Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Women’s health and The Economy:
Jan Schakowsky makes the connection

UP TO THIS point in the 2012 election season, the media, the blognoscenti and the spinmeisters of both presidential campaigns have discussed women’s reproductive rights and The Economy as two very separate things, two distinct topics in an election year crowded with big issues, domestic and foreign.

Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky would disagree.

The Illinois congresswoman, who’s also the Obama campaign national co-chair, was interviewed Monday by Piers Morgan on CNN. In the course of a wide-ranging interview touching on the progress of the campaign, the viability of the RomneyRyan ticket and the Todd Akin controversy, Schakowsky found the linkage between two seemingly disparate aspects of American life.

“For women,” she said, “the issue of access to contraception and abortion is very much an economic issue. Being able to space families, to decide when or if to have children is very, very much an economic issue for women and determines our economic future. And so for women, they're really not all that separate an issue.”

Schakowsky’s observation, more than an afterthought but less than a central point of discussion, makes sense when you look at the nation’s economic posture holistically.

A July 2010 report from the Center for American Progress on women and economic well-being found that women make up almost 50 percent of all workers on American payrolls — “the result of a long-term trend in which women increasingly work even after marriage or parenthood.” Some 35 million women are heads of household, the report found.

A March 2012 report from the Center got to the heart of the recession’s impact on working women:

“The Great Recession was often referred to in the press as a “man-cession” since men lost three out of every four jobs during that time. But now men are gaining jobs at a faster clip than women in the recovery due in large part to women making up a large number of public-sector employees, who faced massive layoffs amid state and local budget tightening that persists. …”

“Mirroring the ‘man-cession,’ the recovery is a ‘man-covery,’” The report says. “Men gained jobs on net every month but one since March 2010, while women continued to lose jobs month after month through September 2010. It wasn’t until December 2011 that women had on net gained jobs during the recovery. In general, however, women have added jobs month after month at a slower pace than men.”

Many of those women struggling to get ahead, or just get by, are working mothers. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 56 percent of all mothers with children under the age of one year old were in the labor force in 2010. Mothers with children under the age of 18 amounted to just under 71 percent of the work force that year.

A July 2012 report from the Guttmacher Institute makes the connection between women’s economic well-being and the use of contraception in family planning: “The costs of contraceptive services and supplies can be considerable. The most effective, long-acting methods can cost hundreds of dollars up front. Costs even for methods that are relatively inexpensive on an individual basis (such as condoms) can add up to substantial amounts over a year, much less the 30 years that the typical woman spends trying to avoid pregnancy.”

Those out-of-pocket costs will be greatly eased by provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which made a range of women’s reproductive health services — including contraception — free of charge as of August 1.

That fact won’t be forgotten by many of the 62 million women of childbearing age in the United States. For them, the connection between the health of their personal economies and the wider one is hardly theoretical. Schakowsky’s observation is one of the first direct linkages of the two in the pre-election discourse; it’s reasonable to assume that the millions of women who’ll vote on Nov. 6 will make that connection too.

Image credits: Schakowsky: CNN. Birth control pills: Don McPhee/The Guardian (UK). Plan B package: via Guttmacher Institute logo: © 1996-2012 Guttmacher Institute.

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