Today, the White House is holding a summit to discuss the challenges facing women in the United States, and encouraging the public to use the #StateofWomen hashtag to follow the events. Certainly, there is plenty to talk about: Too many American women are struggling to make ends meet as prices for everyday necessities rise. Too many can’t find jobs that put them on their desired career path and have trouble balancing work and family. Many would-be female entrepreneurs are finding their dreams snarled in red tape before they can even get started.
Unfortunately, these problems persist and have in many ways gotten worse under this Administration. This Summit promises to double down on the government-knows-best approach to public policy that has been the hallmark of the past seven years. Yet what women really need is a fresh approach to their challenges with a focus on providing women with more opportunity, true flexibility and greater control of resources.
Women’s labor force participation rate is now at the lowest level since 1988. Many women aren’t working because they can’t find jobs that pay enough or offer the hours they need. Government overregulation contributes to this problem. From unnecessary state licensing regimes to expensive Obamacare health insurance mandates and our complicated tax code, government policy is making it increasingly difficult for businesses to get started and, ultimately, to offer people job opportunities. A true pro-woman agenda would start by modernizing these laws and sweeping away unnecessary red tape so that women have more and better job options.
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Unfortunately, this Administration has been pushing in the opposite direction. While technology has created new paradigms for combining work and family life—a tremendous boon, particularly to working parents—outdated laws and rigid government bureaucracies impede innovation and discourage people from being able to take advantage of these new flex-opportunities. The Department of Labor, for example, has been trying to limit independent contracting. These arrangements can enable women to decide to work when, where, and how they want. Even when caring for family members, women can still bring in money while retaining valuable skills, even if they can’t commit to a traditional, full-time position. This type of flexibility should be applauded, rather than seen as a problem to crack down on by our administrative bureaucracies.
The Department of Labor has also recently advanced new overtime rules that would force more employers to closely monitor more employees’ hours, which will discourage the use of telecommuting or at-home work. The Administration sells such regulations and requirements as necessary so that those lucky enough to have regular, full-time jobs will have the benefits and compensation that Washington thinks should be the bare minimum. Yet this attitude ignores that making employment more expensive results in fewer jobs—particularly for those with the fewest skills and less education. It also ignores that people have different preferences when it comes to work and compensation. Some workers may welcome more benefits, but others would rather take that compensation as take-home pay. Such decisions should be up to individuals, not the government to decide for everyone.
Before tuning into the Summit, women should take a hard look at the results of the last seven years. Has their situation really improved? Are family members or neighbors better off? Or are we seeing even less opportunity today? The government insists that inflation isn’t a problem, but women should ask themselves if that’s consistent with their own experience. Doesn’t it seem that so many necessities — our groceries and rent and service calls – keep becoming more and more expensive?
Women frustrated with today’s economy should know that there is a different approach to helping women succeed. It rejects the idea that government always knows what’s best and instead would seek to create more options and greater flexibility. Conservatives are dedicated to reducing barriers to job creation, removing complicated rules that prevent innovative, flexible work arrangements, and returning resources and control to individuals.
Conservatives want to modernize laws like the Depression-era Fair Labor Standards Act to give workers the freedom to choose more time off, rather than overtime pay, and the flexibility to consider scheduling alternatives to the 40 hour work week. Conservatives oppose sweeping new government benefit mandates, and would instead make it easier and more affordable for business and workers to determine mutually beneficial compensation and leave packages. Women are more likely than men to take advantage of savings opportunities when they have them, and conservatives want to give people the chance to save for critical needs, including to make up for lost income when someone needs to take time off from work.
This White House Summit will almost certainly be inspiring. We all want to celebrate women’s achievement and to continue to break down barriers so that women can do even more. Yet it’s time to recognize that ill-conceived government policy is often one of those barriers, and opening the doors to more success requires modernizing our laws and empowering people, not government, so we can see what all is possible.
Carrie Lukas is the Managing Director of the Independent Women’s Forum, which recently released a new report, Working for Women: A Modern Agenda for Improving Women’s Lives.