Mothers or Others? Why Choose? How Maternity Leave Policy Crushes Women’s Leadership Parity

parental leave policyJamera Lee Massop was an administrative assistant in New York when she became pregnant. She didn’t think being pregnant would or should impact her job.  However, with no reason other than “your contract says we can terminate you at any time for any reason,” Jamera’s company fired her when she was six months pregnant. Jamera felt sure that the company didn’t want the expense of hiring someone to fill in for her when she was on maternity leave. She knew that if she filed a lawsuit against her company she might win, but she felt she could not take the time or money to fight it at this time in her life. After all, she had no job and therefore no steady income. After her baby was born, with nowhere else to go, Jamera entered the New York City shelter system and had to rely on public welfare programs until she could get back on her feet.

Jamera’s story is just one example of how the lack of a viable maternity/parental leave policy harms both individuals and the economy by wasting human capital.

While Jamera was in an entry level position, the reality is that the percentage of women who were terminated shortly before or after their first pregnancy was at 4.7 percent between 2006 and 2008. That means that approximately 158,000 women were let go due to pregnancy during those years. 21.9 percent of these high potential women in leadership positions or on leadership tracks dropped out when they had children because they couldn’t see a way to fulfill their responsibilities as mothers as well as employees, given the dismal state of leave policies in the U.S.

Let’s face it: the structure of most organizations was designed by and for men who had women at home doing the domestic work.

Today women with paying jobs outside of the home make up half the work force. Many companies and organizations have happily welcomed women.  However, our society as a whole has failed to adapt the workplace so that women’s unique needs and those of the changing family structure can be met.

Young children bring a particular dynamic to a family in which two parents work regular jobs.  Children require attention and care, especially in their first few months and years.  If this is a nation that cares about the wellbeing of its next generation, maternity or better yet parental leave policy must be a matter of public concern.

If you think such leave policies are unrealistic, check this out: According to the Paid Parental LeaveInternational Labor Organization (ILO), 169 countries out of the worlds rough 196 guarantee some amount of paid parental leave to employees. For example, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Albania, and Croatia are among the 31 countries whose government run insurance programs provide a year or more of 100% paid, job-guaranteed, maternity or parental leave.

Along with Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Liberia, the United States is one of the few countries in the world whose government does not mandate any amount of paid maternity leave.

In 1993 the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which guarantees 12 weeks of job-guaranteed unpaid leave only to employees at companies with more than 50 employees became U.S. law.  Some states have passed their own more expansive requirements under the FMLA.  Of course, leave policy can be expanded further within the private sector if the organizations so choose.  But in 2011 only 21% of companies that are members of the Society for Human Resources Management offered family leave above the minimum required federal FMLA leave.

The United States makes much ado of defining itself as a forward thinking nation.  Yet it is absurd the way our public policy and work places treat parents, and by association, their children. If the United States believes in family values and cares about its children, it must change how the work force supports new mothers and fathers too.

Providing job-guaranteed paid leave would be far more cost effective than losing employees that companies have already invested time and training into. Companies need women’s talents, and a company that enables families to take care of their children will find themselves with much more loyal employees.  We need not choose between mothers and others.

Women and men who agree with the value of these policy changes can’t afford to wait until they need parental leave to influence their companies or organizations.  We have the assets to create smarter, healthier policies that will shift the work place to be a more family friendly space for the good of all. We must take the lead, and we can do this together.

You can start by taking a look at the New York City Equal Pay Coalition’s petition to end pregnancy discrimination and secure stronger laws for women’s equality. And then send us your thoughts on other initiatives that you support or think we all should.

A Vision, a Goal, some Mustard: Women’s Leadership @ ASU

Somebody once gave me a greeting card that read, “Just when you think you are done, you are really just beginning.” That is certainly my story with Take The Lead which I co-founded with my wonderful partner-in-good Amy Litzenberger. So when the question came up about how I came to be teaching this online certificate course, “9 Practical Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career,” I took a little trip down memory lane to recall why I became an advocate for women’s leadership parity and how I learned what makes a successful movement to achieve that–or anything else you want to make happen.

women's leadership: mustard no more

When I was 15, I had my first lesson in the power of working together to make systemic change.

I attended high school in Stamford, a small Texas town with only two places teens could gather for hamburgers and hanging out. One, Son’s City Pig had indoor space where we went to chat and listen to music. The other, the Superdog, had no indoor seating.

