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It’s All Your Fault, Economy!

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Maria SaabThe beginning of a new year is a time of reflection- what am I going to bring forward into the new year and what I am going to leave behind in the old year. Recently having celebrated a birthday and reaching the “I’m half-way done with law school” milestone, I have found myself reflecting more and more about where I stand as a young adult. While every human has that moment, or has the several moments, where they stop to think about where they are going and what they are doing with their lives, I feel like I spend most of my days pondering these questions. I know what you may be thinking- bring out the violins, another sob story (My comeback, however, is that this is no sob story, but a Saab story. Get it? A little homophone if you will). I largely attribute this feeling to the state of the economy , which at this point is an easy target and a catch-all reason to blame many of our sorrows upon.

However, my problem with the economy is not so much the scarcity of jobs- but the decreasing number of opportunities to follow your dreams, capitalize on your interests, or even develop a passion (I’ll elaborate more on this-just you wait). I recently read an expose in The Washington Post about the  top fourteen college majors with the highest unemployment rates. Lucky for me, my liberal arts degree and my yet-to-be-completed Juris Doctor help me to occupy two of the fourteen categories for highest unemployment but I digress. Most of the majors in this list can be categorized as part of the social sciences and liberal arts. While the hard sciences like engineering and computer science did make the list, most of the majors with the highest unemployment rates were not of technical backgrounds.

With this in mind, I registered to attend the Center of American Progress’s presentation “Keeping the American Economy Competitive in the 21st Century.” At the presentation, Secretary of Commerce John Bryson unveiled the COMPETES Act report on U.S. economic competitiveness and innovation. The presentation was timed perfectly with President Obama’s announcement that 200,000 jobs had been created in the past month. The report was prepared by the Department of Commerce in consultation with the National Economic Council and addressed topics such as tax policy; general business climate in the U.S., regional issues such as the role of state and local governments in higher education; barriers to set up new firms; trade policy; and science and technology education. Some of the key conclusions of the report outlined the need to invest more money in research and development initiatives, including investment in higher education focused on science, technology, engineering an mathematics (STEM) as well as mediums for increased innovation.

The panelists spoke of innovation as being a key element of our economic success- but elaborating on a sense of stalled innovation in the American economy. For example, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, spoke of America inventing wireless broadband, but that most broadband headquarters are no longer in the U.S. There is no doubt that innovation and invention are the key cornerstone to economic success. Even Steve Jobs once said “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” and I believe him wholeheartedly- as I type away this blog post on my MacBook Pro, while holding my iPhone, and jamming out on my iTunes (loyal consumer is what you may call me). The report emphasized that by positioning American efforts on innovation, there will increased investment in STEM education, resulting in a greater demand for individuals in jobs within these fields. In order for America to move forward and continue to stay competitive in the global economy, it will need to be able to explore, invent, and create cutting edge technologies.

The presentation was excellent- I really enjoyed listening to the panelists and listening to their responses to questions I never would have thought to have posited myself. I did get to ask a question in the break-out session, where event attendees could ask questions to some of the researchers involved with the report. The question I posed was largely based on the Washington Post article I recently read. If our current economy is lagging because of high unemployment rates, but the highest unemployment rates come from fields not within the hard science background, why choose to invest our federal dollars in a sector that is not ailing? Can we stay competitive and keep our economy afloat by relying solely on innovation and R&D in technology? The response I received was that this report didn’t address that issue, but focused on the topics presented that day. I guess it wasn’t a bad answer- it was the truth, but it left me pondering and I hate to say this, but also a little disheartened. I had the Washington Post and the Department of Commerce telling me I probably would have been better off pursuing a different field of study. This is where I can clarify my statement about the economy- I genuinely enjoyed being a liberal arts major and I have always wanted to become a lawyer. To hear that things are moving in a direction that I am clearly moving the opposite of kind of stings. While things, I know, won’t come easy and perseverance and dedication always are rewarded- for now,  I’ll just blame the economy.

About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.

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Happy 40th Reed v. Reed!

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Maria SaabOn November 17, 2011, the National Women’s Law Center held a celebratory panel to honor the forty-year old landmark Supreme Court decision that held the Equal Protection Clause applied to women. The Reed v. Reed at 40: Equal Protection and Women’s Rights” panel was moderated by Nina Totenberg, NPR’s legal affairs correspondent, who posed questions to four academics and the guest of honor, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Reed v. Reed was decided in 1971 on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement and changing perspectives on gender, race, and sexuality in American society. The case arrived at the United States Supreme Court after an Idaho Probate Court ruled that the mother of a deceased man could not be named the administrator of his estate because “males [are] preferred to females” in this respect. The appeal addressed the issue of how far the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment could be stretched and whether women were entitled to the safeguards provided by the clause.

