Carol Anne Costa: Women Swimming Upstream…This Time With An Ally
Thursday, January 16, 2014
According to The Shriver Report:
• Women are nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in the country.
• More than 70 percent of low-wage workers do not receive paid sick days.
• 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income.
• The median earnings of full-time female workers are still just 77 percent of the median earnings of their male counterparts.
The Shriver Report contains empirical data bolstered by firsthand stories of struggle, tears, and triumph of women from all over this nation. It is just that—herstory. It represents the day-to-day struggle of women and the consequences of that struggle on children, families, the workforce, and life in general. The women who work, raise and nurture children, care for aging parents, and run households, oftentimes on a wing and a prayer who inspire us to stand up and honestly evaluate the value of women on the economy, quality of life, dignity of the aged, and empowerment of children. But, more than value, we need to be ready to find a voice and tap the “powers that be”. From my point of view, strong voices flow from the levers of power—in both business, and in politics. That is why the formal entrance of Gina Raimondo into the gubernatorial race is a welcome development, as it is akin to having a kindred spirit as the chief executive of our state. It will, I am certain, have a direct effect on the empowerment of women and women's issues, which redound to society as a whole.
Do not let the term “report” throw you. This is a passionate collection that is well worth your time. The personal stories contained therein are persuasive and moving, including a piece written by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. These narratives provide a window into the uniquely female battles which occur each day, for so many families. I urge a download as the essays and stories are powerful. They hold up a mirror, some instances in which you can find yourself. Our stories make us and sometimes break us and until we share, talk, and move to make a difference they are merely recollections and words on a page.
Neera Tanden, Director of the Center for American Progress writes in part of her preface to the report, “My mother was on her own. Having never held a job before, she faced the choice of going back to India or going on welfare to support her two young children. In India, we would have been stigmatized; no one got divorced there in the 1970s. She knew that the children of a divorced woman would have limited life opportunities in India.” Neera’s story continues and provides a chronicle of the ebb and flow of families facing adversity and uncertainty. A RI woman also has a personal story to tell, it is not in the Shriver report but, it is a very real journey...
There but for the grace of God…
At 33 years of age she lost 2 young parents in the span of 6 months. She had a sister 10 years her junior returning from college. She had a family home to retain and maintain, all on an annual salary of $21K. She was faced with decisions that previously never entered her realm of reality but became real in a hurry. A paycheck became the difference between 'survive' and 'thrive'. For her, the term "robbing Peter to pay Paul" became a practical “means to an end”. And to most of her bosses and colleagues she was just another “nice” girl; not a woman trying to keep a family afloat, or a home for equity or move forward to achieve dreams for her and her sister. She endured the torture of being a college graduate tethered to a job merely for healthcare benefits, which at the time could not even extend to her only sibling. For her, growth was not in the picture; paying taxes, insurance, and filling the oil tank and fridge were.
That young woman was me. Let me be frank, these experiences live long in the form of credit issues, debt, and lots of personal anxiety. Unlike so many others, I was extremely lucky to have a strong extended family network combined with a driving will to prevail and I emerged stronger for the experience. Perhaps that is why I live the principle of walking a mile in another's moccasins, I acknowledge kindness swiftly, and extend gratitude robustly. I guess that is why my motto became, “help first, question later.” I shudder to think if I had a child to care for at the time. Never forget that so many women, men, and families are one paycheck away from disaster. That reality is sobering, and frightening.
From the Public Library to Harvard
Gina Raimondo is a lightning rod. She too has a story. But what we do know is she attracts supporters and dissenters alike, and faces them both with candor. Could it be that her story is like so many others'? With grandparents and parents who built the dreams of immigrants, with hard work, faith, and family. A scenario where a man (Gina’s dad) who gave service to the nation, who did all the right things only to see his job outsourced. It must be a difficult thing to witness a father and mother struggle through unemployment and uncertainty.
Is it Raimondo’s drive, determination and dedication to family which create a timely candidacy? I think so. As the state and the country are finally paying heed to income inequality, collectively examining poverty, and assessing the incredible stress on the safety net, we have a candidate who can recognize first hand a woman’s battle. A battle to raise children, run a household, and care for aging parents. So, as I read the Shriver Report, I see the chance to promote an agenda which at the very least brings women to the table. I am particularly impressed with the prescription. Shiver’s research tells us there are 10 things we can do:
1. Get The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink at www.ShriverReport.org. Read it, discuss it, implement it, and pass it on.
2. Get smart. Build a stable foundation for your future by putting college before kids. Women with only a high school diploma are three to four times more likely to live on the financial brink than those with a college degree.
3. Invest in yourself. Today’s women and girls need to think of themselves as providers in their families, not provided for. Increase your own earning power, learn about savings plans, and be financially savvy.
4. Use your economic power. You can hold businesses accountable with your money. Be an informed and influential consumer by supporting companies that create a more conscious, caring, compassionate workplace for their employees.
5. Engage men as allies. These issues are everyone’s issues. Fathers, sons, and brothers are part of the solution and many are poised to partner.
6. Vote. But don’t give your vote away. Make candidates earn it. Vote for women and men who want to modernize the nation’s relationship to women and their families. Support laws that can add half-a-trillion dollars to the national economy by closing the wage gap.
