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Economic crisis is bad for women

Published Apr 5, 2009 10:23 PM

Women’s unemployment rate is rising quickly. At 6.7 percent, it is at its highest level in 23 years.

As layoffs have spread to the service and retail sectors, where women are the majority of workers, their jobless rate grew by an alarming 36.7 percent in the five months prior to February 2009. The rate worsened for African-American women, whose unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent in February, while for Latinas it reached 10.2 percent.

The economic crisis has hit hard the 40 percent of women who are the sole source of support of themselves and their families. Joblessness has now reached 10.3 percent of these women.

Twenty-five percent of women work part-time. They form two-thirds of the part-time work force with 16.7 million employed at these often low-paid jobs with few if any benefits. As for many jobless workers, unemployment insurance is often out of reach for women who have part-time jobs or have given up looking for non-existent work.

Pay equity: a crucial issue

Although decades of struggle have won some gains, lower pay for women is still a big problem. This development has become an entrenched feature of capitalism, even in the industrialized countries. While women, who like men work because of economic necessity, now make up 48 percent of the work force, they are 59 percent of workers who earn less than $8 per hour.

Examining today’s statistic that full-time women workers earn 78 percent of what men earn reveals even more inequality: this figure shows white women’s earnings compared to those of white men. African-American women earn only 63 percent of those earnings, while their Latina sisters make only 54 percent. Immigrant women workers are often paid less than minimum wage, with no benefits.

Corporate owners profit greatly by utilizing wage discrimination and underpaying and underemploying women workers. They rake in even more profits through their racist super-exploitation of Black, Latina, Native, Arab and other women workers from oppressed communities, whom they pay even less.

This inequity and impoverishment are inherent in the capitalist profit system, which underpays as much of the work force as possible for the profits of a wealthy few—unless it is consciously fought against by workers and their unions, which can bring down the level of exploitation and demand full-time jobs with decent pay and benefits.

Nearly 14 percent of women are poor in the U.S. Thirty-seven million people here now live in poverty. That’s 12.7 percent of the population, the highest rate in the industrialized world.

Nineteen million women have no health coverage. They are 70 percent of adults receiving food stamps and two-thirds of the elderly in this program.

Many states, which cut public assistance in 1996 after the Clinton administration dismembered the welfare program, have either not reinstated benefits or have cut them even more harshly, leaving low-income women and their children with no “safety nets.”

Millions of women, especially African Americans and Latinas, single mothers and the elderly, face losing their homes. Increasing foreclosures, evictions and job losses are propelling more women and families into homelessness. High food, transit, fuel and other costs during this economic crisis are pushing more families over the edge.

This is a crucial time for people’s movements, the unions, community and progressive forces to push back as hard as possible and fight for jobs, decent pay and benefits for women and all workers.

Economic crises, low wages, unemployment and poverty are intrinsic to the capitalist system. The ruling class callously accepts impoverishment of workers while throwing trillions of dollars at banks and corporations.

The crisis engulfing millions of women does not have to be. There is another way to live. Socialism guarantees the basic necessities of life such as jobs, health care, food, childcare, education and housing. Based on public instead of private ownership of industries, production under socialism is geared to meet human needs, not to make profits for a wealthy few. Nor is it based on exploitation of human labor.

Ninety miles off Florida’s coast is socialist Cuba. There women have made great economic, political and social gains. The fruits of their labor are used for the benefit of society—for universal free health care, education, and more.