Times are tough, and they're going to get tougher. With this in mind, about 150 women turned out Saturday for an all-day economic workshop, "Surviving the 80s," sponsored by the D.C. Commission for Women.
The women were old and young, black and white, employed and unemployed, but all were looking for ways to deal with the economic uncertainties in their daily lives.
"Everything is very tight," Nadira H. Diaab, a substitute teacher in the D.C.. public school system, said, explaining why she was there. "If I can get information on how to make ends meet and keep myself out of the welfare lines, I'm going to get it."
Billed as an "economic survival kit," the program spelled out the realities of the times while encouraging women to emplore all employment opportunities, particularly nontraditional jobs. Workshops focused on self-employment, apprenticeship opportunities, job training programs and personal budgeting.
While women have always been on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, workshop organizers noted, their financial concerns have never been greater. Changing social and economic conditions are forcing more women into the labor force -- often as the sole support of their families. And the Reagan administration's job and social service program cuts have cast a pall over the future.
"Women are disproportionately losing jobs and social services," and commission chairperson Carolyn Boone Lewis. "A lot simply aren't going to to survive." Women are disproportionately dependent on government programs for economic asistance, she said, and therefore are more severely affected by budget cutbacks in CETA funds, school lunch programs and child care programs.
Setting the tone for the day, Ethel James Williams, executive director of the commission, told the assembled group, "This is a living agenda. You can't depend on your neighbor to lend you five dollars, because your neighbor doesn't have five dollars anymore. You've got to be able to stand on your own."
A workshop on "Women in Business" focused on the practical aspects of starting a business. The speakers, from both the public and private sector, did not minimize the necessary hard work and sacrifice, but stressed that it could be done.
Emily M. Womach, president of the Women's National Bank, said women are often unprepared to go into business because it presents situations they have never faced before. "Women come in and talk to me all the time," she said. "They've got great ideas, but no financial statements or projections. You've got to think about the management side."
Women should familiarize themselves with balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and reconciliation of capital statements, Womach said. Noting that "banks have different personalities, just as people do," she urged women to compare various institutions to find one that is comfortable for them.
The prospective borrower -- borrowing is a natural facet of starting a business -- should also have a firm idea of how much money she needs, how it will solve her problems and -- most importantly -- how it will be repaid.
Womach urged women who are thinking about starting a business to fill out a Small Business Administration loan application. "It will give you insight like nothing else."
Marcia Bystrom, director of the Women's Enterprise Division of the Small Business Administration, provided information on SBA loans. While she noted that women were considered neither a minority nor economically disadvantaged, she was moderately encouraging about their prospects for obtaining an SBA loan.
The SBA, which makes loans up to $500,000 is "a lender of last resorts, she said. In Washington, this means a borrower usually must be turned down for a loan by two banks before SBA will consider his or her application, she explained.
Two types of loans are made: direct and guaranteed. The former, which are made directly by SBA at lower-than-market interest rates, are "impossible" to get now, Bystrom said, noting that President Reagan "has looked with disfavor" on these loans.
Guaranteed loans are made through a bank at market interest rates. Since they are guaranteed by SBA, they are generally obtainable by those who would otherwise not be able to get a loan. There is a waiting period. Bystrom cautioned, but she noted that two District lenders -- Allied Lending Corp. and First American Bank -- have been "certified" by SBA, which means the waiting period usually is only three days.
John E. Touchstone, director of community and economic resources for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, advised women in business to consider working as consultants and to seek defense-related contract work, an area he feels will be as hard-hit by the current federal belt-tightening.
In another panel discussion, two self-employed women described their long work days -- but stressed the personal rewards of being self-employed.
"It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Thelma V. Price, president of Personalized Services. "You have to pump yourself up every day, and the detractors are always there.But I am going to continue to do it, and in five years, I expect to make it."
Workshop moderator Anne M. Renshaw, owner of a public relations firm, was quick to outline the benefits of self-employment. "You have great flexibility, the opportunity to succeed and the satisfaction of seeing a vision come to light. We're all still searching for the perfect end, aren't we?"
But Renshaw and the other speakers that self-employment is not for everyone. "This is a tremendously competitive area," Renshaw said. "You have to do a lot of soulsearching first. It's not for every woman, just as it's not for every man."
Despite this cautionary note, after the workshop most women said they were as determined as ever to start their own business.
"I feel encouraged, although I know it won't be easy," Nan Hawkin, a member of the Women's Program Advisory Committee of the D.C. police department, said. She would like to start a food service featuring health foods and nutritionally balanced meals.
"I have known all along I wanted to be my own boss, for personal satisfaction," Hawkin said, adding, "What (women) need to do now is band together. We need more unity to sustain ourselves through this time of crisis."
One of the workshop's younger participants was enthusiastic about the entire program. "I learned about growing up, about how I should go about making it in the world," 17-year-old Sharmane N. Harrison, a senior at Oxon Hill High School, said.
"I'm not going to let Reagan get me down," she added. "I figure the more my friends and I know, the more we'll be able to help each other in the future."