The Trinity Tripod – Alexander White
Associate Professor of Political Science Stephanie Chambers testified before the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) at the State Capitol last Tuesday. The focus of her speech was on the way men have received much of the attention in job losses during the recession, while women have been hit equally hard by rising unemployment, lack of pay equality, and the undervaluing of jobs that are traditionally been held by women. “At the same time that all Americans have been touched by the recent downturn, I would argue that many of the structural barriers women face in our society exacerbate the problems faced by women economically and place all families at risk,” said Chambers. “We must expose these structural inequalities and search for solutions that lead to substantive change.”
Chambers was one the three experts asked to speak at a hearing sponsored by the PCSW. The agency holds a “Woman’s Day” each year at the Capitol, and this year’s summit focused on key challenges facing women in the current economy. While the PCSW has had its state funding cut by 65 percent and its staff cut in half, the Legislative Office Building had a standing-room-only crowd for Professor Chambers’ speech.
“Today, 72 percent of men are part of the labor force compared to 60 percent of women. In 1950 the figures were about 86.5 percent for men and 34 percent for women,” Chambers reported. “Yet, women still make 77 cents to every dollar earned by men. Much of this is attributable to the fact that jobs traditionally held by women (pink collar jobs) are largely undervalued in our economic system. African-American women earned just 70 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2007 and Latinas earned just 62 cents for every dollar men earned.”
As more men are out of work, wives are forced to support their families, often by working extra hours. According to Chambers, this means “Women in the labor market are more likely to be in part-time or contract positions and employed in sectors where job security is fragile. For employers looking for the best deal, hiring women for part-time or contract work can result in significant savings in pay and benefits packages.”
“Research indicates that women’s earnings fall 10 percent each year they are out of the workforce, putting women who reenter the workforce after a prolonged absence in a very unfortunate position,” said Chambers. Women also face increasing hardship in supporting their families. Family income reliance is shifting from dual earners to women as sole earners as more men fall out of the labor force.
Chambers’ eight suggestions for helping women get on equal labor status with men include pay equity, job training, and encouraging women to run for political office, etc.
In terms of overall reach, Chambers told the audience: “The emphasis on the recession as it relates to men tells only a portion of the story. It is vital that we also understand how the recession has affected women if we hope to develop broad solutions to the economic situation we find ourselves in today.” For the economic outlook, Chambers noted, “women make up 51 percent of the population and nearly 50 percent of the workforce, their economic security as we come out of this recession is critical to the growth and development of the state and this country.”
Professor Chambers has been a professor at Trinity since 2000, and is the author of Mayors and Schools: Minority Voices and Democratic Tensions in Urban Education.