Senator Ted Kennedy feels sorry for women. In a report entitled “Taking a Toll: The Effects of Recession on Women,” Kennedy laments: “It is now clear that our economy has sunk into a recession that threatens the wellbeing of countless American families. Yet despite their critical role in the workforce and in raising families, women and their vulnerability in economic downturns have received too little focus.”
At first glance, American woman might thank the Bay State Senator for casting a spotlight on the precarious financial situation of many of our sisters. But a closer look reveals it is a classic, politically opportunistic document designed to advance the author’s agenda while shedding little light on women’s real economic challenges.
The report begins by highlighting opinion polls revealing growing economic anxiety. More Americans are concerned about the economy today than they were a year ago, and a majority expects things to get worse. In keeping with the report’s theme, women are gloomier about the economic situation than men are. The report intones “women in particular feel profoundly anxious about their economic future” and “recent polling data show that women are more likely than men to say they are very worried about the economy.”
Is this really a sign that women are being disproportionately affected by the economic downturn? A look at the Gallup poll cited in the report reveals an alternative explanation. Women were more concerned about the economy last year too, and it’s not just the economy that worries women. As the poll’s summary details: “Other areas for which Gallup finds significant gender differences -- all with women more concerned than men -- include healthcare, crime, the environment, drug use, the possibility of terrorist attacks, unemployment, and hunger/homelessness.”
In other words, women worry more than men about everything. It shouldn’t take extensive polling or Congressional research to reach this conclusion. Any psychology student—or anyone who has a mother or wife, for that matter—could tell you that women tend to be our worriers.
The report also cites the unemployment numbers as evidence that women are particularly burdened by the economic downturn. Yet while women’s unemployment rose faster than men during the past year, women’s unemployment started at a lower level. And today, adult men and women’s unemployment rate is both 4.6%.
Any uptick in unemployment is concerning since it represents real hardship and frustration for people who desire productive work. Yet there’s something condescending about Sen. Kennedy’s decision to single out women and cherry pick data in an attempt to advance his big government agenda.
Undoubtedly, there are ways in which women are more vulnerable in tough economic times, especially single women with children. Yet the policies that will help women find gainful employment and help them make ends meet are the same policies that will help the broader economy.
Senator Kennedy offers a laundry list of government programs and regulations that he claims will help women. But he ignores these proposals’ costs. For example, he wants to require employers to provide employees paid sick leave. It sounds like a good idea: Everyone understands the need to take time off from work due to illness. But such a mandate imposes costs on employers and discourages job creation. Similarly, increasing unemployment benefits or providing more generous welfare programs may sound like pure acts of charity, but they have real implications for the economy, discouraging people from finding and taking jobs.
Unemployed workers who are struggling to find jobs don’t want government handouts. They want a growing economy that offers opportunity and rewards work. Instead of focusing on government band-aids, Senator Kennedy should consider policies that will actually spur economic growth and job creation.
Lower taxes and less regulation, for example, would actually have an impact on businesses, encouraging new investment and expansion. Congress needs to embrace trade liberalization, which has served as an engine of economic growth and lowered prices on countless goods.
While Washington could take positive steps to help the economy, policymakers should also first do no harm when it comes to the economy. Members toying with legislation to mandate a reduction in carbon-emissions, for example, should consider the costs of such an effort to the economy. While the relationship between carbon emissions and changes in the global temperature remain uncertain, we know that carbon-capping legislation would act as a significant drag on the economy, discourage job creation, and all for little if any environmental benefit.