Women bear brunt of downturn

TheStar.com – living – Women bear brunt of downturn
November 26, 2008. Antonia Zerbisias

We may all be tightening our belts, but women are feeling the biggest pinch.

They will soon be pounding the pavement, many starting in January, when you can bet that their jobs in retail will disappear.

The sale signs are already grim. Consumer confidence is the lowest it’s been since 1982.

Fact is, women have always made up the majority of Canada’s poor, with one in seven living below the poverty line. More than half of single-parent families are headed by women, many of whom never see a support cheque from the father of their children.

There’s little economic justice.

First there’s the wage gap, that 70-cent dollar on average that women earn in comparison with men. So, when wages fall, they fall more precipitously for women.

Second, women have higher costs. There’s still no equity in the price of a haircut or for dry-cleaning a blouse compared with a shirt. What’s more, as prices go up, whether for food or energy, they eat up a bigger proportion of women’s wages.

As a result, women on the edge also have less to save, and to put into RRSPs.

Next, there’s the fact that so many women work in service jobs where there is no benefit package, no security, no severance. If a banker or stock trader loses his or her job, there goes a nanny, a cleaning lady and maybe a dog walker. There are no golden handshakes for maids.

Then there’s the reality that women live longer than men, and need to stretch their mingy pensions – assuming they have any – even further.

And why do they have smaller pensions, often half those that men get?

Because so many of them, myself included, stayed home for years where, despite contributing to the economy in so many ways, their work was unpaid. (One study shows that women do two-thirds of the unpaid caregiving in Canada, and contribute even more through volunteerism.)

Even the employment insurance rules discriminate.

As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported a year ago, qualification requirements for benefits are such that, even though they pay premiums, as many as two in three working women never receive a cent in EI if they lose their jobs.

Which could explain why, as Statistics Canada reported yesterday, this September, compared with last, the number of men collecting EI was up 5.7 per cent while the number of women getting benefits climbed only 1.7 per cent.

It wasn’t necessarily because women are holding on to jobs while men are losing theirs.

Note that, south of the border, women were the ones mostly caught by the subprime mortgage crisis partly because they were seeking healthier environments for their children.

No wonder Sara Mersha, the executive director of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) in Rhode Island, describes what’s happening to many women in the U.S. as an “economic Katrina.”

Paradoxically, some of the right-wing commentators who blame women for the financial disaster, who deride “welfare mothers,” see no shame in hundreds of billions of dollars in government handouts for fat cat executives and investors.

How much more effectively these mind-boggling sums could be invested in communities, to improve housing, health care and other services and lift up women and their children for generations to come.

Here in Ontario, it’s true that manufacturing jobs are in jeopardy – and that many of those positions are held by men.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has discussed bailing out our auto sector. Who knows if that will help?

One thing’s sure: No matter what happens to the assembly line, it’s women who will be run over.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *