SAN FRANCISCO–Women are recovering from the recession at a slower rate than men according to a new report by the California Budget Project (CBP) published in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of California.
The report, titled, “Falling Behind: The Impact of the Great Recession and the Budget Crisis on California’s Women and Their Families, ” was released on Feb. 1.
In a telephone briefing with the media on Thursday, Jean Ross, CBP’s executive director commented, “The Great Recession hit single mothers particularly hard and contributed to a sharp increase in poverty among female-headed families with children.”
Ross added, “Older women faced a rise in poverty, as well. The recession eroded women’s retirement savings, causing them to remain in the workforce to rebuild their savings.”
Slow to Share in Economic Recovery
As the economy gradually recovers in California, Ross noted, women have been slow to share in areas such as job growth.
“California’s job market is slowly recovering, but recent data suggest that women have not shared equally in the state’s modest employment gains,” said Ross during the briefing.
Ross emphasized in an interview with New America Media, “Single moms have not fared well in this struggling recovery. When people say you need to get a job faster and work more hours, that just doesn’t reflect what’s available in this labor market. Workweeks are shrinking and jobs are scarce.”
Judy Patrick, the president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California, commented during the briefing, “We have to have a public system for when the economy isn’t working well enough to support these populations.”
However, Governor Jerry Brown’s 2012-13 budget proposal outlined cuts to public programs that have alarmed advocates for children, elders, minorities and others vulnerable groups. Ross said women would also be among those most negatively impacted.
Reductions facing CalWorks, which assists economically struggling families, and childcare programs were among the budget cuts that concerned Ross the most.
Ross observed that the state has made cuts to CalWorks multiple times since 2008, reductions totaling $3.3 billion. Those include funding rollbacks for services meant to help parents find and keep jobs.
“These cuts mean that low-income families will have a harder time keeping a roof over their heads and making ends meet,” said Ross during the briefing. “Everybody understands that childcare is critical to a single parent’s ability to remain in the workforce, to be productive at the job, to know his or her children are well taken care of.”
Cuts Pull Rug From Under Families With Children
In an interview, Ross explained that federal and state welfare reform laws implemented in the mid-1990’s limited the time people could receive benefits and required them to find work eventually.
But those laws also recognized that the jobs typically available for people on cash assistance programs usually don’t pay enough to support a family or enable them to afford childcare. So the state promised those parents a safe place for their children to go while they were at work
“When you cut those programs, you’re pulling the rug out from under families, who assumed that their part of the bargain was to get a job and in exchange they wouldn’t have to worry about where their kids were,” said Ross.
According to the “Falling Behind” report, cuts made in the 2011-12 budget are expected to eliminate care programs for over 35,000 children. Proposed cuts for 2012-13 would eliminate 62,000 more spaces in state-supported childcare programs.
Cuts to healthcare programs, such as Medi-Cal, will also disproportionately affect women, who make up two-thirds of those on the state’s Medicaid program.
Ross was particularly concerned with the impact of Medi-Cal cuts on women because more than half of the women in the program are in their peak reproductive years, and many others are seniors with very low income.
College Cuts Hit Women Hardest
During the media briefing, Ross noted that budget cuts to higher education have also affected women disproportionately.
“Higher education is critical to providing pathways to opportunity. In the past three decades, the hourly earnings of women with a B.A. or more have increased by 37 percent. Those women with just a high school degree have risen by 2 percent,” said Ross.
She pointed out that increasing student fees and declining course offerings haave caused the number of California high school graduates attending a college or university to decline, most significantly at community colleges.
The report found that from the 2007 to 2010 fiscal years, enrollment in community colleges dropped by approximately 130,000 students, and women accounted for 82 percent of that reduction. The most substantial drops were among young women, ages 19 or younger, and older women, 35 or older.
Asked who has been hardest hit by the recession, Ross responded, “Single mothers with children–in terms of everything, increased poverty, poor employment prospects.”
She also stressed that because ethnic women of color are more likely to go to community colleges and tend have low incomes, the education reductions especially affect them. For example, Ross said, half of the population served by CalWorks is Latino.
Patrick, of the Woman’s Foundation of California, also expressed her concern about older women because of steep reductions in the In-Home Supportive Services program and other services for seniors and people with disabilities.
When discussing possible solutions to avoid these cuts and improve the prospects for women, Ross affirmed the need for more revenue.
“We’ve encouraged lawmakers to look at ineffective tax breaks. There always are ways to do things differently,” she said.
Ross also mentioned the need to make choices based on what is happening in the economy at large and emphasized not placing unrealistic expectations on families.
“Budgets are always about values and choices, and these clearly are tough choices,” she declared. “The easy cuts have all been done.”