Why extend benefits, you might ask? Isn’t the unemployment rate down? Well, yes the overall unemployment rate decreased from 9.9 percent to 8.6 percent. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Women’s Law Center, the unemployment rate for single mothers was 12.4 percent, up from 12.3 percent in October 2011 and 11.7 percent in June 2009. And African-American women’s unemployment rate in November was12.9 percent, up from 12.6 percent in October 2011 and 11.7 percent in June 2009. In addition, among women age 20 or over, 5.1 million were officially unemployed and another 2.8 million were not in the labor force but wanted work. So if there ever was a “mancession” it appears to be over — and the recovery is clearly favoring men.
Now, some of you might be asking — why don’t those single mothers just go on welfare? Well, let me remind you about the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that was passed during President Clinton’s administration.
Debates about welfare “reform”exposed gender discrepancies in our country’s economic safety net. As historian Linda Gordon observes in her book Pitied but Not Entitled, unemployment insurance was set up within the Social Security act as an entitlement program for (mostly) male workers. The assumption was that men had to support their families, so they needed the income security that unemployment benefits provided. Initially, larger categories of employment — e.g. domestic service, agricultural jobs — were excluded from the social security and unemployment systems. These of course were occupations where women and men of color tended to be clustered.
The Social Security Act framed women as objects of pity who needed to have their domestic roles protected. What later became Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) started out as “widows pensions” so that women who lost their husbands could support their children without having to work outside the home. Female recipients were frequently subjected to “morals tests” to ensure they were sufficiently worthy of relief. Later these benefits were extended to divorced and never-married women (and not surprisingly, what was already a controversial program became even more unpopular).
Because of reforms in the 1990s, there is no “welfare” anymore: the program is called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, with the emphasis on “temporary” — There is a maximum of 60 months of benefits within one’s lifetime, although some states have instituted shorter periods. How many of these single mothers have already run through the 5 year lifetime limit? What happens when their unemployment benefits run out as well? The answer isn’t pretty — see the other reports in the #HERvotes Blog Carnival.