Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Equal Pay Day is April 4

Equal Pay Day is April 4
Tuesday, April 4th is Equal Pay Day, a national day of education and action to combat the gender pay gap. It is the symbolic day when women’s earnings “catch up” to men’s earnings from the previous year. This means women on average have to work until April 4 just to take home what a man did in 2016.

Equal Pay Day symbolizes the wage gap for all women taken together, but it does not tell the whole story. And that 20 percent gap gets even larger for women of color and moms.

Compared with salary information for white male workers, Asian American women’s salaries show the smallest gender pay gap, at 85 percent of white men’s earnings. The gap was largest for Hispanic and Latina women, who were paid only 54 percent of what white men were paid in 2015.

All women pay just as much as men for everything they buy, but only have – at best – 80 cents on the dollar in purchasing power.

And it is not just the pay gap that puts women behind. Gender discrimination affects so much more than just a paycheck. In order to have true economic equality, we have to address many other issues: workplace fairness, paid family and medical leave, affordable, high-quality early learning and childcare opportunities, earned sick days and raising the minimum wage.

The pay gap is compounded by age. Earnings for both female and male full-time workers tend to increase with age, though earnings increase more slowly after age 45 and even decrease after age 55. The gender pay gap also grows with age, and differences among older workers are considerably larger than gaps among younger workers. Women typically earn about 90 percent of what men are paid until they hit 35. After that median earnings for women are typically 74–82 percent of what men are paid.

And even more education won’t erase the pay gap. At every level of academic achievement, women’s median earnings are less than men’s median earnings, and in some cases, the gender pay gap is larger at higher levels of education. Women earn less 10 years after enrolling in college than men do six years after enrolling. A college education that cost them just as much to get as their male counterparts.

According to AAUW research, the pay gap won't close until 2152 nationally. Here in New York State, we have it better – by a little. New York will close the wage gap if it continues on its current course in – 2049.

It is time to pay more than lip service to Equal Pay. We need real solutions to all of the economic barriers that prevent women from achieving equality. Immediate legislative and executive action is needed to enable women to bring home the pay they have rightfully earned.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is in dire need of an update in order to reflect America’s modern economy. We need Congress to act. Passing a new federal law, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, would help protect everyone in all states from unfair pay discrimination.

In addition, we need state action to move forward on equal pay. When an employer bases wages on a job applicant’s past salary, pay discrimination from prior employment continues and multiplies throughout her career.  This common practice negatively affects women and people of color who face continuing bias in the job and negotiation process.

In particular, low wage workers suffer because “women’s work” is undervalued, making pay based on prior salary depressed. And because women typically have larger caregiving responsibilities, many reduce hours or leave jobs and are penalized upon returning. And, when salary is used to screen applicants for job advancement, it can act as a disqualifier because of assumptions that low wages means unqualified.

Over time, lower salaries add up and affect the worker and her family’s financial health and her retirement security. New wages should reflect the match between the candidate’s qualifications and the job’s requirements and pay scale, not past salary.

Urge your elected officials to co-sponsor, support - and PASS - the NYS Salary History bills: A.6706/S.5233 this year. It is time for action, not lip service.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

March 8: International Women's Day

March 8: International Women's Day

International Women's Day is when women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together to celebrate a tradition that represents at least nine decades in the struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.

The idea of an International Women's Day first arose at the turn of the last century, which was marked in the industrialized world by a period of expansion and turbulence, booming population growth, and radical ideologies.

The official holiday had its beginnings in 1908. That year in the United States, the Socialist Party appointed a Women's National Committee to Campaign for the Suffrage. After meeting, this Committee recommended that the Socialist Party set aside a day every year to campaign to women's right to vote, a big step for socialists and one welcomed by the women working for suffrage.

On March 8, 1908, Branch No. 3 of the New York City Social Democratic Women's Society sponsored a mass meeting on women's rights. Then, in 1909, American socialist agreed to designate the last Sunday in February as National Women's Day; that year and the next, socialist women throughout the U.S. held mass meetings. International Women’s Day was celebrated as a socialist holiday honoring working women in the early days if its observance.

The Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco in 1945, was the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right. Few causes promoted by the United Nations have generated more intense and widespread support than the campaign to promote and protect the equal rights of women.

