughly 3 in 4 of those in same-sex partnerships obtain health care through purchasing additional health care for their partner from their employer.  She noted that “some may choose not to sign up their partners because of the higher tax hit or due to a fear that they will encounter discrimination at work if they disclose having a same-sex partner.”  For those couples that do not purchase additional insurance through an employer, some obtain individual plans, though an unsettling number of partners in same-sex relationships cannot find any affordable coverage.

The fact that many in same-sex partnerships lack access to insurance likely leads to lower-quality health care.  Even those in same-sex relationships who are lucky enough to be covered by an employer’s insurance have increased health risks.  If the partner whose employer provides health insurance loses that job, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (which allows individuals to continue their coverage for limited periods of time after the voluntary or involuntary loss of their jobs) does not extend to same-sex partners.

You can find out more about groups whose health is jeopardized as a result of discrimination here.

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, Health insurance, LGBT, Marriage Equality, Sex Discrimination, Sexual orientation

Study: Maternity Leave Important for Health of Mother and Child

As reported in the health section of Time, a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research revealed that a short maternity leave has negative health outcomes for both mother and child. Mothers of 3-month-old infants who worked full-time “reported feeling greater rates of depression, stress, poor health and overall family stress than mothers who were able to stay home (either because they didn’t have a job or because they were on maternity leave).”

Not only do these health problems affect the mother, but her baby also suffers from a short maternity leave. The study’s authors cited “numerous studies [which] show that clinical depression in mothers as well as self-reported depressive symptoms, anxiety, and psychological distress, are important risk factors for adverse emotional and cognitive outcomes in their children, particularly during the first few years of life.”

Interestingly, the study also found that it is only when the mother has to go back to work too quickly that her health and the health of her child suffers. Indeed, the study found that “in the long run, working actually decreased moms’ depression and stress.” The key to a healthy mother and child seems to be not necessarily staying out of the workforce entirely, but rather having the time to transition back to full-time work. The study found that

After 4.5 years, many of the mothers [who participated in the study] had transitioned back into the workplace, learning to balance competing demands on their time between family and work. The transition isn’t easy, but the key seems to be having enough time to settle into a new life as both parent and professional. That’s why maternity leave is so important– it’s a time entirely devoted to transitioning to the parental role..

Unfortunately, despite evidence that maternity leave is a vital component of ensuring the health of mothers and their children, the United States does not have any laws guaranteeing paid leave for new mothers or fathers. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees with new children or ill family members to take leave from their job, but it only ensures unpaid leave and only for twelve weeks. Not only that, but many women aren’t covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, since it doesn’t apply to the more than 50% of workers who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees or who work fewer than 1,250 hours in the past year.

The US is behind many other countries in guaranteeing parents time with their newborns. The Huffington Post reported that 178 countries have national laws guaranteeing paid leave for new mothers, and more than 50 nations, including most Western countries, also guarantee paid leave for new fathers.

To find out more about how the United States’ parental leave policy compares to those in other nations, click here.

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Filed under Childbirth, Employment, Health insurance, Parenthood, Pregnancy

We’ve Had Enough: Our Response to Anti-Choice Legislation

As we blogged here on July 26th, there has been a record number of anti-abortion bills introduced in state legislatures across the country, and Pennsylvania is no exception.  In the first six months of 2011, Pennsylvania lawmakers spent 30% of their days at the Capitol working to restrict access to safe, legal abortion.  In response to these attacks on women, Pennsylvanians for Choice and Raising Women’s Voices Southeastern PA have organized the “We’ve Had Enough Rally” scheduled for September 27th in Harrisburg.  The rally is a chance for allies from across the state to say “We’ve had enough” of these legislative attacks on women!

When the Pennsylvania Legislature returns from its summer recess in September, the two bills most likely to come up for an immediate vote are HB 574 and SB 732.  According to the Women’s Law Project “either bill will cause a public health catastrophe.”

The rally message is clear– We’ve Had Enough — We’ve had enough of a state legislature that ignores the real suffering of women due to a failing economy and a sluggish recovery that has not produced jobs for women; from widespread wage discrimination; from harassment, violence, and abuse; from hunger and poverty; from lack of health care; from a lack of affordable housing and transportation; and from inadequate support for their family responsibilities.

Please signup for the We’ve Had Enough Rally on September 27th in Harrisburg to protect women’s access to reproductive health care services.  Also checkout the We’ve Had Enough website and add your picture to the growing number of supporters.  You can also follow rally updates on Twitter.


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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

T-shirt re-opens discussion on marriage equality in U.S.

Radio listeners in the Pittsburgh region tuned in to KDKA radio at 8pm last Friday night to listen to Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Law Project in Pittsburgh, weigh in on a recent controversy at Dollywood’s Splash Country water park in Tennessee.