The owner of Son’s started charging us two cents extra for those little white paper containers of mustard. We were outraged by this injustice, but it wasn’t till a boy named Ralph challenged us to action that we realized we could do something about it.

“Let’s go over to the Superdog and ask the owner, Mr. Jackson, to build a room where we could hang out. And if he won’t charge us extra for mustard, we’ll take all our business to him.”

About 20 kids piled into three battered cars and drove the two minutes across town. Ralph went to get Mr. Jackson, who looked a tad frightened at first but soon recognized a lucrative proposition.

He built that room, we took our business to him, and he thrived even without the extra mustard revenue.

Injustice rectified.

That process, or some variation on it is the very one that created almost every sustainable social change I know of:

  • A compelling vision with a well-defined goal;
  • A worthy mission bigger than oneself, that rectifies an injustice or creates an innovation that meets people’s real needs;
  • The courage to act upon convictions, to confront issues even if they are uncomfortable, and to assert your worth – even if it’s just a bunch of kids buying burgers;
  • A constituency—people who share your concerns and will mobilize;
  • A plan to achieve the goal and the will to stay with the plan till it’s accomplished.

There was just one thing wrong with the story of the mustard-liberation movement: its leaders were all male. Ralph, the two restaurant owners, even the drivers of the cars. The girls were present in the background. It was, after all, 1957.

Now, women are half the workplace and 57 percent of college graduates; they buy 85 percent of consumer goods and there is ample evidence that companies that have more women in their top leadership ranks earn more money.

Although movement building for systems change helped rework laws and open doors 40 years ago, women have been stalled at under 20 percent of the top positions across all sectors for almost two decades.

ASU is involved with an exciting new movement to ensure more women are able to take their places in the ranks of leadership positions worldwide, recently partnering withTake The Lead, an organization I co-founded, whose mission is to prepare, develop, inspire, and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025.

One of the first visible manifestations of this partnership is the launch of ASU’s first online women’s leadership certificate course. It starts Oct. 2 and runs for six weeks. It’s asynchronous, so participants can view lectures and participate in conversations at times that fit the busy schedules of working women who are or aspire to be leaders. In the course, we’ll apply those five principles of changemaking, because it’s time for women to have an equal place at life’s table and this is the moment when we can do it.

I’m particularly grateful to ASU President Michael Crow for deeming Take The Lead’s work a university wide initiative and to W. P. Carey School of Business Dean Amy Hillman, who serves on our board. Those interested in women’s leadership issues will also want to mark their calendar for Feb. 19, 2014, and join us at ASU Gammage for the Take The Lead Challenge, a national launch event for our initiative. It will feature speakers such as Sheryl Sandberg, author of “Lean In,” and a surprise challenge that does not involve mustard.

Want to be part of this exciting vision? Contact me.

This article was originally posted in the ASU Magazine.

Start Your Own Game: Muriel “Mickie” Siebert — Leadership Lessons for Women from Wall Street

muriel

A few days ago, I went to the best funeral I’ve ever attended.

It’s unusual to say that about an occasion normally considered sad and somber. But the memorial service for Muriel “Mickie” Siebert, a well-known finance executive in the U.S. and the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, goes down in my book as a perfectly delightful send off.

Mickie founded her brokerage firm, Muriel Siebert & Co, Inc. which became part of Siebert Financial and went public in 1996. She also served as New York State’s Superintendent of Banking (referring to herself in her 2008 autobiography Changing the Rules as the S.O.B.). Mickie’s career has lessons for all women, no matter their occupation:

  • Have a dream and go for it.
  • Start your own game if those in power won’t let you into theirs — or even if they will but you prefer your vision of how things should be.
  • No matter how high you climb, help other women rise and keep them close to support you.

muriel2Mickie’s was a life well and publicly lived. When Cantor Angela Buchdahl started belting out “My Way” to the mourners packing Manhattan’s cavernous Central Synagogue, a communal knowing smile spread as fast as spilled water. (This made me start planning what music I want at my funeral.)

And when Rabbi Peter Rubenstein observed that Mickie did not depend on God for anything, nor did she “suffer from undue humility,” laughter erupted.

There were many stories.