Since then, the UN has helped create a historic legacy of internationally agreed strategies, standards, programs and goals to advance the status of women worldwide. 

Over the years, United Nations action for the advancement of women has taken four clear directions: promotion of legal measures; mobilization of public opinion and international action; training and research, including the compilation of gender desegregated statistics; and direct assistance to disadvantaged groups. The theme for International Women's Day 2017 is #BeBoldForChange.

Will you #BeBoldForChange on International Women's Day 2017 and beyond by taking groundbreaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women.

Each one of us - with women, men and non-binary people joining forces - can be a leader within our own spheres of influence by taking bold pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity. Through purposeful collaboration, we can help women advance and unleash the limitless potential offered to economies the world over.

A central organizing principle of the work of the United Nations is that no enduring solution to society's most threatening social, economic and political problems can be found without the full participation, and the full empowerment, of the world's women.

With the resurgence of feminism in the late 1960s in America came a renewed interest in the day. Feminists found it ready-made holiday for the celebration of women's lives and work and began promoting March 8 as such. These efforts resulted in revitalized holiday in countries where it had been traditionally celebrated and inspired new interest in a number of countries where the holiday had previously not been observed.

There are more working women in the U.S. today than ever before and that number is expected to grow. Yet women face inequity when they enter the workforce, as they find themselves paid less than men for the same or comparable jobs. Women continue to earn only 78 cents on the dollar to their male counterparts. To match men's earnings for 2016, women have to work from January 2016 to April 2017—an extra four months.

The more things change, the more they stay the same – for women. On March 8, 1857 women workers in New York City strike for higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions.

This March 8 women are still striking. Today is billed as A Day Without Women to show the economic power of women’s work, wages and efforts.

On International Women's Day, March 8th, women and our allies will act together for equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people, through a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity.

Not everyone can go on strike, but there are things you can do:

1.     Women take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor
2.     Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses).
3.     Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman

What would the financial impact of A Day Without Women be? According to the Center for American Progress’ calculations based on the labor share of the gross domestic product, or GDP, and women’s relative pay and hours of work, women’s labor contributes $7.6 trillion to the nation’s GDP each year. In one year, women working for pay in the United States earn more than Japan’s entire GDP of $5.2 trillion. If all paid working women in the United States took a day off, it would cost the country almost $21 billion in terms of GDP. Moreover, women contribute many millions of dollars to their state’s GDP each day, making their work crucial to the health of their local economies as well.

In New York State, the value of women’s work (even with unequal pay) is $1717.3 million! That is not small change. Just imagine if women started using the power of their economic impact to change public policy!

"In the same spirit of love and liberation that inspired the Women's March, we join together in making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system--while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. We recognize that trans and gender nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression and political targeting. We believe in gender justice."

So say we all.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

AAUW, LWV and Voting Efforts in NYS, Part 1

I was asked to present at a “Women and Voting” panel as part of the Gender, Sex and Sexuality Conference held (this year) at SUNY Potsdam on Feb. 10-11. What follows is my presentation paper, in two parts. The Conference is a collaborative effort between the faulty, staff, student and larger community of the four colleges in the St. Lawrence Valley. Learn more at their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GSSConference

The American Association of University Women,
The League of Women Voters,
and Voting Efforts in New York State, Part 1
The (Dis)Enfranchisement Conference 2017
February 11, 2017

There are, in my view, three critical documents in American History that focus on suffrage as it relates to voting. The first is the Declaration of Independence, which says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” And of course, in that day and age, men were exactly who they meant. Only, in fact, those men who were rich and white and landowners. (Which looks like the Trump Cabinet.)

The next is the Preamble to the US Constitution, which starts, “We the People.” Which certainly broadens the pool, although would take about 200 years to fully open the doors. In 1789 when George Washington was elected the first time, only 6% of the population could vote.

The third document is the Declaration of Sentiments, written in 1848 in Seneca Falls, which declares, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal.” Now we were getting somewhere in terms of expanding the idea of equality.

Publication of the Declaration of Sentiments is generally recognized as the start of the women’s suffrage efforts in America. Like all revolutionary social movements, people organized around the idea. By 1890, these groups had sorted themselves out, settled their philosophical differences, their leadership conflicts, and consolidated tactics and goals.

