NEW YORK - Grassroots activists from the National Organization for Women will join the National Jobs for All coalition as it begins a monthly "first Friday" vigil on March 4 in this and other cities around the country.
Noreen Connell, a former president of NOW New York State and current head of the group's Women's Unemployment Task Force, argued that, while the jobs crisis is harming all sectors of society, women and girls are being hit especially hard.
"Interestingly," Connell said, "male unemployment is still higher than female overall. But when you begin breaking it down by marital status, single women heads of households have double the unemployment rates of married women and married men."
These are people, she pointed out, "who don't have another paycheck."
A Jan. 2011, report from the National Women's Law Center has even more bad news for women. The economic "recovery" touted by lawmakers, as well as the overall decrease in unemployment, have completely passed women by. In fact, their unemployment rate has increased.
According to the NWLC report, though men still are more likely to be unemployed than women overall, women have actually been losing their jobs faster. During the 2009-2010 recovery, the report notes, "Women's overall unemployment rate increased from 7.7 percent to 8.1 percent while men's dropped from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent."
Women lost a net 220,000 jobs, while the corresponding figure for men is an increase of 640,000. Of 257,000 jobs cut from the private sector, women lost a staggering 99.6 percent of them - even though they made up only 57 percent of public workers.
Connell pointed out that, in New York City, teenage girls actually have a higher unemployment rate than boys of the same age.
Organizers of vigils, set to coincide with the release of unemployment information by the Bureau of Labor Statistics each month, aim to pressure Congress to enact a federal jobs program. In the meantime, they will push for extension of unemployment benefits, resumption of federal assistance to states and municipalities to avoid layoffs resulting from draconian budget cuts and the creation of "green jobs" at the expense of the defense budget.
Connell noted that under the Nixon and Ford administrations the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, or CETA, was drafted and enacted. "They were certainly no liberals," she said.
CETA offered young people and the poor and unemployed full-time jobs for up to two years and also offered retraining to workers.
Though the Republican's have taken control of the House, some, including Connell, argue that with public demand and Obama as president, a new national employment program could be won.
Women are not alone in their predicament: The average annual unemployment rates in 2010 for single mothers (12.3 percent), African-American women (12.8 percent), African-American men (17.3 percent), Hispanic women (11.4 percent), and Hispanic men (11.7 percent), says the NWLC report, "were higher than the 9.8 percent annual average unemployment rate overall."
And a lower unemployment rate isn't much comfort to the millions of white male workers who are unemployed. Many studies show high unemployment rates exert a downward pressure on all workers' wages.
The coalition sponsoring the vigils represents all sections of the American working class: it includes the National Rainbow Coalition, Jobs with Justice, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Jewish Groups, labor unions, peace groups, religious organizations and others.