Her New York Times obituary headline initially said she was 80 at the time of her death. I told my husband she appeared to be somewhat older. Turns out my assessment was accurate. The Times later issued a correction.

For Mickie was actually 84. She gave her age as four years younger than she was. In fact, White House security once refused her entry because her birth certificate and driver’s license dates didn’t match.

Oh, there were plenty of tears amid the laughter. The Kleenex boxes thoughtfully placed at the ends of pews traveled back and forth. Hundreds of women and men from various parts of Mickie’s life dabbed their eyes when U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) talked about how Mickie “rewrote the rules to make them fairer.” And more tears as David Roosevelt recounted how his grandmother Eleanor had been a role model to the “pugnacious” Mickie, who had driven from Cleveland Ohio to New York in an old Studebaker with nothing but $500 and a dream back in 1954.

Speakers included people she had worked with, Friends in High Places (apparently her political friends were mostly Democrats though she remained a “bleeding heart” Republican), and women from “new girls’ networks” she’d started, and in which she remained active until her death from cancer.

That all her honorary pallbearers were women reveals why I frequently tell Mickie’s career story when I speak or teach about women and leadership. She realized it wasn’t enough to be a female “first.”  So what if you’re accepted into a formerly all-male bastion, you still need your network of women who support you. And you in turn have a responsibility to bring other women through the door you have opened.

As her friend, public relations executive Muriel Fox  said, “Muriel Siebert was one of the few prominent women in the business world who proudly said, ‘Yes, I am a feminist.’ Mickie proved that outspoken feminism is not a handicap, but is a powerful asset, in achieving business success.”

According to the Wall Street Journal , she was “…an outspoken advocate for financial literacy and for women’s advancement on Wall Street, she often did that both through encouraging others and bucking a system intent on keeping her at the margins.”

At the funeral, I sat with colleagues from the New York Women’s Forum in a section set aside for us. Though I had long admired her legendary shattering of that Wall Street glass ceiling in 1967, I knew Mickie primarily from the organization’s holiday parties. She hosted them every December, holding court with her beloved dog Monster Girl, in her elegant apartment on the East River.

Inevitably, Mickie, who famously loved to sing, would whip out song sheets. Everyone had to join in the anthem with lyrics by Forum founders including Siebert,  Fox, and Elly Guggenheimer. Sung to the tune of “One” from A Chorus Line, it starts, “We. Are. Feminist achievers, everybody knows our names (kick, kick). We are positive believers (kick) in the power of dames (kick kick kick)…”

Having seen her in that social setting, I was moved to hear a business partner Suzanne Shank recount how they’d started Siebert Brandford Shank  in 1996 and grew it to the largest women-and minority-owned finance firm. Others lauded Mickie’s commitment to transparency in finance.

These are not values normally associated with Wall Street. That her business associates chose to speak of them indicates that despite the kind of success that so often corrupts, and despite her vaunted toughness or perhaps because of it, Mickie retained her integrity and sense of social justice through a long and storied career.

What clearer evidence can there be that anything is possible if one has the vision to see the possibility, the courage to go for it, the will to persist, and the competence to carry on successfully? “The real risk,” she once said , “lies in continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done.”

The flags on Wall Street were flown at half-mast for Muriel Siebert on the day of her funeral.

“If you can’t play with the big boys,” she was fond of saying, “start your own game.”

Because she did it her way, women today routinely enjoy workplace choices she had to fight to attain.

Though Mickie’s voice is stilled, her impact — like the songs she loved — go on. We poured out of the synagogue, stepping into the bright August sunshine to the lively beat of “New York, New York.”

Be sure to watch this video on Mickie Siebert

(Originally published on www.TakeTheLeadWomen.com)

Women’s Campaign Fund Won’t Settle for Less Than Half

Monday night I attended the bipartisan Women’s Campaign Fund’s  annual “Parties of Your Choice“.

Changetheplayers600

As always, they begin with a raucous reception at Christie’s for several hundred guests, after which we all scatter around town for intimate dinners in beautiful homes. At each party, there are several WCF-endorsed candidates or elected officials who tell their tales and make their pitches.

Here are a few photos I took during the evening, which was peppered with chants of “Change the players. Change the game.”

