The White House chose Women’s History Month to release a new report on the status of American women called “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being.”
The good news is that it’s the first comprehensive report in about 50 years that presents an overall picture of how women are faring in a variety of areas, including economic well-being, education, family status, employment, health, and crime and violence. The bad news is that, according to Rebecca Blank, the acting deputy secretary for the Commerce Department, the report contains no truly new data, but rather is a compilation and statistical analysis of already existing information.
I’m sure it was a herculean effort to compile and analyze the massive amounts of information from a spectrum of government departments and agencies to produce this report that Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama and the Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, called a “guidepost” for moving forward on initiatives to advance the cause of women and girls. But after a 30-minute conference call to discuss the report and its impact, it’s still unclear exactly what the Obama administration will use this 97-page report for.
Jarrett repeatedly mentioned that the White House knows the importance of having “hard evidence” to back up any proposals it intends to move forward with and hoped this report would provide that. Yet, when pressed about whether any new initiatives were on the horizon that would address the issues laid out in the report, such as the number of women and children who still in live poverty, women still earning less even though more women have college degrees than men, or that female-headed households still report the lowest family incomes in the United States, Jarrett was a little cagey, repeatedly circling back to the President’s statements about his ongoing commitment to issues that impact women and girls.
One clue about what might be on the horizon came from references to what Jarrett called the President’s interest in “STEM” careers — science, technology, engineering and math — which are often higher paid professions than others more traditionally chosen by women, such as teaching or nursing. While the “Women in America” report shows that women do lead men at the moment in studying biological sciences, as well as business and management, a look at President Obama’s recent agenda suggests his interest in these STEM professions — increased math and science education for American students was the focus of a recent weekly Presidential address, a $250 million public/private initiative to increase the number of science and math teachers was announced in January, and in February, the President honored a variety of noteworthy math and science programs around the country.
I never made it through on the conference call queue to ask my question which was this — how will the findings of the report be used to advance the case for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act? Yes, President Obama made the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first bill he signed into law when he took office, but that only broadened the rights of employees — both men and women — to pursue cases for back pay. While the “Women in America” report is chock full of information about the wage gap that still exists between men and women in the same jobs, it lacks guidance on how women can close that gap, other than to tell them to think about higher paying professions.
Update: It seems that Republicans aren’t so fond of the whole STEM idea. In the budget continuing resolution that was passed to keep the government running for another two weeks (yippee!!), funding for some STEM programs was cut.