The Trump Administration has released itsÂ proposed budgetÂ for the 2018 fiscal year. Whoâ€™s set to lose big if this budget comes to fruition? Womenâ€”specifically working women and their families.
The only federal agency devoted to womenâ€™s economic securityâ€”the Department of Laborâ€™s Womenâ€™s Bureauâ€”is on the chopping block. The agency, which currently has a budget of only $11 million (just one percent of the DoLâ€™s total budget), would see aÂ 76 percent cutÂ in its funds for the next fiscal year under the proposed budget.
Despite making up only 1 percent of the Departmentâ€™s current budget and having only a 50-person staff, the Bureau serves in several crucial rolesâ€”simultaneously conducting research, crafting policy and convening relevant stakeholders (from unions to small businesses) in meaningful discussions about how to best support working women. The Womenâ€™s Bureauâ€™s priorities have changed with the timesâ€”focusing on working conditions for women in the 1920s and 30s, and helping to pass the monumental Equal Pay Act in the early 1960s. (President Kennedy signed theÂ Equal Pay ActÂ in 1963, making pay discrimination on the basis of sex illegal. However, because of loopholes in the 54-year-old law, the wage gap persists.) Throughout its nearly 100-year history, however, the agency has remained a powerful advocate for working women and families. Recent efforts have included advocating for paid family leave, trying to make well-paying trades jobs available to women and supporting women veterans as they re-enter civilian life.
Eliminating or underfunding the Womenâ€™s Bureau would be a huge setback for working women across the nation. Take the issue of paid family leave, for example. In recent years, the Bureau awarded over $3 million inÂ Paid Leave Analysis grantsÂ to cities and states interested in creating and growing their own paid leave programs while federal action stalls. With the funding provided by the Womenâ€™s Bureau, states and localities have developed comprehensive understandings of what their own paid leave programs might look like. In Vermont, where the Commission on the Status of Women received a Paid Leave Analysis grant in 2015, state lawmakers are nowÂ on track to passÂ a strong paid family leave policy.
So why is the Trump Administration considering cutting such a low-cost, high-impact agency? Some suspect itâ€™s at the suggestion of the conservative Heritage Foundationâ€™sÂ 2017 budget proposal, which calls the Womenâ€™s Bureau â€średundantâ€ť because â€śtoday, women make up half of the workforce.â€ť
What this justification conveniently leaves out is that despite important gains in recent decades, too many women, particularly women of color, are still stuck in low-paying, undervalued jobs, being paid less than their male counterparts and taking on a disproportionate amount ofÂ unpaid laborÂ at home. It also leaves out the fact that those previously-mentioned important gains are largely theÂ resultÂ of targeted efforts led by government agencies like the Womenâ€™s Bureau. Eliminating the agencies responsible for immense strides in preserving civil rights is, toÂ quoteÂ the brilliant Ruth Bader Ginsburg, â€ślike throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.â€ť Instead of punishing an agency for its accomplishments, the Trump Administration should give the Womenâ€™s Bureau the resources it needs to tackle the problems remaining for working women.
Donald Trump is happy to engage in shiny photo-ops and feel-good listening sessions about womenâ€™s empowerment, but when it comes to doing concrete work to support the one government agency tasked with supporting womenâ€™s economic empowerment, this administration is nowhere to be found. If this governmentÂ actually caresÂ about women at allâ€”that is, cares about more than good press and tidy, InstagrammableÂ quotesâ€”it should step up to defend this agency and itsÂ 97-year history.Â The working women of America deserve better.
This blog was originally published by the Make it Work Campaign on June 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author:Â Maitreyi Anantharaman is a policy and research intern for the Make it Work Campaign, a communications intern for Workplace Fairness and an undergraduate public policy student at the University of Michigan.