Tuesday’s debate finally answered Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s recent question: “Where are the women?” Evidently, they’re in Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women.”
Unfortunately, Romney’s performance left us asking instead: Where are Romney’s policies to address women’s unique employment concerns? The simple answer is that he has none. On numerous issues, he leaves women at the mercy of their employers’ wishes. Worse, in the female-dominated public sector, his budget would likely eliminate jobs.
During the town hall debate, 24-year old Katherine Fenton asked about plans to “rectify the inequalities in the workplace,” specifically the 23% gender pay gap. President Obama responded by pointing to his administration’s efforts to fight discrimination, including his Equal Pay Taskforce and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill he signed after taking.
Romney told Fenton that he specifically recruited women to work for him as governor. This claim has now been called into question, especially given the very few women in leadership with him at Bain Capital. He also described allowing women to have flexible work schedules to accommodate family responsibilities. It’s certainly commendable for an employer to value diversity and to offer flexible arrangements that both genders frequently need.
Here’s the problem: That would make one a good employer, not a good president. The women of America aren’t voting for whether they’d like to have Romney as a boss. They’re voting for a president based on his plans to protect their interests even if they have an awful boss. For that, Romney has nothing to offer.
Romney has said women should be paid equally, but he doesn’t support any legislation to help enforce that right. He won’t even say whether he supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. After months of obfuscation, an advisor said Tuesday that Romney had opposed it, then retracted the statement, saying he’d taken no position. Romney commends employers who support employees’ work-life balance, but has remained silent on the Healthy Families Act, which President Obama supported, to guarantee paid leave to care for a sick family member.
President Obama raised yet another concern on which Romney leaves women at the mercy of their employers: their healthcare coverage. During the debate, Romney misleadingly brushed this criticism off, but he can’t hide from his record. Romney has promised to repeal Obamacare, which generally guarantees that women will have coverage of key preventive healthcare regardless of where they work. Even more disturbingly, Romney has specifically said that “of course” he supports the
Blunt Amendment, an extreme piece of federal legislation that would allow any employer or insurance provider (a restaurant, bank, you name it) to deny coverage of any legally required healthcare service for any reason. Not only could contraception coverage be refused, but chemotherapy, blood transfusions, vaccines, etc.
From fair pay to family-friendly workplaces to healthcare coverage, Romney’s only “policy plan” is to leave women at the whim of their employers. His advice to women is essentially the same as it was to students struggling to afford college: “shop around” and hope to find a good boss. Instead, Romney claims he can create such high demand for workers that employers will be forced to change their policies.
History shows us women won’t win out so easily, especially women without bargaining power: non-unionized women and women in low skilled jobs. Through good economic times and bad, the gender pay gap has endured. In fact, some research shows it worsens during good economic times. Family friendly workplace policies have also never become pervasive regardless of the economy, and insurance has not comprehensively covered women’s healthcare (e.g. maternity care). To address such intractable problems, President Obama has called for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act and Democrats are co-sponsoring the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, among other efforts.
Despite President Obama’s more pro-active approach, Romney claimed again on Wednesday that the President was “fail[ing] America’s women” because of lower employment of women during the recession. Here, Romney is distorting the facts. Because women are more likely to work in public sector, government-funded jobs, their jobs didn’t disappear until later in the recession, after the end of Bush’s term. Romney implies he could more successfully restore those jobs to women, but as we’ve seen already, his planned cuts to government services and education funding could actually result in even more job losses in female-dominated sectors.
Romney could more honestly and briefly have answered Fenton’s question by admitting he has no policy to address her concerns. The only advice he has is to hope for a good employer. But Fenton better hope it’s not one in a female-dominated sector, because those jobs will be hit hard under a Romney presidency.