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Liveblogging WAM! 2009: Women & the Economic Crisis: Getting Beyond the Corporate Media Narrative

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

March 29th, 2009

Taking a shot at liveblogging “Women & the Economic Crisis: Getting Beyond the Corporate Media Narrative” session at WAM!2009, but will be slower on the transcription than usual, because I’m working off of four hours of sleep. Also, missed the beginning of the session. As always, below is only a partial transcript, and any typos or errors are mine and not the fault of the panelists. Contact the panelists directly to check quotes, stats, etc. if you plan on citing anything below.

Abby Sher, moderator
Jule Hollar, FAIR/Extra!
Darleen Lambos, formerly Sisters for Action in Power, also a documentary filmmaker

Julie Hollar, FAIR: For thos of you not familiar w/FAIR, we monitor mainstream media for bias and inacurcy and advocate for greater diversity of voices in media. Media = pro corporate, pro status quo. The liberal media myth that the right likes to propagte, when we look at that, that myth is founded on the idea that journalists tend to be Democrat and therefore content is liberal. We did a study of mainstream journalists’ political leanings, found that on social issues such as abortion [and etc] journos lean a bit to the left, but on economic issues, journos lean to the right of Americans’ opinions. But individual journos’ opinions don’t matter… journalism convention dictates that your opinion shouldn’t
How do you measure media bias? At FAIR, we monitor media bias by sources. We’re famous for the studies we do. We look at various outlets, subjects, who gets to talk on issues? Study after study, no matter which outlet or subject, sources lean overwhelmingly white, male, and favor corporate perspectives.

We did a study in 2006 of PBS News Hour. 6 month study. Economic segments. 41 sources total. if you took out one segment about WalMart, half the female sources were in that one segment (shoppers and employees). But then without that segment, 1 in 5 sources were women.

Fundamentally invested in continuing economy the way it is. In that economy, woemn, people of color, working people lose in that kind of economy. What we see incoverage today is many stories about what gov’t is doing about the ecoomic climate, sources are the people from gov’t who got us into this situation, and they then

The idea that Dow Jones is an opinion poll… most of the wealth in the stock market is in upper echelon of citizens, so when stock market goes down… it’s not about public opinion…

What’s missing? Stories about single payer. Health care is a huge issue, and huge women’s issue. Women more likely to be uninsured, and pay more than, men. So single payer would be especially helpful to women, but very few stories on single payer. Hundreds of stories in a week survey, yet only five single payer advoactes sources in all of those stories. Anti-single payer sources bringing it up as bogeyman, those are more prevalent.

Employee Free Choice Act - lot of misinformation about it in media. Big push by Right and GOP to block EFCA, so than a lot of coverage in ight and centrist media as EFCA being anti-worker, and it’s not.

When we’re talking about women, the coverage of the economic stimulus, you probably remember coverage of the family planning diviision… GOP talking point about this costing us millions for abortion, media repeated this fabricated talking point - inaccurately - until Democrats removed it from the plan. It remains (untrue) in the public record as if it were fact.

We are not getting from corporate media truthfulc onnections about what’s going on with economic plans, stimulus, impact for women and people of color. We need pushback… but we also need structural change in media to improve landscape, and we need independent media to pick up the slack and fill in the gaps.

Susan Feiner, economist
I wrote my dissertation on history of banking in antebellum South. I will affirm what Abby said about there being a dearth of economists interested in finance and banking. I’ve since had several incarnations. I want to talk about taxes today. I want to talk about how mainstream media work glove-in-hand relationship that they have with corporate America has really hijacked the issue of tax reform and the role of taxes in our lives, and certainly has shifted the discussion away from tax reform that would be on the side of raising the standards of living of most peopel in the U.S.

I have handouts. One chart: aggregate US data from Citizens for Tax Justice, “Who Pay?”