Justice Ginsburg was the director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project when she was appointed as lead counsel for Mrs. Reed in the case. She authored the brief that would convince a bench of all-male Supreme Court Justices to strike down conceptions of over-generalization and arbitrariness of the sexes and extend the Equal Protection Clause to women. In his opinion, Chief Justice Burger stated:

“To give a mandatory preference to members of either sex over members of the other, merely to accomplish the elimination of hearings on the merits, is to make the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and whatever may be said as to the positive values of avoiding intra-family controversy, the choice in this context may not lawfully be mandated solely on the basis of sex.”

-Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71 (1971).

This monumental decision marked the first instance that the government recognized women were entitled to the same treatment under the law as men. As Jackie Berrien, Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stated, “Reed opened important doors to the constitutional analysis on sex-based classifications of the law.” Therefore, one of the main themes covered by the panel at the NWLC’s presentation was how Reed has affected American jurisprudence today.  Justice Ginsburg remarked that the decision highlights the evolution on the view of equality from the time of our Founders till the modern day. Responding to Professor Earl Maltz, a fellow panelist, who provided the perspective that originalism would have precluded the decision of Reed v. Reed, Justice Ginsburg stated, “equality was the motivating idea of our founding documents.” However, “it could not come into the constitution because the odious practice of slavery had to be retained.” She went further to say, “the genius of the United States has been the Constitution where ‘We the people” consisted of white, property owning men to now encompassing a wide variety of people.”

Case law has thus followed. The panelists gave examples of how the precedent set forward in Reed opened the door for men and women to bring forward discrimination cases under the Equal Protections Clause. This included cases about men facing adversity applying to nursing school, men applying for benefits as widowers, and homosexual individuals facing discrimination in the work place. As Nina Pillard stated during the panel discussion, Reed empowered the government to work against not only sex-based discrimination, but also other forms of discrimination as well. Jackie Berrien added that federal statute and federal enforcement have helped to address the kinds of discrimination Reed initiated a fight against- including the Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a case with the same circumstances as Reed that would foster so much controversy; it would probably be a no-brainer. For many young ladies like myself, a world where women can’t attain the same opportunities or capture the protections of certain laws because they are solely restricted to men is unthinkable. Nonetheless, the message of Reed v. Reed, even till this day, teaches both the older generations and the younger ones that everyone is entitled to the fight for the equal protection of their rights. At least in this country; we should all be thankful for that.

This event was sponsored by American University Washington College of Law, George Washington University Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, Howard University School of Law, National Women’s Law Center, the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law, and the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.

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Only Up From Here, Right?

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n6234374_38932211_9560_reasonably_smallLast week, I had the pleasure of attending via conference call (thank you, Google Phone), the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) Roundtable on Women & the Economy. The purpose of the Roundtable was to formally present two very significant research studies put together by the IWPR and the Rockefeller Foundation, Women and Men Living on the Edge: Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession and Retirement on the Edge: Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession. The two studies provide a number of qualified statistics about Americans’ perceptions about their economic security following what is dubbed the “Great Recession,” that occurred in the United States during 2007 and 2009. 2,746 adults among the ages of eighteen and older participated in the survey, which was administered between September and November of 2010.

The findings of the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security are quite astounding, but mostly in the sense that I am astounded by how negatively the Recession is impacting the lives of many Americans.  Generally, most Americans feel less confident about their economic security today than they did three years ago. In 2007, 38% of women and 33% of men felt they had little economic security and when asked again in 2010, the numbers skyrocketed to 77% of women and 71% of men.

Considering the news headlines of the past year, I am sure you can assume why most Americans are disheartened. Health care is in shambles, Social Security is a nightmare, the housing market is a mess, and the job market- well, we might just call that a catastrophe. The study is very comprehensive in confronting all of these issues and the responses show that many Americans are making big sacrifices in their quality of life. Americans are having difficulty paying for food (26 million women, 15 million men), health care (46 million women, and 34 million men), rent or mortgage (32 million women, 25 million men) and are not saving or saving much less for retirement (65 million women, 53 million men).

