This year is the 10th anniversary of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, and caucus members marked the occasion this week by introducing the Economic Equity Act of 1987 -- an ambitious package of 17 bills designed to help women in the work place and in the home. Women also could use it to help them in the voting booth.
"Economic security," said Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio), "is the number one economic issue for women." She spoke at a packed news conference in the Capitol, which was held by senior women in Congress and by Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.), sponsors of the legislation in the Senate. Economic security for women, said Oakar, ought to be on the front burner of any political race -- whether it be presidential, state or local. "We ought to demand as much of Democrats as Republicans."
Rep. Claudine Schneider (R-R.I.), who is also a chairwoman of the competitiveness caucus, cited a 1985 survey of working parents in which 39 percent said they had considered leaving their jobs because of child care problems. A fifth of the mothers of preschoolers can't work because they can't find child care. Competitiveness is not just about trade deficits, she said. "It is about our ability to respond to the accelerating pace of economic change created by new technologies, goods, services and markets. And that means it is also about the ability of women to get jobs, earn a decent living and build a secure future for themselves and their families."
The Economic Equity Act, she said, "is designed to help American women meet their dual responsibilities at home and in the work place."
The omnibus act includes a bill to study pay practices in the federal government -- the nation's largest employer -- to determine whether there is discrimination based on sex, race or ethnic origin. The federal government has not changed the numerical rating system by which it rates different jobs and sets wages since 1923. This legislation passed the House in the last two sessions but got nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Equal Business Credit Opportunity Act would prohibit discrimination in commercial lending. It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sex or marital status in consumer lending such as home mortgages, but business lenders may still inquire about an applicant's marital status and require that credit information be reported in both spouses' names. Women have been going into business for themselves at a rate four times as fast as men for the last decade, yet, according to one survey, two out of five women believe they have been discriminated against either by being rejected for business loans or in the terms of loans.
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) is sponsoring a bill that would enable employes working 500 or more hours a year to participate in employer-sponsored pension and health insurance plans, with benefits accruing at lower rates than for full-time employes. Women account for more than two-thirds of part-time workers. Only 27.5 percent of people working less than 20 hours a week are covered by any pension plan and only 15.6 percent of all part-time workers have their own health coverage through an employer-sponsored plan.
The second major part of the EEA provides federal money to help families meet various aspects of their child care problems, through bills extending school-age child care, giving states money to train family day care providers and to improve licensing and monitoring for child care facilities, and helping family day care providers overcome problems in securing mortgage financing on their homes.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Barbara Kennelly (D-Conn.) and Sen. Donald Riegle (D-Mich.), would bring the federal spending on day care for low-income families back up to the level it would have been before the 1981 cuts. The House bill would restore about $600 million in funding, which Kennelly described as "the minimum that should be done." The Title XX program would provide home-based care for elderly dependents of low-income families, day care for children and counseling to prevent child neglect and abuse.
Schroeder, who is the senior woman in the House and a chairwoman of the caucus for women's issues, says she intends to press each presidential candidate on where he stands on family policies and she wants to make sure that these are "top priority" issues. Durenberger put it another way: "We are giving people an opportunity to lay a record in the 100th Congress that they can run on in 1988." And women, who make up more than half the voters, ought to be watching.