7. Be a 21st-century “boss,” even at home. Recognize the power you have to impact women. Provide benefits and workplace supports for your child care providers and people who help you with elder care. Offer sick days, be flexible with schedules, leave good tips for waitresses and room attendants when you travel, and educate yourself and your employees about government programs that can help.
8. Finance women’s work. Invest in women entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations that support, promote, and respect modern American families.
9. Mentor and motivate girls. Be a Life Ed teacher to the girls in your life. Teach them about the importance of making smart decisions—financial, personal, and educational—that enhance their self-esteem and their career prospects. Foster the mindset that girls must invest in themselves and that they have the power to succeed.
10. Be an architect of change. We can push back from the brink.
When Women are in Charge Things Happen...
We know now that when more women became doctors and medical researchers is when the fight against breast cancer and female health issues saw its greatest gains. So if we draw a line toward politics is it not crazy to think that empowering women in policy making and leadership roles will reap results for everyone, as evidenced recently by the advancement of addressing sexual assault crisis in the Military, measures pushed by Senators Gillibrand and McCaskill?
At the Raimondo kickoff event a woman whom I did not know turned to me and with a great big smile queried, “Can you feel the estrogen in the room? It feels good.” Take it from me, I thought to myself, as I have been in plenty of politically charged, testosterone filled rooms and I agree wholeheartedly, the change feels good. Read, vote, fight for paid leave, and good childcare, mentor, uplift women, and bring a change.
Full Disclosure: I am a supporter of Gina Raimondo in her bid for Governor.
Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Gina Raimondo Has to Answer When Running for Governor
Can she explain the amount of out of state money?
Most of the candidates for Governor need to answer the question, can they raise enough to be competitive? That is not a problem for Raimondo. She has proven to be the most skilled fundraiser, but her issue is justifying that the vast majority of the money is coming from out-of-state.
Raimondo will face a number of questions regarding who is really behind her campaign - the amount of out-of-state dollars is just one of the questions.
9. Pension Reform
Did she only reform certain pensions?
Raimondo rose to celebrity status because of her leadership on pension reform. Her efforts helped to stabilize the pension system, but the reform was hardly democratic.
Teachers took the vast majority of the hit, while major groups of pensioners escaped reform including the judges, state police and disability pensioners. Raimondo has some explaining to do.
8. Lack of Transparency
If she lacks transparency as Treasurer, what will it be like as Governor?
From her deepest critics to the media and even members of the retirement board, many have questioned her and her office's willingness to share information and provide the public insights into her management of the investment commission and the performance of the fund under her leadership.
Data which historically was easily accessed by the public and media is now locked behind the Raimondo wall. Often this raises serious questions and forces the media to seek the simplest information via FOIA requests.
Has Raimondo managed the pension fund competently?
The most important job of the General Treasurer might be the management of the state's retirement fund. The blockbuster investigative piece by Stephen Beale unveiled that the pension system under Raimondo lost $200 million.
While she may be able to blitz the airwaves with positive messages about her bio and her leadership in pension reform, her Democratic primary competitors and/or her GOP opponent in the General Election may be able to destroy her credibility by playing up her "mismanagement of the pension system."
5. Hedge Funds
Will Raimondo pay the price for shifting so much of the assets into Hedge Funds?
For the past six months, Raimondo has been under constant critique for shifting more than 20% of the State's retirement dollars into unregulated Hedge Funds. The critics has included forensic auditor/Forbes contributor Ted Siedle, Rolling Stones magazine's star reporter Matt Taibbi, former General Treasurer and candidate again, Frank Caprio, as well as many of the public unions. The combination of where she gets her campaign dollars, coupled with the shift in investment strategy and the under performance of the fund may all build into a snowball effect.
4. Connect to RIers
Educated at Yale and Harvard, a Rhode Scholar and a millionaire, can she connect to the average RIer?
Raimondo is a born and bred Rhode Islander, but for her adult life she has been educated at the best colleges in the world and living a professional life aligned with many of America's super rich associated with Wall Street. In her announcement she mentioned a number of times she was a mother, but did not mention that her husband is a partner at Mckinsey - and according to Forbes magazine probably takes home $2 million or so per year.
Raimondo talks a lot about her father losing his job when she was a child, but she has come a long way since then. She could come across as the ultimate RI success story or be perceived as an out of touch venture capitalist.
3. Siedle and Taibbi
Neither Ted Siedle or Matt Taibbi are going away - can she deflect their questions and charges?
In the past two months, both forensic auditor/Forbes columnist Ted Siedle and Rolling Stone's star reporter Matt Taibbi have raised serious issues about Raimondo's motivation and judgment.
As Taibbi wrote, "The dynamic young Rhodes scholar was allowing her state to be used as a test case for the rest of the country, at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast."
2. Is she a Democrat?
Will Taveras and Pell paint her to be too conservative?
Raimondo is simply hated by the teachers unions and others - big blocks of voters in the Democratic primary. Both Clay Pell and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras will tack to the left and may compete for the same voters allowing her to sneak through to the general. However, progressives and unions may decide to pick Pell over Taveras (who is struggling to raise money and whose track record in Providence may come under fire) and then Pell can take the left leaning primary.
1. SEC Investigation
Can Raimondo survive an SEC investigation?
Both Siedle and a state senator have written to the SEC calling for an investigation into the investment practices of Raimondo. A federal investigation would be at a minimum a black eye to the General Treasurer and an enforcement action might end a credible campaign. Timing may prove to be everything.
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