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Living Up to “The New Deal”: Half the Nation Is Still Waiting

By Susan F. Feiner, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his fourth and final State of the Union Address in 1944. Because the defeat of fascism in Europe was in sight, FDR could frame a peacetime vision for the nation. He saw that the full realization of political freedom depended upon the elimination of material deprivation. FDR realized that the nation’s future well being would be undermined if some fraction of our people — whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

Roosevelt understood that true individual freedom can not exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. He saw these economic truths … as self-evident and called for an Economic Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.

Back then the nation’s emerging safety net was blatantly discriminatory. The progressive New Deal legislation did not cover the occupations open to Americans of color. Agriculture workers and domestic servants were exempted from social security, fair labor standards, minimum wages and the prohibition on child labor. Because some of these programs only covered full time workers, women (who were then and are now concentrated in part time work) were functionally excluded. Our inclusion in full-time paid employment was only tolerated while the war machine was marching along 24/7. Such overt discrimination is no longer tolerated. But we’ve made far less progress — if we’ve made any at all –on women’s fundamental economic rights.

Let’s examine the eight economic rights enumerated by FDR in 1944 in light of women’s contemporary economic situation.

1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.

Since the beginning of the so-called economic recovery (June 2009), women’s share of new jobs has been just 20.7 percent. Of jobs lost during the Second Great Depression (that is, now, with 20 million people still without full-time work), women have regained only 26.7 percent while men have regained 40.6 percent of the jobs they lost in the same period. The excruciatingly slow growth of women’s jobs is due entirely to the ongoing attack on the public sector, where far more women than men are employed. Of the 3.4 million private sector jobs created since 2009, only 970,000 (28.7 percent) have gone to women. In short, women’s public sector job losses outweigh their private sector gains by more than 40 percent.

2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.

Jobs in which women are concentrated — secretaries and administrative assistants; elementary and middle-school teachers; retail salespeople; nurses; maids and housekeepers — pay less than male-dominated jobs and the Department of Labor projects these jobs will grow faster than other occupations. Consequently women’s earnings will continue to lag behind men’s. The consequences of this occupational segregation are worse for single women and mothers. Single women’s earnings are 78.8 percent of married women’s earnings (and 57 percent of men’s) while mothers earn about seven percent less than childless women.

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On The Issues Magazine

On The Issues Magazine