Opinion: Columnists

The Real War on Women

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Opinion,Diana Furchtgott Roth,Columnists

Women are a majority of Americans -- 51 percent of the population. The majority of registered voters are women, 53 percent. And the majority of voters who elected the current president were women, 56 percent.

Yet women have elected a government that all too often ignores, or, even worse, militates against the interests of women. This is particularly true when it comes to women's economic interests.

That's the real War on Women -- the threats to women's economic advancement caused by a poor economy. And Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, has voiced an additional threat to women. Last week, speaking at the Brookings Institution, she said that if Congress won't pass a bill that raises taxes for people making $250,000 and more per year in 2013, Congress will let the current tax rates expire, causing them to rise in 2013 for everyone, rich and poor.

Allowing taxes to rise in January -- from 10 percent to 15 percent at the bottom, from 35 percent to 44 percent at the top, from 15 percent to 25 percent on long-term capital gains, from 15 percent to 44 percent on dividends -- would slow economic growth even further.

Gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of 1.9 percent in the first quarter of 2012, and second-quarter figures will be published Friday. Retail sales figures have been negative for three months in a row.

Women already have it tough in today's economy. The American economy has 5 million fewer jobs than in December 2007, the start of the recession, even though it officially ended in June 2009.

Women's unemployment rates have risen by a full percentage point since President Obama took office in January 2009, from 7 percent to 8 percent. The male unemployment rate is higher, but it has declined from January 2009 to the present, from 8.6 percent to 8.4 percent.

There were 40,000 fewer women employed in June 2012 than there were in January 2009. In contrast, employment for men has risen over the same period, by 268,000.

Fewer women are participating in the labor force -- their participation rate was 57.8 percent in June, down from 59.4 percent in January 2009. The labor force participation rate for men is higher, at 70.3 percent (down from 72.4 percent when the president took office). Women can't progress if they are so discouraged they don't even look for a job.

My analysis of data for women in a new edition of my book, "Women's Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America," shows that, given the right economic conditions, women can make significant progress without affirmative action. But with no economic growth and no jobs, women are stalled.

Higher tax rates discourage married women from working. When single, working women are considering marriage, higher rates may cause them to think twice. Sometimes higher tax rates result in women quitting the workforce altogether, when taxes are added to the cost of child care, work clothes and transportation.

President Obama, who has boasted that he has reduced pay discrimination by signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, supports raising marginal tax rates for upper-income earners.

In contrast, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, wants to lower all tax rates by 20 percent, so that the bottom rate would be 8 percent and the top rate would be 28 percent. This would help working women by reducing the tax penalty for entering the workforce.

The real War on Women is not about contraceptives or abortion, but about family paychecks.

Examiner Columnist Diana Furchtgott-Roth (dfr@manhattan-institute.org), former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

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