Few job opportunities, access to health care top concerns for working women

An AFL-CIO survey entitled “Ask a Working Woman,” published Aug. 7, shows that women are struggling more than ever with basic economic issues. Healthcare expenses, the cost of living, and retirement emerged as women’s primary concerns. The online questionnaire surveyed over 23,500 women, two-thirds of whom are not members of a union.

Access to health care was a top concern for women of all nationalities living in the United States—79 percent reported

it as a major burden. Sixty-five percent reported wanting to seek legislative changes making health care more affordable. The number of women concerned about healthcare expenses also was reflected across age groups.

“Increasingly with baby boomer women, they are looking at healthcare costs across a spectrum of responsibilities as they not only care for their children, but are often looking at costs for the care of their elderly parents,” explained Amber McCracken, director of communications, at the National Women’s Health Resource Center, a national web- and media-based health resource for women.

“It is common sense to know that prevention is less expensive. Proper preventive care like mammograms and yearly check-ups shouldn’t have to be an option for women,” responded McCracken to the issue of women having to prioritize resources for their family’s health.

Corporations’ soaring profits are created, in part, by women workers’ labor. They pay all workers far less than the value they create from their work. Women workers get even less pay and benefits in general than men. And women’s benefits are diminishing in the workplace. Twenty-six percent of survey participants reported not having vacation leave; those numbers increase for paid sick leave. The trend of receiving fewer benefits affects women of all ages, but younger women have even less access to benefits.

Capitalism unable to rectify gender inequality

“I lost my pension while a greedy CEO with decades less time with the company keeps giving himself bonuses, raises, etc. Yet my pension was the reason he filed bankruptcy for our company,” said Lynn, a survey participant from Camden, Mass.

Capitalist competition claims to be the birthplace of opportunity, yet most working women don’t have a hopeful outlook and are very worried about the future. Eighty-nine percent reported being very concerned about retirement, and 95 percent reported being worried about wages not matching the cost of living. Around 58 percent of young women—those under 30 and decades from retirement—report that they have great concern regarding their ability to survive economically in their later years.

“Working women are worried that the younger generation won’t get jobs that can pay the bills or have basic benefits. Their prospects are considered dim,” said Karen Nussbaum, executive director of Working America, an AFL-CIO affiliate for unorganized workers.

And these concerns are legitimized as women perceive little change in the workplace. Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, more than half feel that they do not receive equal pay for equal work. Not only do women feel this difference—they actually experience it—women currently earn 26 percent less than men.

More than half of women felt that challenging discrimination is a legislative priority; women of color indicated the need for stronger affirmative action programs. The survey limited its questions about fighting racism and sexism to these contexts.

Anti-family values

“I am sick and tired of working 12 hours, spending three hours with my children and one with my husband five days a week, and then not even being able to afford the movies on the weekends,” said Nicci, a survey respondent from Lincoln, Nebraska.

Bourgeois politicians tout themselves as “defenders of working families,” yet the reactionary anti-worker policies of both the Republican and Democratic parties only tear families apart. One-third of women respondents reported working at night and on the weekends, often at more than one job. Such schedules prevent them from developing a full life with their families and partners. Adequate child care was also expressed as a needed change for working women.

Recently the media has promoted the notion that working women, unable to balance work and family, are “opting out”—quitting work to focus on family responsibilities. A Harvard Business Review study showed that 93 percent of women who stop working say they intend on returning to work, primarily for financial reasons.

The future

The survey didn’t capture, however, the potential for working women to struggle and challenge the true basis of these


Immigrant women led the fight for a contract for janitors at the University of Miami.

concerns. There is an increasing number of women organizing unions, fighting for health care and against U.S. imperialist wars—all hopeful signs.

This past June, janitors at the University of Miami won a union contract. The janitors are primarily immigrant women. Their fight for a union has inspired other organizing drives in the region.

“We are invisible no more. It is an incredible feeling to finally have a voice and the strength to improve our lives,” said Maritza Paz, a janitor at UM. “This is a victory for all Florida workers who want to stand up for a better life.”

Women across the country are defending reproductive rights and organizing access to better health services. Clinic defense—making the entrance to clinics that provide reproductive health service, including abortion, accessible—is organized currently in Jackson, Miss.; Alston, Mass.; and Wichita, Kan., among other cities.

Women are in the leadership of the anti-war movement throughout the United States. It has become clearer and clearer to women and all people that the U.S. war abroad is being bought and paid for at the expense of jobs, health care and civil rights at home.

ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) organizer Muna Coobtee noted, “Women are against imperialist war and occupation because these wars hurt and kill innocent people abroad while we are fighting against the same ruling class forces here at home. All over the world, they want to implement anti-worker, anti-woman laws and policies that attack labor unions, healthcare access, abortion rights, and many other needed social programs.

“Women are playing an essential role in this movement, leading protests, reaching out to oppressed communities and demonstrating,” said Coobtee. “We know that our work with people of all nationalities, genders and sexual orientations is key to forging a united movement that can defeat the greedy and corrupt corporate owners and their managers in Washington, D.C.”

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