A mere 72 years after those persistent Seneca Falls upstarts began their work, the 19th Amendment expanding the franchise to women, was ratified and passed in the fall of 1920. But by early 1920, when it was obvious that their efforts would be successful, they began to turn their attention to how to use the vote.

The League of Women Voters was founded by Carrie Chapman Catt on Feb. 14, 1920 during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. That convention was held just six months before the 19th amendment was ratified. (She was the daughter of Lucius Lane and Maria Clinton Lane. Both of her parents had graduated from Potsdam Academy and several generations of the Lane family had farmed the family homestead in West Potsdam, NY for many years.)

These early League members were determined that with women voting they would be able to right all the things that were wrong with American Society. They reasoned that “with how much was accomplished without the vote - how much more would be accomplished with the vote.” They thought this might take five years. It is, however, still a work in progress, 96 years later.

Locally, the League started in 1920 in St. Lawrence County with local chapters in Canton, Potsdam and Ogdensburg. From the beginning its purpose was to educate all voters - men and women alike. That is, in fact, still our goal in St. Lawrence County!

The 1922 local League convention was held at the County Courthouse, The delegates directed the National League to:
·       Promote entrance of the US into the League of Nations,
·       Promote better rural schools,
·       Extend public health work,
·       Raise the age of marriage,
·       Offer direct citizenship for married women, and they
·       Wanted a 75% turn out of voters in the next election.

Although many people associate the League with Voter Service, it has been a moderate, multi-faceted organization since its beginning. The League supports the concept that every issue is a women's issue and that we reflect America's pluralism, rather than the narrow focus on single or limited issues.

AAUW, the American Association of University Women, was founded in 1881 in Boston, Massachusetts. The purpose was to create an organization for women college graduates to find greater opportunities to use their education and to open the doors for other women to attend college. Access to education was one of the issues raised in the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments.

In 1885, as one of its first major projects, these educated women set out to disprove the myth that a college education would harm a woman’s health and result in infertility. The theory was that education of the female brain would deflect vigor from the uterus. The medical “experts” of the day did not understand women’s ability to multi-task.

Locally, The St. Lawrence County Branch of AAUW was chartered in 1927 when a group of women on the St. Lawrence University campus came together. We celebrate 90 years in 2017.

Beginning in the 1960s, AAUW started to expand its focus beyond education to include economic equity. The number of women in the workforce was increasing. By the end of that decade, women made up 38% of workers. The increasing numbers of women graduating from college were looking for employment.

AAUW and the League are nonpartisan political organizations; they do not support political parties or endorse candidates, but do take positions on issues, endorse good governance practices, and work hard to register and educate voters.

Both organizations have been accused of supporting one party or another based on the positions we take on issues. But the truth is, it is the parties who have changed their positions over time, while AAUW and the League have stayed true to our ideals.

For example, AAUW has supported Title IX, which was signed into law in 1972 by Republican president Richard Nixon. Under President Trump and his newly confirmed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, Title IX is very much under the gun.

Both AAUW and the League support the Equal Rights Amendment. Yet at the Democratic National Convention in 1960, a proposal to endorse the ERA was rejected after it met explicit opposition from liberal groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the AFL–CIO, labor unions such as the American Federation of Teachers. By 1971, Republican President Nixon immediately endorsed the ERA's approval upon its passage by the 92nd Congress. We will be hard pressed to find support for the ERA in the 115th Congress currently sitting.

So what we have in AAUW and the League are two organizations whose roots go back at least 160 years who focus on expanding opportunity and civic participation for women. They have literally decades of experience in organizing, mobilizing, educating and empowering women, both as voters and as citizens.

Read Part 2 at https://myword69.blogspot.com/2017/02/aauw-lwv-and-voting-efforts-in-nys-part.html 

AAUW, LWV and Voting Efforts in NYS, Part 2

I was asked to present at a “Women and Voting” panel as part of the Gender, Sex and Sexuality Conference held (this year) at SUNY Potsdam on Feb. 10-11. What follows is my presentation paper, in two parts. The Conference is a collaborative effort between the faulty, staff, student and larger community of the four colleges in the St. Lawrence Valley. Learn more at their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GSSConference

The American Association of University Women,
The League of Women Voters,
and Voting Efforts in New York State, Part 2
The (Dis)Enfranchisement Conference 2017
February 11, 2017

Politicians and policy makers routinely make decisions about issues that directly affect women and their families, including our paychecks, access to reproductive health care, and education funding. But more often than not, these conversations do not include women’s voices. To create real change, women must be part of the conversation, and one of the most powerful places for us to chime in is at the polls.

