The Imperfect Storm

The convergence of the “Great Recession” and the budget crisis has created an “imperfect” storm; threatening the jobs and incomes of California’s women and their families, as well as the programs and policies that, in past decades, have provided a safety net during tough economic times. Three new CBP policy briefs take stock of the impact of the recession and recent and proposed budget cuts on California’s women and their families.  We found that the Great Recession has taken a significant toll on women and their families. The recent downturn is the first in recent history in which women experienced substantial job loss, with single mothers hit particularly hard. Married women with children also felt the impact, with many becoming the sole breadwinners for their families as their husbands lost their jobs. In fact, the number of married-couple families with children relying solely on the earnings of wives increased by an astounding 77.7 percent between 2006 and 2009.

Meanwhile, cuts to key safety-net programs and Medi-Cal have disproportionately affected low-income women and their families. Because women live longer and have lower incomes, they are more likely to rely on SSI/SSP for support in their old age. And because women are more likely to outlive a spouse and work in caregiving professions, they account for nearly two-thirds of IHSS recipients and nearly eight out of 10 IHSS providers. Even the silver lining has a cloud – the one population group that saw its employment rate rise in the face of the massive job loss experienced during the recent downturn was women between the ages of 55 and 69 – a fact that no doubt reflects women who might have otherwise retired remaining in the workforce due to the declining value of their retirement savings, or a spouse’s loss of work.

On Friday, Governor Schwarzenegger will release his final May Revision. His spokesperson announced earlier today that this document would include “terrible cuts,” such as the elimination of CalWORKs and IHSS proposed by the Governor in January. Let’s hope that the Legislature takes heed of one of our favorite homilies, “that budgets are about values and choices” and that a balanced approach provides an alternative that can help California’s women and the families they support find a safe harbor in an imperfect storm.

— Scott Graves and Jean Ross

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