Obama's stimulus bill and the gender gap in pay.

Women writing about politics, etc.
Feb. 5 2009 1:07 PM

More Stimulating

What if Obama's rescue package tried to address the gender gap in pay, too?

(Continued from Page 1)

By contrast, many of the jobs that Obama's economic advisers expect to go to women are in leisure/hospitality and retail. According to their own numbers, both "pay below average." Though the bill includes direct investments in better-paying pink-collar fields like health care and education, many of the funds will be used for activities like making medical records electronic, increasing funding for college loans, and renovating public schools—none of which are likely to create a lot of jobs for women.

To be sure, Congress isn't doing nothing to close the wage gap. The House included, in the version of the stimulus passed last week, $80 million in enforcement funds for the branch of the Labor Department (called the Office of Federal Contract Compliance) that nudges employers who get government contracts to take steps to recruit and train more women. Federally assisted construction contractors with contracts worth more than $10,000, for example, would have to show they've taken "affirmative action steps" to increase their female hires to at least 6.9 percent.

Still, Congress could do much more. Why not require some of the estimated $800-plus billion to go toward creating more high-paying jobs in traditionally female fields rather than just any old jobs? Or specify that employers in sectors dominated by either women or men who get federal contracts make demonstrable efforts to fill 10 percent or 20 percent of the jobs with the opposite sex? Toward that end, the bill could direct more funds toward retraining women for traditionally male-dominated sectors and vice versa. Of course, libertarians might argue that this monkeys too much with the market and requires a lot of unnecessary paperwork and extra hoops for employers to jump through. But if the government is handing over the money to create these jobs in the first place, it shouldn't be shy about trying to ensure that both sexes have an equal shot at getting them.

Advertisement

There are already some federal programs that help to do this. But they haven't had the money or teeth to be really effective. In 1992, Congress passed the  Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations Act, which set up a program that awards competitive grants to recruit, hire, train, and retain women, mostly in construction. But the Bush administration cut funding and then proposed eliminating the program altogether as of this coming July. A 2006 law for technical education allows states to use up to 10 percent of a total grant for "preparing students for employment in fields that are traditionally dominated by one gender." The Bush administration requested no funding for this, either, for the 2009 fiscal year.

The Obama administration and Congress can change that. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, wrote a letter to President Obama requesting an increase for both programs. But there's so far been no effort to include that in the stimulus bill. It's a missed opportunity. By pushing employers to look beyond their usual hiring pool, the stimulus could help both men and women looking for work—in different ways. Men, who have lost the majority of jobs in this recession, would have a better shot at finding new ones. And women would have more chances to increase their pay. That sort of bill wouldn't just shrink the rate of unemployment. It could help shrink the gender gap in wages, too.

Jennifer Barrett is a New York-based financial journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Money and Worth. She is also the co-author of The Smart Cookies' Guide to Making More Dough.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.