Both AAUW and the League have created tools to use in modern electoral settings.

Launched by the League of Women Voters Education Fund in October of 2006, VOTE411.org is a "one-stop-shop" for election related information. It provides nonpartisan information to the public which is both general and state-specific on all aspects of the election process. Voters can find out about on voter registration and laws (by state), as well as information on candidates and issues on the ballot.

The AAUW Action Fund produces nonpartisan voter education materials each election cycle to provide all voters with the information they need to cast informed ballots. These include Voter Guides, Issue Fact Sheets, the Congressional Voting Record, and Ballot Initiative Guides. AAUW recognizes that with so much at stake each time Americans head to the polls, it’s more important than ever to identify those candidates who would best represent our values and those who would roll back our rights.

The 2016 Presidential campaign leading up to Election Day hit many new highs and lows. One high was voter registration, which soared to 200 million people registered to vote for the first time in U.S. history. More than 50 million new people registered to vote in the previous eight years from the beginning of the Obama Administration.

The election didn’t exactly turn out the way many of us had expected it to. But there’s a lesson in what did happen for all of us. We may not have gotten the results we wanted, but we took our place in line at our polling places because of the work, the vision, the commitment and persistence of women (and men) generations ago who wedged open a door that that had been tightly closed. We have gone from a nation where only 6% of the population could vote to one where over 200 million of us can vote – if we chose to.

Where we go from here is the critical question. In recent years we’ve seen a wave of voter suppression tactics play out in state after state, often under the banner of “voter fraud.” There is no real voter fraud in this country, as study after study has proven. But in the counter-reality we live in, where “alternative” facts can be substituted for demonstrable, reality-based information that can proven, there is a wave of voter-fraud hysteria sweeping selected offices in the land.

Once we leave the hallowed halls of the current administration, it is hard to find much evidence of voter fraud, but that won’t stop a new wave of laws designed to root out this non-existent problem. The truth is, voter “fraud” is just another word for disenfranchisement, and so is voter “intimidation” and voter “suppression.”

Here in New York, there is much work to be done to reform our antiquated ballot access laws.

In December, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a comprehensive report following complaints received by his office regarding the April presidential primary. He has proposed a series of voting reforms to make New York a national leader in protecting and expanding voting rights throughout the state. Among his proposals are:

·       Automatic Voter Registration of Eligible Voters
·       Same-Day Registration for New Voters 
·       Online Voter Registration
·       Creating a System of Permanent Voter Registration
·       Allow Registered Voters to Change Their Party Enrollment Closer to Primary Day,
·       and Adoption of a System for Early Voting.

New York State has one of the poorest voting turnout records among all the states, largely due to the lack of modern vote reforms that other states have put in place very successfully. In his several State of The State addresses, Gov, Cuomo also proposed voting reforms. Each year the Assembly has passed bills aimed at modernizing our system; each year the state Senate refuses to bring those reforms to the floor for a vote. It is time for NYS to enact 21st century voting procedures.

The partisan way we redistrict here in New York also creates problems with enfranchisement. There are states that redistrict every 10 years on a non-partisan basis. A perfect example of the mess partisan redistricting creates is right here in St. Lawrence County. As a “purple” county, we have been sliced and diced into three state Senate districts and four Assembly districts.

And our two-party electoral system effectively ignores voters who identified as Independent. And as the two major parties continue to disintegrate and turn off voters, more people are choosing to identify as independent when they register to vote. But that does not give them the same access to help with deciding to run for office. 50% of millennials now describe themselves as political independents – they represent half of the next generation of potential political leaders.

Another issue with our electoral system here in New York is a lack of candidates. All 213 seats in the state Legislature were on the ballot last November, but in about a third there was no opposition candidate to the sitting incumbent. Lack of competition takes away choice from voters and stifles the democratic process at a time when many already have a negative view of government and civic service.

Here in St. Lawrence County, there were local elections without even one candidate on the ballot. In at least ten local elections this fall, there were no official candidates. "Unfortunately it’s happening more frequently as time goes on," according to Tom Nichols, the Republican election supervisor for the County. Those seats were only filled if there was a last-minute write-in on the ballot.