As a US economist I don’t like the term “middle class.” Because that’s not in the middle of the road, middle of forest or middle of ocean, but in middle of income. Averages: standard to divide into groups: poorest, richest - so middle 20% would be
between 25K and 45K. You can’t buy middle class lifestyle on that, can you? So, middle class and middle income don’t match up, do they?

If we wanted to do something to help majority of Americans we’d go to state tax codes and do something here, these are really the big problems. And sales tax, which are so regressive.

Compare bottom 20% and top 20% in your state and compare to wealthier states.

This is the burden of taxes, the “incidence” or “burden” of taxes. Difference between burden being different depending on your income level, the income tax is [much more progressive than] the state tax.

CorpWatch has a website that helps you investigate what giveaways corporations get in different states. WalMart {sometimes keeps} state taxes. That is one of the travesties of our tax system.

So now, to the extent that taxes are discussed in media, it’s usually about income taxes, refunds, checks, at federal level. But these tax analysis/tax facts from Brookings and Urban Institute - their data, what we’ve got here is 2/3 of tax units paying more in payroll tax than income tax. Many peopel don’t even think about the difference between income taxes and payroll taxes. This is critical for women doing the reporting about taxes. You need to know about payroll taxes are THE most regressive component of our tax system, and have become more regressive over last 30 years. To collect revenue needs - shifted burden onto payroll taxes, more and more regressive as opposed to federal, which is comparatively progressive.

Payroll taxes: are the taxes that come out of your paycheck automatically, that you have no say over. Payroll taxes have two components - the part that comes out of your paycheck that you see under deductions. Then the part that the employer pays on your behalf, supposedly. The amount put on the employer is passed through to you in the form of lower wages. There are basically five line items that workers share in the payroll tax structure.

Social security tax comes out of your paycheck. 6.2% of all earnings up to 94K. If you earn that, you pay 6.2% on your whole income. If you earn 180K, you only pay 6.2 on the first 94, the rest is tax free.

Medicare contribution is coming out of paycheck, that’s at 2%. There’s again a ceiling.

Combined employee contribution is about 8%. Your employer is suposed to be putting 8.3% on your behalf, but they simply apss it on by paying you 8% less.

Your federal tax comes out of your paycheck.

Don’t got to H&R Block - huge ripoff.

Your federal and state income tax is taken out. May be other deductions for union, health insurance, that will vary case by case.

Your e,ployer makes social sec’y and Medicaire contrib on your behalf. But what the employer pays that you don’t see is state uneployment tax. The federal gov’t sets guidelines about unemployent insurance but states do whatever they want. If you get your arm cut off in Mississippi, it’s worth a lot more in NJ. The unemployment insurance is paid for out of these state pools. In the recovery act they’re extending unemployment benefits, but it’s only on the 1st 7K of earnings. Bottom line — what each employer pays on average $56per worker per year in unemployment. So unemployment trust funds are underfunded.

So is income tax cut going to help earners as much? No. But what if gov’t said you’d get a payroll tax holiday for 6months? You’d have an immediate 8.2% bonus in your paycheck. It’d immediately stimulate the economy. And women, who have biggest burden from payroll taxes…. I feel there’s a burden on women journalists to expose how this burden has a bigger bias on women and undermines women’s ability to maintain economic self sufficiency.

book: Taxes Are a Women’s Issue: Reframing the Debate
there’s an exec summary on the web
there’s another book: Taxing Women, more a nerd book, for details people.

If you earn 100K in dividens and interest, it’s not taxed. Huge bias towards income from capital, which women own way less of than men.

