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“Nothing Short Of Radical Inclusiveness”: The Power of Pissed-Off Women United For Equality

I’ve just begun my second four-year term as president of the National Organization for Women. I was reelected — by acclamation, I’m proud to say — at NOW’s 2013 Conference in Chicago over the July 4th weekend.

My vision for the next four years of activism begins with something that’s long overdue — the election of a women president of the United States.

And not just any woman. A feminist woman who will stand up for our issues against those who would turn the clock back to the 1950’s.

Women need to be thinking — and acting — for the long-term, not just for this year’s elections or next year’s. We need to be preparing for the next president, and the ones after that. That’s what our adversaries have been doing.

As the grassroots arm of the women’s movement, NOW is strong and getting stronger. We are focusing our power — the power of a whole lot of pissed-off women — identifying targets and achieving goals.

As we look towards the 2014 elections, we know that the stakes couldn’t be higher. The radical fringe that controls the Republican party is chomping at the bit for a replay of 2010, and this time they mean to take over the Senate as well as the House.

The Supreme Court has just made our job harder by eviscerating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now dozens of state and local jurisdictions, freed from having to pre-clear changes in their voting laws with the U.S. Department of Justice, will race to erect new barriers against voting by such “undesirable” voters as people of color, seniors, immigrants and younger citizens.

We are committed to restoring the Act, and correcting the Supreme Court’s sordid attempt to enhance the political power of those who already have so much.

Beyond our electoral challenges, NOW is doubling down on fighting for women’s economic security. We support the initiative launched last week by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD), and House Democratic women to address real economic needs facing women and families: ensuring equal pay for equal work, promoting work and family balance, and providing access to quality, affordable child care.

It’s called When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families.

As Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said,

Women are really struggling financially. They are looking for an increase in the minimum wage and equal pay, so they can raise their income, support their families and have a chance for a better life. So today, 165 years after the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, we are launching a woman’s economic agenda to address these severe financial pressures. Raising wages for millions of struggling women is central to ensuring work pays for them and their families. Closing the wage gap, increasing the minimum wage, expanding educational opportunities and supporting women entrepreneurs are crucial to making sure that women — and America — succeed.

Of course, wage security isn’t the only linchpin of economic equality for women. We need access to the full range of reproductive health services, because, as this Valerie Tarico column in the Huffington Post says, “Anybody who says that talking about reproductive rights is a distraction from talking about economics is not running the numbers.”

Unintended pregnancies push women out of the workforce, keep women from earning their full potential as business leaders, contribute to absenteeism and lost wages and throw state and federal budgets out of whack. According to the Guttmacher Institute, every public dollar spent on contraception saves three dollars that would otherwise be spent on Medicaid payments for pregnancy-related and newborn care.

Another enormous economic burden facing women is the crushing cost of student loans. As Elizabeth Warren, the sponsor of the Bank on Student Loan Fairness Act has said,

Students owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt — more than all the credit card debt in the entire country. But they didn’t go on a shopping spree at the mall–they did exactly what we told them to do. They worked hard, they played by the rules, and they got an education.

As I wrote in this column for the Huffington Post, because women are paid less than men are paid after college, student loan repayments eat up a larger part of women’s earnings.

Like a bad penny, economic insecurity follows women through school, in the workplace, at home, and far too often, in what should be a safe and secure retirement.

This year, we are rolling out NOW’s Campaign to Break the Social Security Glass Ceiling to add a good offense to our ongoing defense against cuts in this crucial program.

We are calling for a range of improvements in benefits for women — including a caregiver credit, so women will no longer be penalized in their retirement years for having dropped out of the paid workforce to care for children or family members; a higher minimum benefit for low-wage workers (who are, very disproportionately, women); modernized rules for divorced and widowed spouses; and equal treatment for same-sex couples and their families — and we show how to pay for it by requiring the wealthiest to pay their fair share into the system.

Simultaneously, our national action campaign to Let Them Put a Ring On It expands and deepens NOW’s commitment to achieving equal marriage rights in all states, at all levels of government. We’ll engage NOW’s chapter leaders and activists to press for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA including the provisions not struck down by the Supreme Court. And we’ll ramp up our work with coalition partners in key states to reverse anti-marriage measures and pass laws recognizing the full rights of loving, committed same-sex couples.