One of the very encouraging signs since the election last fall and since the inauguration last month has been the renewed spirit of small “d” democracy that has swept the nation. The Women’s March on Jan. 22 and other, similar efforts – as well as those being planned - have revitalized people’s interest in government and given them a voice and the desire to use those voices. A few examples:

A group of former congressional staffers drafted INDIVISIBLE, “Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda, that draws on the tea party’s playbook for getting the attention of Congress. More than 4,000 groups have since organized around the strategies laid out in that document. These include seeking out their legislators in town hall meetings and connecting with them by phone, rather than relying on e-communications.

Rise Stronger, started by a former official at the National Security Council, aims to organize ­“citizen watchdogs,” in part by crowdsourcing a “citizens calendar” to publicize the public appearances of elected representatives. https://www.risestronger.org/

Laura Moser’s Daily Action leaves a text message or voice mail on the phones of her 100,000-plus army of citizen activists wanting to influence the direction the federal government is taking. https://dailyaction.org/

Locally, people who live in the NY 21 Congressional District that covers the 11-county region of the North Country have been turning to social media and the streets to organize and discuss policy issues. Congress is more than getting the message. In the face of an unprecedented volume phone calls and letters and e-messages, many members of Congress have locked their doors and have stopped holding in-person Town Halls.

A riled up, politically aware and vocal public looks nothing like the nice safe groups of like-minded donors elected officials usually spend their time with. Those of us who have labored in the trenches of public policy for years to educate and motivate citizens and voters watch with delight all this action and advocacy at the local, state and federal level.

And finally, in order to fulfill the vision our foremothers had for full equality, we must bring women to the table. Your voice can’t be heard from the corridor (although Sen. Elizabeth Warren found more than one way to get her message across after she was told to sit down and shut up the other day). Women must run for office at every level. When they run, women win at the same rates as men. When they don’t run, they never win.

When women have enough seats at the table, our issues will be the agenda.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

National Apprenticeship Week - November 14 – 20, 2016

National Apprenticeship Week - November 14 – 20, 2016
This week is the second National Apprenticeship Week. We don’t know if there will be a third, since the first two were proclaimed by President Barack Obama and we don’t know what the educational and labor goals of the new Trump administration will be. On November 17, we celebrate National Women in Apprenticeship Day.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez has said, “Apprenticeships are experiencing a modern renaissance in America because the earn-while-learn model is a win-win proposition for workers looking to punch their ticket to the middle-class and for employers looking to grow and thrive in our modern global economy”

In proclaiming this week as NAW, President Obama said:

Registered apprenticeships connect job-seekers to better paying jobs that are in high demand, and by providing hands-on experiences and allowing Americans to earn while they learn, they help workers gain the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in our modern economy. More than 90 percent of apprentices find employment after completing their programs, with graduates earning an average starting salary over $60,000. In addition to benefiting employees, apprenticeship programs also help employers by increasing productivity and innovation with a high return on investment.

A variety of industries -- from healthcare to construction to information technology and advanced manufacturing -- are using apprenticeship programs to meet their workforce needs. To bolster the competitiveness of those industries and others, it is imperative that our Nation continues investing in apprenticeship programs. Across our country, State and local leaders have done just that -- in some cases expanding apprenticeships by over 20 percent in their regions. And since 2014, 290 colleges have joined in the effort to offer college credit toward a degree for completing apprenticeship programs.

The modern apprenticeship is based on a very old system of teaching and educating young people in skilled crafts. The system of apprenticeship was first developed informally in the later Middle Ages and later came to be supervised by craft guilds and town governments. A master craftsman was entitled to employ young people (usually boys) as an inexpensive form of labor in exchange for providing food, lodging and formal training in the craft.

Today’s apprentices are trained by working with practitioners of a trade or profession through hands-on, on-the-job training and often some accompanying study (classroom work and readings). Just as in the Middle Ages, the apprentice repays that learning and experience in exchange for continued labor for an agreed period after they have achieved measurable competency. A typical apprenticeship lasts for 3 to 6 years. People who successfully complete an apprenticeship reach the "journeyman" or professional certification level of competence.