As a guest to Johnna Pro’s evening radio show on KDKA, Sue Frietsche commented on the story and the inequality the LGBT community faces.

“We still face frequent, severe discrimination in public accommodations, employment, housing, and education. As a nation, we pay lip service to equality and justice, but the truth is that we have failed to protect LGBT families from unfairness, exclusion, and bigotry.”

Surprisingly this controversy was sparked by a simple message on a t-shirt.

 On July 9th, Jennifer Tipton and Olivier Odom visited Dollywood’s Splash Country water park with friends and their friends’ children. While entering the park, Odom was stopped at the park’s gates and quietly asked to turn her shirt inside out. The reason? Her t-shirt read, “Marriage is so gay.”

Dollywood parks enforce a dress code policy that bans clothing deemed offensive or inappropriate. What constitutes “offensive” is left to park attendants to decide. The park attendant justified his decision by saying that the t-shirt was offensive because Dollywood is a “family park.”

“That’s what we found so offensive — that he said it was a family park,” Tipton said. “Families come in a wide range of definitions these days and we were with our family.”

For many in the gay community, this story was surprising. Dolly Parton is well-known for her acceptance and support of the LGBT population. However, after two weeks of silence, Parton released a statement apologizing to Odom and her family.

“Everyone knows my personal support of the gay and lesbian community. Dollywood is a family park and all families are welcome.”

Because of the media attention they have received, Odom and Tipton are using their story as an opportunity to broadcast the inequality millions of other LGBT people face- even in amusement parks.

Odom stated, “If marriage equality is going to happen, it’s not going to happen if people sit at home quietly.”

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Filed under Equality, LGBT, Marriage Equality, Sexual orientation

At Two-Year Colleges, Less Scrutiny Equals Less Athletic Equality

Community colleges face unique problems in providing athletic opportunities to their students. As the Title IX blog points out, two year colleges generally have a “non-traditional student body, of which women make up the majority–often a large majority, [which] has lead many community colleges to believe they cannot possibly comply [with Title IX]. Additionally, community colleges are facing the same–if not worse–budget issues as four-year institutions.” However, the blog rightly notes that these challenges do “not mean they are exempt from providing their female students with opportunities to play sports.” Yet the New York Times revealed that many community colleges, due to lack of scrutiny about their compliance with Title IX, have significantly more athletic opportunities for their male students than for their female students.

Los Angeles Southwest College is one of the community colleges that do not offer enough athletic opportunities for women. Women make up two-thirds of their student body but only a quarter of their athletes. The college suspended their track team this year which left women at the school with basketball as the only sport they have the opportunity to participate in. Henry Washington, the school’s athletic director and head football coach said that fewer options for women are available because fewer women than men are interested in playing sports at the college. He “acknowledges that his program is most likely violating federal law by failing to offer enough roster spots to women. But he said many of the female students are also juggling jobs and child care, and do not have time to play sports.”

But federal statistics reveal that men at community colleges face the same challenges that women do. Indeed, “the men work, too, and tend not to be any younger. And yet the men, despite similar hardships or responsibilities, still manage to play sports in significant numbers.” Karen Sykes, a former president of the National Junior College Athletic Association doubts that many community colleges are putting in a genuine effort to give women more athletic opportunities. She told the New York Times that two-year colleges “were willing to make a halfhearted effort and then willing to accept the consequences.” Frank Harris III, an assistant professor at San Diego State University said, “If institutions and community colleges wanted to really provide those opportunities to women, and if there was some value in that from their perspective, they would find a way to do it.”

By denying women equal athletic opportunities, two-year colleges are neglecting to provide equal opportunity to reap the positive effects that research has suggested participation in sports creates. These effects include better health, improved self-esteem, better grades, and better jobs after graduation.

Pensacola State College in Florida is an example of how a community college, despite the unique challenges it faces, may create equal athletic opportunities. The school has recently had to deal with budget cuts and a population that is “supposedly less eager to play sports” because they “tend to be older” and “overwhelmingly female.”  Yet, they recruit throughout the state for talented female athletes and invest one million dollars a year in their athletics program. Bill Hamilton, the Pensacola athletic director, told the Times that “success had not come without struggle. But abiding by the law is a priority. ‘We don’t do things around here because it’s easy,’ he said. ‘We do things because it’s right.’”

Community colleges need to be scrutinized to ensure that they are not violating Title IX. As Jaime Lester, an assistant professor at George Mason University who has studied gender issues at community colleges said, “It’s crucial to hold these democratic institutions — these bastions of people’s colleges — up to that level of scrutiny…If we don’t hold them up, why should we hold anyone else up?”

Learn more about the Women’s Law Project’s efforts to ensure equity in athletic programs.

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Filed under Equality, Gender Discrimination, Sports, The New York Times, Title IX