Gala guest Ilene Wells "Wearing the Shirt"
Gala guest Ilene Wells “Wearing the Shirt”

Valeria Arkoosh of PA wants to be the first female MD in Congress
Valeria Arkoosh of PA wants to be the first female MD in Congress

Sam Bennett, President of the Women's Campaign Fund, cheers on the dozens of WCF-endorsed candidates and officeholders
Sam Bennett, President of the Women’s Campaign Fund, cheers on the dozens of WCF-endorsed candidates and officeholders

MSNBC host of The Cycle, Krystal Ball, MC'd
MSNBC host of The Cycle, Krystal Ball, MC’d

Youngest NY State Assemblywoman, Nily Rozic, bucked the Queens political machine and won in a surprise upset
Youngest NY State Assemblywoman, Nily Rozic, bucked the Queens political machine and won in a surprise upset

Clarkstown councilwoman Stephanie Hausner 'liked' this picture of her that I posted on Facebook, even though I misspelled her name
Clarkstown councilwoman Stephanie Hausner ‘liked’ this picture of her that I posted on Facebook, even though I misspelled her name

 

 

 

Women’s History Month: Why Sally Jewell as Secretary of the Interior Could be a Historic Win

Sally Jewell is a one-woman powerhouse. The REI CEO has just been approved by a bipartisan United States Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 19-3, according to the New York Times. Her next stop—a full review by the U.S. Senate.

“She is going to give each member of this committee her ear and her expertise that comes from having managed to pack a host of professional careers – petroleum engineer, C.E.O. and banker, to name just a few – into just one lifetime,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, told the committee.Jewell

Jewell’s diverse experience has made her a unique contender for the job. In comparison to her possible predecessor, former Senator Ken Salazar, Jewell has no government experience. However, just as Salazar made a historic impact by becoming one of the first Hispanics to earn a spot in the Senate, Jewell’s confirmation would make her the second woman to hold the Interior Secretary position.

An avid environmentalist these days, Jewell, 56, is not afraid to say that she started off as a petroleum engineer for Mobil Oil. Her range of experience provides her with a widened perspective. She has worked as a foreman for drill crews, an investment banker, and is now the CEO of a highly successful outdoor sports corporation. She’s a Jane of all trades—a banker, a boardroom member, and a mountain climber. She takes heed to both economic fronts and conservation efforts.

“She knows the link between conservation and good jobs,” President Obama said during Jewell’s nomination earlier this month. “She knows that there is no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress.”

Her duty as Interior Secretary would include management of on- and off-shore drilling, overall energy use, and overseeing 1/5th of the country’s land—which includes national parks, wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land Management holdings. Jewell has helped lead the way for advocating the exploration of the outdoors to more women, young people, and people of color.

But can she reinvigorate the U.S.’ interest in the outdoors?

Jewell is the only woman formally nominated for Obama’s second term Cabinet. If confirmed, she might end up serving her term with as few as only two other women within the administration.

As of yet, President Obama has protected less land than any of the previous four presidents, according to the Center for American Progress. By getting Jewell, a business-savvy woman in the Interior role, the GOP may ease their previous halt on conservation initiatives. And the outdoors industry expert could be the secret to getting Congress to finally act on climate change, a key initiative Obama raised during his State of the Union Address.

 

 

My 5 Fave Parts of Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address

The yoga class I took just before last night’s State of the Union (SOTU) address wiped me out. I fell asleep immediately afterward. Which is good because I had a chance to think overnight about the parts that resonated most with me.

sotu-en 2013

I’ve been tough on the president in the past, disappointed with his timidity and unwillingness to set a big bold agenda.

The other good thing about writing the day after is that others have fact checked. And the de rigeur liberal critique  as well as Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) really awful other-party rebuttal have been duly hashed and rehashed.

With the benefit of reflection, here are my three favorite parts of the speech.

1.    SOTU and women: On the domestic front, the president mentioned two hot button pieces of legislation poised to pass if Speaker Boehner (R-BadLoser) ever brings them up for votes:

We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.  Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago.  I urge the House to do the same.  And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

(This drew a “Huge Yes!” from Pamela Scharf when I posted it on Facebook.)

And on the global front, but equally true at home:

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all.  In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day.  So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

2.    SOTU and gun violence: This drew the biggest cheers as Obama did his rhetorical best: build to a revival preacher’s crescendo. And the backdrop of Gabby Giffords  and parents of slain children brought everyone but John Boehner (go figure, for once he showed no emotion) to tears.