Here in the United States, apprenticeships have fallen under three different federal laws. The first, the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act of 1917 focused on vocational agriculture to train people "who have entered upon or who are preparing to enter upon the work of the farm," and provided federal funds for this purpose. Farming was, of course, the main occupation of much of the labor at that time.

In1933, during the Depression, the short-lived National Industrial Recovery Act authorized the President to regulate industry in an attempt to stimulate economic recovery. Much of the NIRC was declared unconstitutional in 1935, so the FDR Administration went back to the drawing board.

The US Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first women cabinet minister ever appointed in the United States, established the Federal Committee on Apprenticeship. Made up of representatives from federal government agencies, the commissioners were tasked to come up with recommendations for federal policies regarding apprenticeships.

In 1937, Congress passed the National Apprenticeship Act, also known as "the Fitzgerald Act," to regulate apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs. The Act established a national advisory committee whose task was to research and draft regulations to establish minimum standards for apprenticeship programs.

The Act was later amended to permit the Department of Labor to issue regulations protecting the health, safety and general welfare of apprentices, and to encourage the use of contracts in the hiring and employment of them. Later amendments to the act created regulations banning racial, ethnic, religious, age and gender discrimination in apprenticeship programs.

The apprenticeship model is an effective way to train people for the skilled jobs trades where hand-on learning is the best way to gain competency. And while schools are doing a better job of adapting this model to their programs – here in New York State, the BOCES Centers have really embraced this potential for educating students – working with a master craftsman is still the preferred method.

But just as it was in the Middle Ages, there are still gender barriers in access to apprenticeships, even though there are no legal barriers. 94% of all apprentices in federal programs are male and 51% of women leave their apprenticeship programs prior to completion as compared with 46% of men.

Women make up just 6.3% of active apprentices nationally. We can take pride that here in the Empire State, women make up 11% of these programs.

The construction industry is perhaps the heaviest user of apprenticeship programs in the country. The US Department of Labor reported 74,164 new apprentices were accepted in 2007 at the height of the construction boom. Yet women represent just 2.6% of construction workers and 2% of construction apprentices nationally.

When you consider that jobs in the skilled trades pay 20-30% more than traditionally female occupations, encouraging more women to go into apprenticeship programs makes good economic sense and cents. And union women earn more than nonunion women in every US state.

As students gain knowledge of skilled jobs through programs like career and technical classes at local Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) programs that provide work-based learning experience on job sites via internships, they can expect to find better paying jobs with 21st century work skills. With the right encouragement, many of those new skilled job workers will be young women.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Honoring and Advocating for Women Veterans on November 11

Honoring and Advocating for Women Veterans on November 11

On Veterans Day we honor the service of our veterans. But we should also focus on the sacrifice and the service of our women veterans and service members. The number of female veterans has soared since 1990, from 4 percent of all veterans to 8 percent today, or about 1.8 million. More than 280,000 female soldiers have been returned from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. 

Recently Governor Cuomo signed a bill that will help New York’s women veterans economically. The Veterans’ Pension Bill expanded pension benefits to public workers who served in the military, providing a pension credit to veterans who are now New York state residents after five years of public service. Previously only veterans who have served in specific conflicts receive up to additional three years of service credit in the pension system.

Now veterans who served in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Korean DMZ who were not eligible for the military service credit, or women who served in non-combat roles, are eligible for the credit. 

Women veterans have raised concerns that the Veteran’s Administration has been slow to change. The VA’s health care system that has for generations catered almost exclusively to men has been slow to recognize needs of that the 2.3 million female veterans represent the fastest-growing population turning to the agency.

About 200,000 women are currently serving in the active duty U.S. military, about 14 percent of the military population. That number is expected to double within the next decade. There have been some real gains for women service members, especially as the military has recognized that the work-life-family balance needs to be addressed.

Through a program called the Career Intermission Program, service members can take one to three years off – while retaining benefits and receiving a small percentage of their usual monthly pay. For those who take time off, their career is effectively frozen while they are away, but they are not penalized when they come back and seek future promotions.

The Navy has doubled the maternity leave for all female service members while extending hours at Navy and Marine Corps childcare centers across those services. About 91,000 of active duty female service members were married as of January, with about 27,000 of those in the Navy and Marine Corps, so child care and maternity leave are key services.

