Commentary

04/01/2013  by Alexandra Bjerg

New report reveals California women most hurt by budget cuts


The economic downturn has left wage equality and the support network for single mothers looking antiquated (photo: Kheel Center/Cornell)

Spring has officially arrived, which means the state budget season is here as well. With National Women’s History Month just having come to a close over the weekend, a new report finds that California’s budget crisis exacerbated the effects of the economic downturn on women.  

“Women have not shared equally in the emerging recovery, while at the same time, the lingering effect of recent years’ budget cuts continues to thwart the ability of women to achieve economic security,” states the report released by the California Budget Project and the Women's Foundation of California.

During the past two years, employment among women has declined while men have experienced an increase in jobs. 

Average annual salary for California women remains more than $2,000 below pre-recession levels, having dropped from $32,973 in 2006 to $30,392 in 2011. 

More people rely on government assistance during tough economic times. But years of deep budget cuts to the state’s social services punctured the social safety net. Essential social programs relied upon by women to help cushion the blow of the recession have been weakened by these cuts, impeding women’s economic opportunities and upward mobility.

For example, funding has decreased significantly for CalWORKs, the state’s welfare to work program. As a result, income eligibility limits have been lowered to well below the federal poverty line. Lifetime limits for assistance have also declined, dropping from five years to two. 

Although the Governor’s proposed budget would restore $143 million to the program, which is more likely to be utilized by women with children, it would not increase income eligibility limits or cash assistance. The maximum CalWORKs grant would remain at $638, which is less than the maximum paid in 1989. 

Additionally, decreased state funding for preschool and childcare services hampers a mother's ability to secure and maintain employment. The report finds that low-income women with access to childcare have a greater chance of remaining in the workforce and achieving economic independence. 

Steep cuts to public universities and community colleges undermine the pathway to economic success through higher education. Women account for the two-thirds drop in enrollment at community colleges since 2007, according to the report. A troubling statistic considering community colleges play a vital role in making higher education more accessible to low-income Californians.  

"California needs to do better in fostering opportunities for women, and particularly low-income women, to participate in the economic recovery as it continues to gain momentum," said Chris Hoene , executive director of the California Budget Project. "State policies can and should play a key role in supporting women's pathways to good careers and a secure economic future."

The report calls on lawmakers to increase investment in social services and public programs that promote economic opportunities that will help women thrive. How well women recover from the recession has major implications for California’s future economic growth. 

"We've seen a disturbing pattern of disinvestment in California's women and families that has led to more families sinking deeper into poverty," said Judy Patrick , president and CEO of the Women's Foundation of California. "The thing is it's not just women and families who pay the price for these disinvestments. We all do. We won't achieve an innovative and prosperous California unless we invest in women's economic advancement and healthy, well-educated children."

As lawmakers enter budget negotiations, it’s important they consider the impact policy decisions made today have on women and the economy in the long-term.

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