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A crisis for women with children

Published Jun 7, 2010 9:12 PM

While the capitalist economic crisis has severely hit millions of workers in the U.S., low-wage women workers, especially mothers, face an extra set of problems.

Since the recession began, 2.6 million women have lost their jobs. The official unemployment rate for women who head households (85 percent of single-parent households), has hit a high of 11.3 percent. This doesn’t count women who need full-time work but either have to settle for fewer hours and lower pay or have given up looking for a job.

Before the recession more than a third of woman-headed families were poor already. But now their conditions are even worse, as employers so often lay women off first and hire them last.

Before the recession, even subsidized child care was beyond the reach of most needy families. As women workers face having their hours cut, are demoted into involuntary part-time jobs or furloughs, and lose other income, subsidized day care becomes a necessity for more poor families. Chief among these are the families of African-American women and Latinas, who are among the lowest-paid workers.

There are some federal subsidies for child care. However, more than 13 states, claiming budget deficits, have recently scaled back crucial subsidized child-care programs, decreased their allotments, or put the children on lengthy waiting lists. Because of these cutbacks, women can lose their jobs and also face big obstacles trying to look for work in a tough job market. Without someone to provide child care, they can’t work; their children need them. Without subsidies, child-care costs are prohibitively high — up to one-third of a poor family’s budget

“For a single mom,” says the National Women’s Law Center, “it’s a lottery in many states whether she gets child care or not.”

After President Bill Clinton in 1996 signed the so-called welfare reform bill, saying the U.S. would “end welfare as we know it,” many single mothers, dropped from essential public assistance programs and left with no safety net, were told to go to work, allegedly with a proviso of government-subsidized child care.

But this means nothing when local governments are slashing child-care subsidies for poor families. The 1996 welfare law included a five-year lifetime limit on cash assistance, which in some states is even reduced to a two- or three-year limit. Many unemployed women have no recourse to public assistance, even in a recession. Because states won’t loosen these restrictions, public assistance enrollment has gone up less than 10 percent since the layoffs began, despite the enormous need.

While the media so often blame the women, it’s the capitalist system that is to blame. Wall Street, the banks and the corporations have to reel in their profits, no matter the human cost. If there’s a financial crisis, the government rescues the super-rich. There’s no austerity expected of them. Austerity measures are reserved for workers and poor people. Instead of being rescued, they keep on losing jobs, homes and essential services, including child care.

Take California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes cutting most child-care subsidies. Under his plan, up to 240,000 children would lose day care while 130,000 providers or teachers would lose jobs. Yet at the same time the governor would give $2.1 billion in tax breaks to his corporate cronies, without requiring job creation.

Just 90 miles from Big Business’ rule is a country where workers’ needs come first. In socialist Cuba, housing, education, employment, health care and childcare are inherent human rights — even during a worldwide capitalist crisis.

Despite the U.S. blockade, Cuba has increased the social programs that serve its people. During the 1990s, Cuba expanded funding for health and education and established universal preschool education programs. The Early Education System, for children ages 0-6, is part of the extensive National Education System provided under the Ministry of Education.

Moreover, the Cuban Constitution guarantees women workers equal rights in all spheres, including employment. It ensures paid maternity leave along with day care from infancy to school age. Single mothers receive special benefits.

Only 90 miles from the reign of rapacious capitalism is a socialist country where the needs of women and children take top priority.