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

3.    SOTU and minimum wage:  Did the proposed $9 minimum wage surprise you? It did me.

We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

4.    SOTU and early childhood education:  This warmed my former Head Start-teacher heart.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance

5. The part of SOTU I liked best.  Karl Rove (who reminds me of the Riddler because he keeps popping up with his evil grin, every time you think a superhero has finally vanquished him), used a twitter hashtag #notserious to telegraph the Tea Party message of the day. A typical corrosive Rove tweet:

Karl Rove@KarlRove

Is it me or is this not one of POTUS’s better efforts? Lackluster response from even Dem’s side. #SOTU

Since you asked, I’ll answer, Karl. It’s you. The president’s speech was not just #serious. It hit a political home run. Now the real test–let’s see what action Congress takes, and how hard Obama fights for his agenda.

What do you predict? Tell me.

The Young Politica: Why the Paycheck Fairness Act Will Narrow the Wage Gap

Last week, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow employees to discuss their salary information without the fear of companies pursuing legal action against them.mikulkski

The bill is on its third try. In a 2010 senate vote, the bill failed to get any Republican support, even by the female Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who all voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Act.

According to Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the Fair Pay Act will:

• Amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to prohibit discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, race or national origin;

• Require employers to give equal pay for jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions;

• Prohibit companies from reducing other employees’ wages to achieve pay equity;

• Require public disclosure of employer job categories and pay scales, without requiring specific information on individual employees; and

• Allow payment of different wages under a seniority system, merit system, or system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production.

The bill makes perfect sense—give all female workers a chance to see what their equal male counterparts are earning, and see if it matches up without getting sued by employers. In an economy where women earn some 33% less than males, why wouldn’t politicians see this as a good measure for ensuring equal rights?

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Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)  summed it up best back in June 2012:

“Where are these women supposed to go? What are they supposed to do? Have an appointment with their congressman? Show the congressman their paycheck?”

The split seems to stem from complications that might affect employers. Crisitina Hoff Sommers, author of “Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women,” cites market forces as the difference in pay for similar jobs—like a business school professor (a male-dominated field) vs. a social work professor (a female-dominated field). Sommers argues that the gender theory behind the bill sees the higher wages as part of society’s sexist attitudes. “Under the bill, it’s not enough for an employer to guard against intentional discrimination,” Sommers said. “It also has to police potentially discriminatory assumptions behind market-driven wage disparities that have nothing to do with sexism. ”

Political opponents of the bill said that it could bring excessive litigation of the small business community. However, this excess litigation seems like a poor excuse on behalf of the Republican party.

Even if it were true, it seems like litigation is a small price to pay for a large boost in the economy and large boost for most middle-class Americans. Sommers’ argument presents me with a question: how do we value work today and is that how we should be valuing work when fighting for equal rights among both genders? Is it any surprise that we monetarily value a maid, a female-dominated work position, less than we value a janitor, a male-dominated work position, despite the fact that they both have similar jobs?

This bill is not radical legislation. It should not even be a topic of controversy among opposing parties. It helps facilitate equal rights among Americans. Who could possibly be against that?

 

 

The Young Politica: After the Fiscal Cliff, What?

For now, it seems that the fiscal cliff crisis has been temporarily adverted. The Senate and House approved the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which has prevented old budgeting from sending the country hurtling down the Fiscal Cliff.ypcongress

But don’t get too excited. The battle isn’t over and in some ways it’s just beginning. The new deal, which is designed to keep our economy from another recession, increases taxing on the wealthy but has temporarily halted many changes in government spending.

In further detail, here’s what some of the new bill entails:

  • Tax rates will increase for taxpayers with incomes higher than $450,000
  • Changes in estate taxing were averted
  • Middle class gains an extension on stimulus tax cuts
  • Capital gains taxes increase to 20% for high earners
  • Some estimates say the deal will provide bout $600 B in revenue over the next 10 years.

However, there’s been no real agreement on what should be done about government spending cuts. Obama argued that cuts wouldn’t be made if they didn’t produce enough revenue. The result: a second fiscal cliff-like dilemma that will happen over the next two months.  It’s exactly what  Congress has been bickering about over for the past year, so another battle ’til the bitter end is to be expected.

