Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Great Recession's Continued Impact on Single California Moms

I don’t know about you, but as a single parent and a law student, the impact of this “economic downturn” is hitting me pretty hard. Although my son is 27, he had to resort to doing three retail jobs until he could find new work in his profession of environmental policy. Finally after 16 months, he landed the great job. However, a week before he was to begin getting benefits, they dropped his hours. I worry about what would happen to my little family unit if he had a major health crisis without health insurance. Because he is 27, I can’t insure him under the Obama plan which covers children up to age 26.

Its hard not earning an income going to school full-time and taking care of an aging parent, but I am in the home stretch and will complete law school in 2011. Mildly put, the job prospects are rather bleak for most third year law students. But, not being one to wallow in self-pity, I decided to do a bit of checking on how other women were doing in the great state of California. Not great.

"In 2009, California’s unmarried women with children were nearly twice as likely as their married counterparts – both men and women – to be unemployed, and their average weekly hours of work declined more than at any point in the last 20 years, diminishing their total earnings.” (California Budget Project May 2010.)

Concern over California’s 2010-2011 Budget is producing significant worry particularly for low income women and women of color. Unlike powerful business and industry, low- income women’s voices are not heard as loudly where government is concerned.

However, the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom (CCRF), comprised of over 50 independent organizations representing California’s diverse communities is rightly focused on trying to preserve state programs for these women.

Some programs that are on the chopping block:

  • Access for Infants and Mothers (AIM)*
  • Every Woman Counts
  • CalWORKS
  • Family PACT
  • Healthy Families
  • Medi-Cal

These programs are part of low-income women’s safety net of critical health (particularly reproductive health) and human services.

According to CCRF,

“Preserving the safety net is critical to low-income women’s health and well-being, and necessary for preventing greater health disparities. Low-income women are four times more likely than higher-income women to report being in fair or poor health. Additionally, while one-third of California women ages 18-64 (34%) have low incomes, women of color are more likely to be low-income.”

In a great article by Judy Patrick, she says:

"Women make up more than three out of five adults enrolled in the major safety-net programs -- the CalWORKs Program, the Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) Program, and the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) Program -- programs that help low-income women support their families, find jobs, and help those who are elderly or have disabilities remain safely in their homes.” (See also this article on Schwarzenegger's budget proposal.)

My worries look small in comparison to these women, because without these services, without this safety-net, they could find themselves in life-threatening situations and increase the health disparities especially among women of color. Women of all socio-economic classes must demand a budget that protects California's single moms and their families, who are struggling to make it through these tough economic times.

New restrictions on funding or elimination of programs for things like breast cancer screenings for the poor could result in more women getting breast cancer. This will create a situation where the taxpayer burden to pay for the care is higher. (It costs less to do a breast cancer screening than it does to treat breast cancer that has gone undetected and spread.) Additionally, without screenings available to women of color and lower socio-economic status, the medical community will be deprived of the very critical statistical information that leads to improved treatment or even preventative measures for cancer.

In the absence of funding abortions for the poor, a significant percentage of women will have pregnancies that would have otherwise been aborted. Costs to the taxpayer for programs that offer a first-trimester nonhospital abortion will always be far less than the cost of subsidizing prenatal and delivery services. There are also significant secondary costs of an unwanted birth, such as the additional time a woman spends on welfare and struggling to provide for her family trying to regain self-sufficiency.

When there are a higher number of uninsured people in California, they will wait until their health issues are serious before they seek care. The care will likely be in an emergency room at a much higher cost that routine care. The hospitals will need to pass on that cost to the folks that have insurance. So the wealthy and middle class will absorb the additional expense in the form of increased health premiums. So, without these less expensive programs, the rich will pay anyway.

Finally, there is the issue of solidarity. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, in a speech in Nashville, Tennessee in December 1962:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

If privileged women allow a budget that disproportionally impacts poor women’s access to critical health care, it can erode access for all women.

After all, there is no guarantee that wealthy women will always remains so.

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