The Army issued a service-wide breastfeeding policy, making it the last military branch to implement guidelines for supporting nursing service members with infants.

Marines have been challenged on their unconscious prejudices and presuppositions as women get the opportunity to become marine grunts for the first time. The Marine Corps rolled out mandatory training for all Marines prior to the first female rifleman hit boot camp, aiming to set conditions for a smooth transition and head off cultural resistance.

One of the visible cultural changes has been a growing understanding of the issues of women veterans as they have been elected to Congress. There are now four female combat veterans in Congress. And they have contributed to the discussions about the changing face of the Armed Forces, which is now officially open to women joining combat units across the board.

Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot, is newly elected to the US Senate from her House of Representatives seat. She joins Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) in the Senate. In the House, Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) have also served in the military, giving them a unique perspective on women veteran issues.

Speaking of the election, there is concern from LBGTQ Americans that the election of Donald Trump will set back the progress the country has made on social issues revolving around gender and sexuality and identity. The Pentagon had announced June 30 that it was ending the ban on transgender people’s ability to serve openly in the U.S. military.

The Pentagon also said transgender service members will receive the same medical coverage as any other military member. Service members’ health coverage will include hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery, if doctors deem those procedures necessary. Will that policy continue under a Trump Administration?

Also in June, the U.S. Marine Corps changed more than a dozen occupational titles to make them gender-neutral as the military aims to integrate more women into combat roles. The decision removed the word "man" from 19 job titles. Roles such as "basic infantryman" and "antitank missileman" will become "basic infantry Marine" and "antitank missile gunner." Will the military continue down this path or revert to a more sexist work place?

One issue of concern to veterans and all Americans is the on-going prevalence of food insecurity among military households. Households with veterans who served since 1975 are at higher risk of food insecurity than non-veteran households and households with veterans that served prior to 1975, according to a study in Public Health Nutrition. Five percent of military households with children five years old or younger have experienced food insecurity.

Certainly the issue of sexual assault in the military (co-called friendly fire) has been getting a lot of attention under President Obama. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been a frequent critic of the military’s response to the issue. She released a report last May that said the military justice system remains dysfunctional in handling sexual-assault cases and only prosecuted 22 percent of the 329 cases her office reviewed as part of an investigation focusing on just four military bases.

Will the military continue to try to make progress on this and other critical issues for women and all service members under a Trump Administration? That is one of the things we’ll all be watching.

Monday, October 31, 2016

GOtV: 2016 Election Issues That Matter

GOtV: 2016 Election Issues That Matter

Election 2016 marks my 11th presidential election since I became a voter in 1972. My generation was the first to take advantage of the 26th Amendment, granting the right to vote at age 18. It was passed by Congress on March 23, 1971 and ratified on July 1, 1971.

Can anyone seriously imagine that process being repeated in 2016 in that time frame? Even those of us who lived in the days before divided government can hardly remember a time when this nation was capable of doing big things here at home.

We just reached an important voting milestone in this country. For the first time in U.S. history, voter registration in America has hit the 200 million mark in people registered to vote. That is an increase of 50 million new registrants since 2008; a 33% increase in voter registrations in a year where the campaign has been the ugliest in living memory.

Yet for the first time since 1965, we have no Voting Rights law that covers the country. In fact, 17 states have enacted voting restrictions involving voter ID or other requirements for the first time in a presidential election. And we know from a Government Accountability Office report in 2014 that voter ID laws can reduce voting by 2 to 3 percent, particularly among young people, blacks and newly registered voters.

How many of those 200 million plus voters will actually get to the polls is unknown right now, but early indications are there is a lot of interest in those states who allow for early voting. New York is not one of them, so we’ll have to wait for Election Day to see who comes out this year.