Student Debt

While most of us in college thought that these tax hikes wouldn’t affect us, the new Fiscal Cliff deal may affect what federal funding we receive for school. According to the New York Times:

“The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps defray undergraduate college education expenses by allowing borrowers to deduct up to $2,500, has been extended for five years, through the end of 2017. The Tuition and Fees Deduction, which allows taxpayers to claim up to $4000 in tuition expenses, has also been extended. The deduction, which was set to expire at the end of 2011, will continue through the end of 2013. Some changes to the Coverdell Education Savings Accounts have been made permanent. This means that the contribution limit has been increased to $2,000 from $500 and that the account may be used for elementary and secondary school expenses. Higher income phaseouts have also been made permanent. The deal permanently repeals a five-year limit for deducting up to $2,500 via the Student Loan Interest Deduction. This means that students and families can claim on their tax forms student loan interest beyond 60 months.”

But cuts in federal aid funding and work study may be approaching. For Young Politicas out there hoping to get a degree, this may not be great news.

Unfortunately, the public does not see much resolving until one of these ‘deals’ is made. This last deal has been less than ideal for both parties. For a man who built on his trademark campaign slogans of hope and change, President Obama looks a little weak in terms of how he’s failed to change the opinions of Congress.

Media expected Obama’s second term to start full throttle, but obviously a Republican-run Congress had other ideas. His original proposal for solving the Fiscal Cliff crisis did reflect some of his ideals, but getting that plan into action was not easy. By January 1st, the Obama administration had softened up to Republican requests. Today’s Taxpayer Relief Act looks very different from what the POTUS and his administration drafted up. However, solving the crisis required agreement from both sides–not just a cave in from the Democrats. John Boehner was also heavily criticized by his own party for cutting a deal.

This bill does little to decrease the deficit and is a band-aid for the problem more than it is a stitching solution. So now, more than before, it is time to recognize that as a nation, we are still at risk of defaulting. This could mean drastic changes for the country and in our personal lives, too. Even if it does not seem like an immediate danger, the threat still needs to be dealt with in a more economically sustainable way.

The fiscal deal is not even close to where we need to be. So sit back and relax, because now it’s time to wait for the House to iron out another proposal over the next two months. The upcoming talks will—hopefully—provide a more long-term solution.

 

 

Three Reasons to Sing Happy Birthday to Alice Paul Today

alicepaul

“I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.” – Alice Paul, suffragist and author of the still-not-ratified Equal Rights Amendment.

Alice Paul had a singular mission, from which she never strayed: women’s full and unequivocal equality.

Today, on what would be her 128th birthday, I sing her praises and birthday wishes for at least three reasons.

First, She lived her principles—“wore the shirt” as in Power Tool #6. Interestingly, though today most of the opposition to women’s equality comes from the fundamentalist denominations of many major religions, Paul credits her religious upbringing for her deep convictions about the righteousness of women’s suffrage and women’s equality in general. As her biography on the Alice Paul Institute’s website says:

Raised in an area founded by her Quaker ancestors, Alice and her family remained devoted observers of the faith… As Paul noted years later, “When the Quakers were founded…one of their principles was and is equality of the sexes. So I never had any other idea…the principle was always there….

This upbringing undoubtedly accounts for the many Quaker suffragists including Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, both whom Paul admired and considered role-models. Alice’s faith not only established the foundation for her belief in equality but also provided a rich legacy of activism and service to country.

Second, Alice Paul was a crackerjack organizer.  While the trajectory toward greater liberties for women perhaps seemed inevitable by the early part of the 20th century, Paul knew that real systemic change comes when courageous people, willing to embrace controversy and confront injustice, organize to make it happen.

While a student at the University of Pennsylvania, she joined the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She was quickly appointed as head of the Congressional Committee in charge of working for a federal suffrage amendment, a secondary goal to the NAWSA leadership. In 1912, Alice Paul and two friends, Lucy Burns and Crystal Eastman, headed to Washington, D.C. to organize for suffrage.

With little funding but in true Pankhurst style, Paul and Burns organized a publicity event to gain maximum national attention; an elaborate and massive parade by women to march up Pennsylvania Avenue and coincide with Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration. The parade began on March 3, 1913, with the beautiful lawyer, activist, and socialite Inez Milholland, leading the procession, dressed in Greek robes and astride a white horse.

The scene turned ugly, however, when scores of male onlookers attacked the suffragists, first with insults and obscenities, and then with physical violence, while the police stood by and watched.

