April 16 2012
Vicki E. Alger
Three years ago the President created the White House Council on Women and Girls by Executive Order. The Council’s purpose is “to ensure that in America, all things are still possible for all people.” Recent media reports suggest the Administration isn’t living up to its word. (See, for example, here, here, and here #4).
This weekend the Wall Street Journal concluded, “Government creates myriad roadblocks for women’s economic progress.”
Today, 60 percent of mothers with children under the age of six are in the labor force compared to 12 percent in 1950. The White House admits that women “are much more likely than men to work part-time,” which helps explain why many women may earn less than men. The real problem—one ignored by the White House—is that “…many women who now work are penalized by outdated policies that haven’t kept pace with these big shifts in American society.” Specifically:
Most married women are second earners. That means their income is added to that of their husband’s and thus often taxed at a high marginal rate. This “marriage penalty” has never fully been adjusted for in the tax code. A married woman working on an assembly line keeps less of her paycheck than the unwed man who does the same job. That’s real inequality in pay for women.
While some women like overtime, a 1990s poll found that 81% said they’d rather pack more hours into fewer days and receive compensatory time off. The phrase for this is “flex time,” an invaluable option for many mothers attempting to juggle work and family…Mr. Obama’s union allies resolutely oppose any reform of the 40-hour law, because the status quo gives union leaders more control over crafting work arrangements. In the 1990s, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican effort to let workers negotiate directly with employers to schedule their hours, a provision that would have mainly benefited women.
Social Security can be generous to women who lose their husbands or who never work, but it perversely provides meager additional benefits for women who work their entire lives. Women more frequently are left to plan for death taxes. Union-driven pension plans that reward long service rarely benefit women, who tend to move in and out of the work force. Meanwhile, arbitrary government limits on contributions to retirement savings diminish their outside saving opportunities.
“Lifting women up lifts up our economy,” is a common Administration mantra. But waiting for a government “lift” is proving to be a real let down for women. The better solution for all Americans—women and men alike—is less political meddling and more sensible reform that empowers citizens to lift up themselves.