Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What Do Women Want... in 2008?

By Michael Riccards and Mary Gatta

About a century ago, psychologist Sigmund Freud asked, “What do women want?” He never satisfactorily answered that question. Now as the United States approaches the 2008 presidential election, the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University and the Hall Institute of Public Policy are attempting to determine women’s priorities for the nation’s next chief executive. To do so, we conducted a presidential forum at Rutgers with a panel comprised of women leaders from New Jersey's business, academic and media industries.

The session was part of a series of forums that the Hall Institute has been conducting throughout the state to identify the issues of greatest importance to New Jerseyans for the next president. To date, the war in Iraq, the need for universal medical coverage and immigration reform have emerged as the state’s top priorities.

At our women’s forum, panelists and audience members overwhelmingly stressed the persistent and growing anxiety over economic security. With rising unemployment, rollbacks of pension funds and the contraction of medical benefits, middle class and blue collar New Jerseyans have been affected by downturns in the economy, especially for women heading up families. One out of five working women live at or below the poverty level, and over 55 percent of women provide half or more of their family’s income.

Although there is a modest family leave policy in place in the United States, there was some concern that even this unpaid leave policy may be reversed by executive order at the end of this Administration. The current Department of Labor was also seen as showing little commitment to workers’ rights. Especially significant is the need for more money for worker training and development. Working women need the opportunity to move up the ladder of opportunity in order to earn more income and achieve some greater job security. Nearly all women are a part of the American workforce at some point in their lifetime, so what happens in the world of work is of critical importance to them and to their children.

In an advanced economy such as ours, the acquisition and updating of skills is one of the surest avenues for fighting poverty and unemployment. But college and university tuitions have escalated and Pell money (federal need based financial aid) has not kept pace As a result, the important track of social mobility is being closed off to large numbers of working women who want to go on to college. In this country income, health benefits, pension rights, home ownership all are linked. And in order to understand the standard of living in which people operate, there is a real imperative to examine different methodologies so one can appreciate the true costs of living in a particular area of the country. For example, New Jersey is an especially expensive in terms of housing and taxes. A simple definition of the “poverty level” is not useful for understanding what people need to survive.

Women have been and are the main caregivers of their families. Unlike Western European countries, we do not take into account those realities and additional burdens and responsibilities, usually borne by women. Many of these nations provide PAID family leave for fairly long periods of time. Providing some recognition of those burdens is a real definition of family values -- respect for providing support for caregivers.

Comments at the forum repeatedly stressed the traumas of economic insecurity and their destabilizing effects on our society. It is necessary to resurrect the American notion of community, of recognizing the common good that unites us. The forum’s speakers and its guests wanted the next president to hear clearly the need for more support for working women and their dependents. The costs of a prolonged war are diverting enormous resources away from our social problems. Working women need a re-ordering of national priorities and changes that allow them to accentuate collective efforts, organizing and national forbearance.

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The Hall Institute of Public Policy - New Jersey is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that explores issues of social, economic, educational and cultural importance to the Garden State. For more information, visit the Hall Institute online at or email

Friday, September 14, 2007

Campaign Odds & Ends

Mike Gravel, Democrat candidate for president, has indicated that Americans are getting "fatter and dumber"--not exactly a bumper sticker that brings you votes.

Thompson has jumped to near the head of class in the GOP race. That means that it is better not to say anything in the presidency. He is supposed to be emulating Ronald Reagan. People forget that Reagan stood for clearly defined positions for decades before he came to the White House.

The President has somehow declared the mess in Iraqi a success in the making, and John McCain has fallen in line with his so called Victory Express, an old bus that is painted over--a rather appropriate symbol of his candidacy.

Bill Clinton continues his wearisome public appearances, this time to plug his new book on philanthropy.

Oprah held a fine fund raiser for Obama. Her endorsement of an obscure book can add 400,000 readers in two weeks. Maybe she can help Obama who is increasingly looks like a professor teaching an intro political science at 8 am.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Voter Turnout

We give too much importance to the venerable voters in Iowa and New Hampshire who are supposed to take the nominations of presidential candidates so seriously. It seems that New Hampshire 's turnout is 44 percent; in South Carolina 20 percent of voters turned out in 2000. Iowa has a caucus system that attracts an even lower percentage of voters. Is it little wonder that the parties are so captive of special interests and nutty blog sites? By the way, fewer than 50 percent of the eligible voters cast their ballots in the last presidential election.

Time for MoveOn to move on

Speaking of nutty blog sites, it is rather remarkable that MoveOn would plant an ad in the New York Times denouncing the integrity of General Petraeus. One wonders if MoveOn is either insensitive to attacks on the U.S. military or whether it is a front from Karl Rove. But in either case, it makes the anti-war case look bad and unpatriotic, which in turn rubs off on timid Democrats running for Congress. I disagree with Petraeus's analysis and his dressed version of "stay the course" as more Bushisms, but he has given his life to his nation and is a decorated veteran in the field. It is time MoveOn moved over.