With women’s labor force participation at its lowest rate since 1988, the Obama administration held its White House United State of Women conference in the District of Columbia on Tuesday, pushing policies that some experts say will not help—and could economically hurt—women.
“A lot of women are leaving the workforce and there is a lot of hardship, and there has been a lot wage stagnation,” Carrie Lukas, Independent Women’s Forum managing director, told The Daily Signal. “It hasn’t been a particularly good seven and a half years for women.”
President Barack Obama said the problems facing the country are globalization and fewer labor unions. But he said his administration knows the solutions to economic problems in the United States:
We need equal pay for equal work. We need paid family and sick leave. We need affordable child care. We’ve got to raise the minimum wage. If we’re truly a nation of family values, we wouldn’t put up with the fact that many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth. We should guarantee paid maternity leave and paid paternity leave, too.
The Obama administration is pushing an “equal pay pledge,” which businesses can sign on to. The pledge reads:
We believe that businesses must play a critical role in reducing the national pay gap. Towards that end, we commit to conducting an annual company-wide gender pay analysis across occupations; reviewing hiring and promotion processes and procedures to reduce unconscious bias and structural barriers; and embedding equal pay efforts into broader enterprise-wide equity initiatives.
Obama announced at the conference that 28 American companies have signed the pledge to close the gender pay gap.
“We should frequent those companies that are doing the right thing because the truth is most folks agree with each other on this,” Obama said. “We don’t have to have Congress with us. We can go ahead and make progress while waiting for them. They’ll catch up eventually. They are usually a lagging indicator on these issues.”
There’s nothing wrong with this pledge, Lukas said, but it’s not what will ultimately help women.
“There is a lot of talk about more benefits and paid leave, but what women need first and foremost is jobs and job creation,” Lukas said. “Pay equity makes a nice bumper sticker. But more regulations can also lead to more red tape, more lawsuits, and possibly make companies less likely to hire women.”
The Independent Women’s Forum released a “Working for Women Report” on Tuesday to coincide with the conference. The report broadly concludes helping the entire economy—through fewer taxes and regulations—ultimately helps women.
“In 2015, there were 56.2 million women outside the labor force, which is 6.6 million more than in 2009,” when Obama first took office, according to the report. This is the highest rate since 1988, the report says.
A 2014 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics said, “Women have experienced weaker job growth after the end of the 2007–2009 downturn than they had experienced in the previous three recessions.”
The Independent Women’s Forum report’s suggestions include tax credits to small businesses providing leave for employees, reforming licensing regulations, pausing the Labor Department’s new overtime regulation, and allowing more flexibility on independent contracting.
The report states that technology has created a boon for women, presenting more opportunities for telecommuting and other ways for women to balance work and family. However, government regulations are outdated and even the new proposed regulations are reversing gains, according to the report.
The pending overtime rules that would require many salaried employees to be paid overtime, could have particular unintended consequences on women by discouraging employer agreements with employees, Lukas said.
“It will disproportionately impact women because it is the enemy of flexibility,” she said. “It’s a cookie cutter regulation that undermines options for jobs. Many women, balancing work and family, would trade a bigger paycheck for more flexibility.”
Based on what has occurred in other countries, many of the Obama administration’s efforts on behalf of women are likely to backfire, said Romina Boccia, deputy director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
She noted that in countries such as Germany, which has a very generous mandatory paid leave policy for women, fewer women are in management positions or in the labor force than in the United States.
“The Paycheck Fairness Act, for example, provides additional litigation powers for class action lawsuits,” Boccia told The Daily Signal. “Women are looking for a flexible workplace and these regulations will implement a rigid and uniform environment. It could dissuade employers from hiring and promoting women.”