Abby Sher: reminds me of the grumbling of media on AIG bonuses. I was fascinated to see how uncomfortable that made the beltway politicians and media agreeing that this populist anger had gone too far. But it also is this great opportunity - it’s about taxes. AIG = House said they’d tax those bonuses by 90%. There aren’t many opportunities, national or international stories of outrage baout taxes that open a poplr education moments wher eyou can tie together people’s everyay experience, like “Wow, AIG bonuses aren’t getting taxes appropriately anyway,” this seems to be a real moment to push out on the tax issue and reveal…

Darlene: How maby of you are pissed off about taxes now? I’m an organier. Community Labor United co-director. One of the roles of an organizer is to get info out to our communities, and be clear about what we want for our communities. CLU are a coalition of 15 unions and soocial justice groups. 4 years old. 1st, a voice that would counteract or direct challenge to business interest that control how decisions are made, and also to have common plan of action to address growing gap between rich and poor. Info about magnitude re inequality:

we’re seeing extreme wealth and extreme poverty.
greatest gap since 1929.
ceo salaries are 334x as much as average worker (about middle class). so really it’s 866x the average minimum wage worker.

here in Boston, largest commercial property owner’s CEO is 45K an hour. spent 3 mil on his 60th birthday party.

right now MA is 2nd in terms of inequality, NY is 1st. Largest gap in rich and poor.

We all like to talk about equal opportunity in US, so a study looked at opportunity structures in US neighborhoods, high and low opportunoty neighborhoods. in MA, 90% of African Americans and Latinos, and 55% of Asians, live in low opportunity neighborhoods (access to education, health care, civic engagement groups, etc.) low opportunity areas packed w/people of color. Bringing it home to Boston: Roxbury has highest density of people of color, unemployment rate 60% higher than other Boston areas.

We’re looking at real problems. It’s bizarre that journalists have left-leaning opinions on social issues but right leanings on fiscal/ecnomoic isues, because you can’t separate the two.

Twodifferent soial jsutice efforts that has gotten a lot of media attention:

Foreclosure: not only is inequaliity racialized and genderized, specifically foreclosures — biggest loss of wealth for people of color EVER. 213 BILLION = loss of wealth for African Americans and Latinos. Home ownership is only source of wealth people of color have access to.

POC are 3x more likely to have predatory loans. Women are 32% more likely to have predetaroy subprime loan.

60% of all Black women’s loans are predatory.

United For a Fair Economy and Center for Economi Policy Institute and Community Labor United have these data points.

How many people know Rosa Parks? (nearly everyone in room does.)

How many people know Claudia Coleman? (many fewer) She was one of first people to get arrested, at 15 years old and pregnant, to get arrested for not giving up her seat. A grassroots organization, Women’s Political Council, that strategic decision that a 15 year old pregnant women could not be the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. So Rosa Parks was chosen by Women’s Political Council. But is Roas Parks seen as connected to WPC? No, it’s seen as totally individualized. Media and history have erased the history/organizing.

So now - City Life Vida Urbana. Tenants rights org. Around for 30 years. Most known for organizing tenants for tenants unions to bargain w/landlords for lower rents and better living conditions in apts.

In recent years, crisis that homeowners are being tenants of banks because homes being foreclosed.

City Life Vida Urbana organized eviction blockades. To show that victims of predatory lending - lets see if banks would accept rent, at market rate, or would they accept buying their home at full market rate. Homes were overinflated values. So now loans are twice as large as actual market value of homes.

Blockades: one of the blockades = Black woman, single mom, decided to resist foreclosure. I can pay rent, I just can’t be evicted. So organized 100 peopel to protest and watch if the sheriff would force her to move her stuff out. People ready to be arrested to prevent foreclosure. It was postponed, a great victory.

What media did? INcredibly distrubing. She got painted as not a victim but as a “welfare queen” who was taking advantage of the system. Media returned to [scapegoating “welfare queen” attacks on women of color]. Here she is taking advantage of bleeding heart liberals, etc. The blogs were even worse - they’d leave horrible comments about this woman.

So we decided to be very strategic about which images are going to be the face of this struggle. Chose later an older blind man who was taking care of sister. Wanted to buy back his home at market rate or paying rent. Then city council members were ready to say, we can’t kick out this old Blind man (Black man). It set a precedent for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to allow former homeowners to pay rent or buy back their homes.

It was a communications lesson in “you can’t put the Black woman up front in today’s media, still can’t do that.”