As NOW feminists, our goal is nothing short of radical inclusiveness, as we work to build an organization, a movement, and a society that values diversity and upholds respect for every single woman and girl, no matter where she comes from, what she looks like, where she works or who she loves. We are stronger together, and united for equality.

 

By: Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women; The Huffington Post Blog, August 5, 2013

August 6, 2013 Posted by | Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Taxing The Most Vulnerable”: Student Loan Debt Is Bad For Women And Congress Is Making It Worse

How bad is the wage gap for women in the workplace?

For college graduates, it’s so bad that it begins even before women begin their careers.

According to a study by AAUW, Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year After College Graduation:

Women and men pay the same amount for their college degrees, but they often do not reap the same rewards. Among 2007-08 college graduates, women and men typically borrowed similar amounts to finance their educations, about $20,000. Because women are paid less than men are paid after college, student loan repayments make up a larger part of women’s earnings. In 2009, among full-time workers repaying their loans one year after college graduation, just over half of women (53 percent) compared with 39 percent of men were paying more than what we estimate a typical woman or man could reasonably afford to pay toward student loan debt. These numbers have risen in recent years.

Outstanding student loans today total more than $1 trillion, surpassing credit card debt. Student loan debt has increased nearly 300 percent over the last eight years, according to a report by the New York Federal Reserve.

Is Congress doing anything about this problem? As a matter of fact they are. They’re making it worse.

This July, unless Congress acts, the interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford loans is set to increase from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. In another example of the Congress’ attitude of “don’t tax the rich, but tax the most vulnerable,” student loans are seen as a nice little moneymaker.

The federal government will make $34 billion this year on student loans. If Congress allows the interest rate on these loans to double, the federal government will bring in even more revenue — money that comes straight from the pockets of students who had to borrow money to go to college.

Of course, not everyone has to pay such a burdensome rate of interest on loans. Big banks can borrow money from the Federal Reserve at a rate of less than 1 percent. There’s something very wrong with this picture.

This week, I attended a breakfast meeting with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. Mass.) where she spoke about the first piece of standalone legislation she is introducing in the United States Senate.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Warren said:

The Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act would allow students who are eligible for federally subsidized Stafford loans to borrow at the same rate that big banks get through the Federal Reserve discount window. For one year, the Federal Reserve would make funds available to the Department of Education to make loans to students at the same low rate offered to the big banks. This will give students relief from high interest rates while giving Congress time to find a long-term solution.

At our breakfast, I remembered that it was the mobilization of enormous grassroots support for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (then-Professor Warren’s brainchild) that kept pressure on Congress to pass the legislation that established that agency. Her fight to keep student loan interest rates low is her next big campaign, and women should pull out all the stops to support her.

AAUW’s findings tell us that women are disproportionately likely to take out loans; among 2007-2008 graduates, 68 percent of women borrowed money for college compared to 63 percent of men.

According to the AAUW report:

For many young women, the challenge of paying back student loans is their first encounter with the pay gap. “Student loan debt burden” is defined as the percentage of earnings devoted to student loan payments. A high student loan debt burden is an indicator that repayment may create hardship. Individuals with high student loan debt burden are less likely to own a home, have a car loan, or even make rent payments. High student loan debt burden is a challenge for a growing number of college graduates, men and women alike, but is particularly widespread among women, in large part because of the pay gap.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) has a long history of supporting equal pay, comparable worth and other policies that advance women’s economic security. NOW was proud to support Elizabeth Warren in her successful campaign for the U.S. Senate, and we are equally proud to support her urgently needed legislation to reduce the burden of student loan debt.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone could oppose a bill that simply requires the Fed to set interest rates for students at the same low rate the big banks get. But get this: an opponent of Sen. Warren’s bill reportedly suggested — presumably hoping we’ve all forgotten about the taxpayers’ bailout of the too-big-to-fail banks — that unlike students, the big banks deserve to pay a super-low interest rate because they never fail. And they say the 1 Percent has no sense of humor.

Elizabeth Warren has planted the flag for student loan reform by introducing her bill, and now it’s up to us to mobilize support and pressure Congress to pass it. This is grassroots democracy at its best. So, blog about this, write letters to the editor, lobby your senators and your representative.

Help ensure that a college education is a pathway to fulfillment and success for women, and not an opening to crushing debt.

 

By: Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women, The Huffington Post, May 20, 2013

May 22, 2013 Posted by | Education, Women | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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