Every year the pundits like to say that the stakes have never been higher, but in 2016, the stakes really have never been higher. The results of the Presidential race and those for the Senate and the House will determine what kind of a country we live in for the next 4 years. Just some of what is at stake:

Money in Politics – This ought to be self-evident in 2016, if any issue is. In race after race, the money that has poured into the campaigns comes from too few hands, many of which have a political agenda that does not comport with that of the average citizen.
Wealthy individuals, corporations, unions and other entities can use any of a range of vehicles -- including super PACs and tax-exempt nonprofits -- to invest in independent expenditures, electioneering communications and communication costs to try to sway the outcome of an election. While such groups aren't supposed to coordinate with the candidates they're supporting, they can coordinate with each other, and often do so in choosing which races to target with their funds. Learn more about outside spending on your federal candidates at: https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/summ.php

Energy & Climate Change – These two issues are closely linked and in the case of energy, it is also closely linked to the outside money discussed above. How energy is produced and where it comes from affect jobs, the economy and the environment, especially as it relates to climate change, environmental quality, and health. We’ve seen that up close here in New York State as hydrofracking has been discussed. We’re also seeing it play out on the national stage at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota over the pipeline protest. When is comes to climate change, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and nearly every professional organization of scientists have said it is real, man-made and a problem. You can track the amount of money going to your candidates at http://dirtyenergymoney.org/

Gun Violence – From strictly a public health perspective, America is in crises from gun violence. Hardly a day goes by but what somewhere in America a toddler uses an unsecured gun to shoot him or herself, a parent, or another child. School shootings still happen with depressing regularity in our nation, and guns play a significant role in domestic violence incidents and death by suicide. Candidates usually want to talk about the 2nd Amendment when it comes to guns, conveniently forgetting about that all-important controlling first clause about a well-regulated militia. There are roughly 300 million firearms in the United States and tens of thousands of shootings each year, rarely at the hand of a well-regulated militia. Once upon a time in America, we voted in our locals schools. That is not the case in2016; education officials are rightly worried about the threat of gun violence at polling places. (Hello Banana Republic.)

Jobs & Wages – This issue really boils down to income inequality. Since the Great Recession of 2008, the economy has undergone a dramatic shift. Most average Americans have yet to recover, and most probably never will, since the solid blue collar jobs the Middle Class relied on are largely gone. The average income for the 99 percent (where most of us reside) is lower now than it was back in 1998 after adjusting for inflation. For the 1 percent, Happy Days are indeed here again. Last year, the average income for the top 1 percent of households climbed 7.7 percent to $1.36 million. And if you are a single parent household (which are overwhelming female), you much more likely to be poor.

Education – Nothing touches the American family like education. We have 50 million K-12 students in this country and 90 percent of the costs for keeping them there is borne by state and local taxpayers. And when it comes to higher education, the costs there have millions of students swamped by college debt they often can not find a job that makes enough for them to pay back their college loans within their working lifetime. We are seeing education debt peonage soar in this country. Did you know that about 74% of all undergraduates enrolled during the 2011-12 academic year possessed at least one characteristic of a nontraditional student, denoted by part-time enrollment, working full-time, identifying as a single caregiver, not having a traditional high school diploma, or financial independence?

Health Care – The good news on health care is that about 9 in 10 Americans now have health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The bad news is that millions still don’t have it and the costs are going up. The U.S. remains the only first world nation that doesn’t treat health care like a right, an investment in itself, its people and its workforce. We spend far more on health care than any advanced country, and our people are not that much healthier. And we’ve seen scandal after scandal by the prescription drug industry. One recent glaring example is the cost of EpiPens by Mylan. Another is the escalating price of narcan, the drug used to save countless lives in the opioids drug crises - 78 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day. Now we learn that the trade group for the pharmaceutical industry, PhRMA, is gearing up to defend drug prices after the election, seeking an additional $100 million in annual dues from its members, to boost the lobbying group's budget by 50 percent, giving it more than $300 million to draw on. The money in politics is costing the end consumer.

Civil Rights - from Black Lives Matter to LBGTQ Rights, civil rights have been a hot button issue during this campaign. These issues turn on one question: What kind of a society do we want? Do we choose the politics of inclusion or the politics of exclusion and hate? And many of the civil rights questions we look at today will hang on the judicial appointments of tomorrow. Most especially on the Supreme Court of the United States which has been handicapped without a ninth justice now for months. Racism and misogyny have both been issues in Campaign 2016. Given the current political climate on civil rights and the gridlocked Congress, the outcome of the federal elections on November 8 will go along way toward determining how we move forward – or backward – as a nation.

So cast your vote in November 8, but only after you have thought long and hard about the issues, where your candidates stand on those issues, and what kind of nation you want to live in. Because it won’t just be you living with the consequence of those decisions. It will be your children and grandchildren – and mine – and everyone else’s.