What these numbers also show is that women are having a much harder time than men recovering from the adverse effects of the ’07-’09 recession. It is no wonder that the IWPR/Rockefeller report calls this phase of economic recovery the “Mencession.” The studies tell that while men’s job losses were more than twice as large as women’s, women’s economic vulnerability has increased much more than the men. 61% of male participants indicated that they have enough savings to support themselves for two months, while only 43% of women could say the same. Although most people in our country are suffering, women have the short stick on this one simply because they, generally, make lower earnings and have a greater likelihood of raising children on their own. As a result, the study observes that more women are going hungry (16% of single mothers and 9% of married mothers) and are unable to provide for their children (43% of single moms and 42 % of married moms have not bought something their child has needed). The statistics increase among women in minority groups as well.

The Roundtable did a great job of not only highlighting the research findings of the effects of the Recession, but also shining a light on how many Americans hope to proceed in the future considering these tough times. Many Americans are ill-prepared for retirement, whether they have not saved, stopped saving or are saving very little. Also, many people expect that they will retire by the age of 70 or perhaps never at all. Because “recovery” has yet to reach many Americans, they are relying on government programs such as Social Security and Medicare for the future. With that said, the Roundtable turned to a discussion of what government and our politicians could do (or should do) based on these findings. Pretty obviously, Americans are expecting that our government will handle the economic situation and improve conditions for Americans sooner than later.

After I ended my Google Phone session with the IWPR Roundtable on Women & the Economy, I felt a little disheartened. Actually, very disheartened. I’m a law student racking up some serious debt; I am searching for jobs in a dismal job market; and while I thought the 1960s and Civil Rights helped get females to equal status as their male counterparts, being a young lady in a “mancession,” is not looking too good either. However, what I did take out of the event was that I am not alone. All Americans are suffering in one way or another and we can really benefit from this understanding. Together, we can hope that it’s only up from here.

About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.

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Studies Show Growing Depravity for Women in this Economy

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n6234374_38932211_9560_reasonably_smallNo American has been immune to the challenges caused by the less-than-thrilling state of our economy. However, new statistics show that half of our population may be struggling a bit more than the other, more specifically the female half. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), in a new compilation of statistics, reports that a record number of women are living in poverty.In 2010, the poverty rate among women climbed from 13.9 percent in 2009 to an astonishing 14.5 percent, the highest rate reported in over seventeen years. In addition, the percentage of women living in extreme poverty climbed from 2009’s 5.9 percent to 6.3 percent in 2010.

If those statements alone haven’t shocked you enough, the following ratio is even more daunting:

Over 17 million women lived in poverty in 2010, including more than 7.5 million who are living in extreme poverty.

Americans are witnessing a startling and rapid growth in the depravity of a major class of individuals in our nation. This has a large effect on the status of American children as well. Although men and women both play integral roles in the success and survival of a child, child welfare has long been attached to that of their mothers. When the mother suffers, so does the child- or so the numbers show. The NWLC reports that black women, who serve as the heads of black households with children, are continuing to lose jobs while black men are adding jobs during recovery. With fewer jobs, women are unable to provide for their children. The growing number of women in poverty is in turn increasing the number of children in poverty. A survey of child welfare released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that in 2009, 14.7 million children were living in poverty.

The Guttmacher Institute reports that the rate of unintended pregnancies among women who fall below the federal poverty line has risen. With more women in poverty bearing children who will be born into poverty, the problems continue to grow. That’s the sad part-a child doesn’t get to choose what kind of life it is born into.

In an upcoming study in Psychological Science,  a journal published by The Association for Psychological Science reports “the stresses disadvantaged children undergo affect their physiological development, making them permanently vulnerable to infection and disease. One common outcome in adulthood is metabolic syndrome, a cluster of signs, including high blood pressure, impaired regulation of blood sugar and fats, and fat around the waist, that can precede chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.” However, the study posits that the presence of a “good mom” can radically change the fate of these children. We can hope that these women are committing to the job of motherhood, but it can only be expected that the pressures of poverty may prevent them from providing the best for their child.

The poor status of our economy continues to raise unemployment figures, lower the number of jobs available, and eliminate funding for welfare, health care, and other aid organizations. Women may not be climbing out of poverty anytime soon – Neither will their children. With that in mind, it seems apparent that some Americans are in the midst of a very vicious cycle.

About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.

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