Sunday, February 8, 2009

Make sure women share equally in the benefits of the stimulus package

Publish Date: 2/8/2009

Polis: Stimulus draft favors men

By Tony Kindelspire
Longmont Times-Call

LONGMONT — As Congress debates President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, some are concerned the jobs it aims to create will favor male-dominated professions.

The final bill signed by the president will likely contain billions of dollars for infrastructure: transportation projects, schools and health-care facilities. The federal government will spend some of this money, and some will be funneled through state and local governments.

Proponents say the stimulus bill will create tens of thousands of new construction jobs, but as U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, points out, that industry is dominated by men. In a Jan. 15 letter, Polis urged the president to take steps to make sure women share equally in the benefits of the stimulus package.

“Absent efforts to increase worker diversity in infrastructure-related jobs — this could lead to a shift of hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth from women to men,” Polis, a first-term Congressman representing the 2nd Congressional District, wrote in his letter.

Polis said by phone early last week that a constituent in Boulder alerted him to the issue.

“While we all might have suspected, the numbers bore it out,” he said. “After assembling all the information, we found out that of all the infrastructure jobs, 93 percent go to men and 7 percent go to women.”

He said he wrote the letter for two reasons: to alert the president and his colleagues in Congress to the need to take action, and to point to training programs that would address the disparity.

Polis’ letter has drawn support from dozens of women and family-oriented nonprofits, who have sent letters of their own to the president and Congress urging them to add provisions to the final stimulus bill that will level the playing field.

“We believe that we need an economy that works for all of us, and we are encouraged by the discussion that is happening along those lines,” said Linda Meric, executive director of the Denver chapter of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women.

More women than ever are in the workplace, and more families than ever depend on that income, Meric said.

In 2007, women made up 48.7 percent of the labor force, up from 41.2 percent in 1980, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During the same period, the number of households headed by a single female parent rose to 25 percent from 18 percent, and by 2007, more than 70 percent of children lived in either a dual-earner household or one led by a single, working parent.

The proposed stimulus bill does contain positives for women, Meric said. For example, she said, more money is slated for child care, health care, computerized medical records, and state and local governments.

“These areas employ more women, so job creation and job protection in those areas directly affects women,” she said.

The types of jobs the stimulus package provides are key, Meric said. Calling for “family-supporting” jobs, the letter 9to5 and the other groups signed calls for jobs that pay wages and benefits that will support a family and paid time off so workers can care for themselves and their families.

And given the increase in women in the work force and the fact that more of them are supporting families, the unemployment system needs to be modernized, she said.

“The workplace and the unemployment system haven’t changed to keep up with these changes,” Meric said. “We think that’s a very important piece of the economy.”

She said she supports Polis’ recommendations for diversifying the stimulus package and the work force. While it’s true that women are a small percentage of those working in construction, there are ways to get more women the training they need to do the jobs.

Polis calls for expanding the U.S. Department of Labor’s grant program that awards competitive grants to recruit, hire, train and retain women in apprenticeships and non-traditional occupations.

Polis also calls for enforcing existing rules regarding hiring women by federal construction contractors, and for providing incentives to privately held companies that employ women.

Meric said some of these measures won’t necessarily help in the short term, but they provide a way to begin diversifying the work force now.

“Those (measures) particularly provide an opportunity for us as a country to provide training for women and other underrepresented groups,” she said.

About a dozen other members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed Polis’ letter to the president, he said, including Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who has been in Congress since 1974 and is now chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291 or


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