The following day, Alice’s group of suffragists made headlines across the nation and suffrage became a popular topic of discussion among politicians and the general public alike.

And third, Paul knew that even when victory is won, a viable movement must continue to be proactive, with fresh initiatives to keep expanding the progressive agenda that had propelled the suffrage movement in its early days but that had all but been lost once the 19th Amendment to the U.S. constitution giving women the right to vote was ratified in 1920.

So she wrote the original ERA, introduced in Congress in 1923 as the next step she thought the women’s equality movement should take.

Paul also started the National Women’s Party, believing that without a political organization’s clout, women’s concerns would never be taken seriously by politicians. Paul was also one of the few women’s suffrage leaders who realized that getting the right to vote was necessary but not sufficient to enable women to be equal partners in society.

“When you put your hand to the plow,” Paul said, “you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row

Forty years ago the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) finally passed out of the U. S. Congress and was sent to the states to be ratified

And we are not at the end of the row yet.

This constitutional amendment that would–IF it had been ratified by 3/4 of the states by its ten-year deadline in 1982– have ensured equal rights could not be denied on the basis of gender is back on the front burner, thanks to Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin’s introduction of a resolution on March 8th (International Women’s Day), 2012, but it has not yet been passed. Baldwin’s resolution would have eliminated the time limit for the ERA to be voted on by state legislatures. And only three 3 more states are needed to finish the job.

Alica-Paul-March

Though Paul’s dream of an ERA didn’t pass in her lifetime–she died in 1977–and might not pass in mine, her courageous leadership to initiate this drive for full legal equality for women did foment many advances in employment via Title VII of the Civil rights Act, sports and educational opportunities via Title IX, more women running for political office, and so much more. Could Paul have envisioned Hillary Clinton’s race for president? Or that we have now had three female secretaries of state in a row?

Alice Paul’s life illustrates brilliantly that one person taking action can make an enormous difference. Her leadership legacy lives on, vibrant and bearing witness to the significance of her life. It should inspire others who struggle for social justice to risk taking the leadership for what they believe.

So let’s sing together: Happy birthday to you, dear Alice Paul, and thank you for your vision, courage, and persistence for women’s equality.

 

 

The Young Politica: Five Wishes for the New Year

As we sing the last hoorahs of 2012, young politicas and politicos everywhere may feel a bit of uncertainty over where the next year is headed. We’ve seen many victories for our interests, but what will newly elected policy makers do to make sure that they earn their keep? flagfireworks

And what’s next for us?

Here are my five hopes for young people and politics in 2013.

1. For young people to go from special report to necessary demographic in national media.

It seems that the results of the November election came as a shock to the media and pollsters. We have proved that we swing elections and that we here to stay. And our age group piques the interests of many demographics.

I hope that instead of getting a special write-up in Huff Post College, we will make it to the front page.

2. For young people to remain politically active.

In the coming year, young people must remain engaged with the political process to remain relevant. Just as the media remembered us in the 2012 election, they can as soon forget about us in 2013!

3. For young people to become educated on all sides of political issues.

Is there really a need for me to tell you that politics is a multifaceted operation? By learning about what goes into the political process on a local level, one can understand the root of many issues. When one understands the motives behind an opposing candidate’s policy, it can widen perspective. Let’s not forget to learn about U.S. foreign policy and about various political systems around the world.

4. For a meaningful gun talks resolution.

We are already in the midst of these ‘talks‘. However, since the Newtown shooting incident, there has been no serious policy implementation from the White House that ensures the safety of our nation’s children from someone with deadly weapons. In the new year, I hope that there can be bipartisan agreement on this widely debated issue.

5. For a sustainable Fiscal Cliff agreement.

There’s been little improvement since the last time you heard me talk about the fiscal cliff. While there has been tug and pull on either side, neither Democrats or Republicans seem to be satisfied with compromise. However, the compromise that is upon the horizon of the new year will not satisfy everyone.

“Whatever we come up with is going to be imperfect,” Sen. Harry Reid said, according to USA Today. Maybe expecting a financially sustainable fiscal cliff plan is just wishful thinking.

In 2012, we saw meaningful change that was primarily influenced by young people. Recently, our choices have shifted policy and elected politicians.

We have proved our potential and it is time we be recognized.