There are some blog sides, alternative media in Boston, were able to get the messages out. But community orgs starting their own websites, own community newspapers, we have to do more of the writing on our own internally in the organizations to get our infomation out. We’re trying to get more communications help. More hiring for communications people, rather than only hiring organizers.

CLU is a convener of Green Justice [initiative?] - you’ve heard stories about how “green jobs will save us.” People wwere saying we want more green job to make earth sustainable and create more employment. So we thought that wasn’t enough. So we organized a coalition to reframe debate/issue toward “green justice.” Resources have been extracted from communities of color, etc. Environmental justice movement over last 15 years - what we are doing is trying to make sure that dollars that are aimed at fixing climate crisis and employment crisis = high road jobs, job training, unionized, for communities of color.

For women, there was a Center for Economic Policy and Research, study = women have higher probably for women in unions to have health care and pensions, then a woman who gets a 4 year degree. Shift to service industries, now our unions are 45% women. [Susan adds: “unions are a girl’s best friend.”]

Lastly, how important the framing around equity is around green economy — for communities of color, low income communities, we’re talking about sustainability in the boardest sense. not just mother earth, we’re talking about power relationships. we see this as an important opportunity to look at the sustainability in our communities. changing power relationships that happen in our comunities. utilizing the largest influx of money into our economy since the new deal. we as taxpayers, as a public, have to have a voicein how this money gets used, for justice.

Abby Sher: the Empployee Free Choice Act - who’s heard of it? (about 50% raised hands) It’s a union-created name. It’s libertarian language the unions are using to convince eople we should change labor law that if workers want to organize a union not with just an NLRB vote, but just with 51% of signing cards that says they want to be in a union. it doesn’t get rid of secret ballot, it just changes who is in charge of [this process]. Corporations set up anti-labor front groups so that the anti arguments seem like they’re coming from disinterested sources. I’m doing a story about anti-labor front groups, taking that opp to show how economic - how unions will destroy jobs, there’s this researcher for hire, her specialty is intellectual property, she used irrelevant dat to project 600K jobs lost if EFCA passes. But it was flawed data, but that’s all it took for [it to be repeated in media at length].

So i look up coverage about women and EFCA, unions are not making the alliances that they should. they were really caught off guard. EFCA is int rouble. they lost Arlen Specter. he mouthed the same stuff that the anti-union talking points. the EFCA is a women’s issue. who has covered this well? two good sources — the person who did this the best was Laura Flanders, Grit TV, an amazing show. broadcast on the web and Free Speech TV. and i have to say as i’ve been covering this front group story, she emerges. she’s on it. she interviews great people. she interviewed ED of Legal Momentum. she made the case for EFCA and why it’s a women’s issue. this was the only place [in media] where i’m hearing this.

Lightbulbs go on. #1: more than half of the successful union drives that have happened in past few years have been led by women union organizers, in women-filled industries (service). this is where the energy is right now. if you made it easier to organize a union,

membership in unions is down to 7 or 8 %. high point in 50s was 35% of whole labor force was unionized. now 12% for all workers and gov’t workers included.

latinas make 50% more in same job when unnionized.
women will make 33% more in same unnion job than in non-union job.

economic recovery: how to invest and do it well: we have to evaluate recovery plan as to where women have access to these jobs. “shovel ready” = dominated by men.

so journalists hsould be asking, evaluating these programs by what part of plan, will women benefit?

[[susan: 82% of households in poverty are headed by a loan female parent.]]

Reason why corporations are opposing so heavily = not just opposition to higher wages and better working conditions, but also that the political party complexion will change, likely. because unionized white women are more likely to vote Democratic. it’s also why Arlen Specter jumped ship, because his party is being attacked.

danielle: coalition between union and community’s groups - split is a construct by system. women’s issues are somehow are somehow separate from men’s, elder and youth issues separate? it’s a construct. our self-interests are the same.


susan: occcupational gender discrimination is more extreme in vocational/trade programs than generally in school

Really interesting and challenging conversation among audience, but somewhat impossible to transcribe. Sorry.

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