I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a NOW webinar narrated by Terry O’Neill, the president of NOW, titled “The Budget Deal is a Feminist Issue.” The webinar discussed how Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) 2012 budget deal would cut several social services, which women depend disproportionately on.
O’Neill cited several statistics about women’s dependence compared to men’s on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Over half of Medicare beneficiaries are women, and women are more likely to report having three or more chronic conditions, which shows that they utilize Medicare more than men do. 70% of Medicaid dollars support nursing homes and families with disabled members; 80% of nursing home residents are women, and nursing home employees are also mostly women. Social Security provides more than 60% of the total income for women 65 and older, and 57% of beneficiaries are women.
Ryan’s budget also cuts family planning clinics, Pell grants, job training, Head Start, childcare programs, and WIC nutrition programs, which clearly serve women predominantly. Many more women work in the public sector, and they are disproportionately losing jobs because governments at all levels are cutting workers. This comes against the backdrop of women having fewer fallback resources in the first place because of the persistent gender-based wage gap, which costs women between $400,000 and $2,000,000 over a lifetime.
Women of color are especially vulnerable. Unmarried African-American women’s median wealth (defined as what a person owns minus what a person owes) is $100, Latinas’ $125, and white women’s $41,500. Statistics are similar disturbing for married women. These figures are particularly upsetting because women’s wages are essential to the entire family: most two-parent households are entirely or partly based on women’s wages, so families suffer from women’s unfortunate economic state.
In addition to explaining the negative impacts of the Ryan deal, O’Neill recommended several good budget principles that we should be fighting for. One suggestion is for the government to establish jobs programs in healthcare, education, childcare, and other similar fields, even if it means making the deficit worse in the short term, since it’ll put money in people’s pockets and boost the economy. The rich should also have to pay their fair share of taxes. Military spending should be cut, and that money should be used for social service programs instead. In addition, healthcare is a fundamental right, not a privilege, and should be made available for everyone. O’Neill also stressed the fact that programs like Medicare and Medicaid are not what put America into debt.
After the presentation portion, O’Neill opened the floor to questions. When asked how Medicare and Medicaid would work under the Ryan budget, Anita Lederer, the NOW field organizer, explained that Medicare will become a voucher system. People will be given a certain amount of vouchers (representing dollars) a year; if they runs out, they’re on their own regarding healthcare payment. Medicaid money will be block granted to each state to spend on their citizens.
When someone asked what the current wage gap is, O’Neill answered that it’s currently 79 cents to every man’s dollar (69 for black women and 59 for Latinas), which is an improvement to the previous 77 cent proportion.
While answering several other questions, O’Neill debunked the myth that Social Security is going broke. She explained that the system was reformed in the 1980s, at which time a $2.7 million surplus was set aside as retirement funds for the baby boom generation. In addition, she made it clear that Medicare is not the problem; the current healthcare system is what’s flawed. Economists even say that Medicare could even be part of the solution, if handled correctly. O’Neill also cited several statistics about how people across party, age, race, and gender lines oppose Ryan cuts, including 62% of Tea Partiers.
Someone asked how to sway congresspeople who are unfriendly to the feminist movement, and O’Neill urged everyone to call them anyway and make them aware of women’s rights issues, run for office and encourage other feminists to do so, and support feminist candidates (even if they’re not perfect). She stressed the importance of a pipeline of ardent feminists in the political world.
I asked O’Neill if these cuts impact girls and teens, and she explained that the Ryan deal would cut family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood, which also offer services like mammograms, STD and HIV screenings, Pap smears, and other tests that can help save women’s lives. “That’s appalling,” she said. After a few more questions, O’Neill wrapped up the hour-long session by emphasizing the importance of the social services the Ryan budget would cut.
All in all, I greatly enjoyed the webinar. (I told my friend about it and she told me, “You’re probably the only teenager on the planet who enjoyed hearing a presentation about the budget.” She’s probably got a point there.) In a personal correspondence, Ms. Lederer asked if everyone could speak to their representatives, host a letter-writing campaign, or demonstrate in a rally against cuts. You can contact your representative here (https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml), and tell him or her:
As one of your constituents, I oppose the Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other social service program cuts proposed by the Ryan budget. These are vital programs for every American citizen, but are especially important for women. Over half of Medicare beneficiaries are women, 70% of Medicaid recipients are in nursing homes (whose inhabitants and employees are a vast majority of women), and 57% of Social Security beneficiaries are women. Family planning clinics, Pell grants, job training, Head Start, childcare programs, and WIC nutrition programs clearly serve women predominantly. This is not even to mention the wage gap between men and women, especially those of color. Please ensure that the women of America will not be forced into poverty because of Ryan budget cuts.
While I loved the webinar, it bothered me a little bit that O’Neill didn’t address the impact of the Ryan budget cuts on younger women, which is why I made sure to ask about it. I know O’Neill is of the baby boom generation, and I would venture to say that so is the vast majority of NOW members, but isn’t it important to include people of all ages? Feminists go to extreme efforts to include homosexuals, people of color, the disabled, etc. etc. etc. Shouldn’t they consider it a primary goal to include younger feminists? We are the next generation, and if they don’t encourage us to join the movement, it will wither away and die.
But to end on a positive note, I really enjoyed the webinar, and I’m looking for to another one!