Opportunity, services, training are both needs and success strategies for women

October 23, 2014

One size services won’t fit all women, CA Senate Select Committee on Women & Inequality told

Los Angeles –Academics, service providers, organizational advocates and women who struggle with poverty, including residents of L.A.’s nearby skid row, gathered at the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles on October 22 to hear and offer testimony before the California Senate’s Select Committee on Women and Inequality.

Suggested solutions to reduce the indigence and inequities faced by a disproportionately high number of California women ranged from opening up more construction and transit jobs for low income women to promoting investments in programs for women of color as development of the workforce of the future needed to help support today’s middle-class pensioners. Broad national and state, as well as Los Angeles-specific, issues were raised, including toxins in public housing, obstacles to treatment of STDs and challenges facing immigrant women.

Previous convenings of the committee in the state Capitol had worked to define the problem: Too many women in California are poor, often raising children in deep poverty, because of low wages, fewer opportunities compared to men and lack of the services needed to nurture self and children while on the job, in school or on the road to recovery. These obstacles are even more prevalent in the lives of women of color.

This hearing focused on solutions to those challenges and the approximately 150 participants in the room, overwhelmingly women, stood in line (and others online, by live feed) to share their experiences and recommendations.

“Women living in poverty are amazingly resourceful at survival and sustaining their children despite structural and personal obstacles,” said Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), chair of the committee and of California’s Legislative Black Caucus. “But today’s testimony told us clearly that we need to invest more in women, families and opportunity, while implementing policies that eliminate the racial and gender bias which lead to poverty and inequality.”

Repeatedly mentioned during the hearing was the need for women, especially those of color, to have the “wrap-around” services – childcare, protection from domestic violence, supportive case management and job training – which, along with employment equity and affordable housing, build pathways to success.

Also emphasized were the importance of integrated social services, especially for women-headed households with children; better foster care; less discrimination based on gender, race, immigration status, mental/emotional issues, childlessness and criminal record; and programs which are tailored, inspire trust and instill skills.

The new State Senate President pro Tempore, Kevin de León, noting that Senator Mitchell “is the conscience of the Senate, promised to preserve the Select Committee because, “The bootstrap yourself up notion is a myth: we all need to help each other.”

Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), co-sponsor of the event, stressed the importance of understanding that, “When women succeed, America succeeds”. She pledged to follow up on various federal issues discussed, including maximizing use of Affordable Care Act dollars for family services.

Senator Carol Liu (D-Glendale), a member of the committee, said the demographics of poverty need to be better understand, “The stereotype that most of those in poverty do not work could not be further from the truth.”

Recommendations in the form of expert testimony came from both academics and CEOs:

Professor Manuel Pastor of USC’s Environmental and Regional Equity Program pointed out that women do well once in traditionally-male jobs – the challenge is getting them there.

Faye Washington, President of the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles, argued that partnership between non-profits and corporations is key, “Our goal is to fill the one million future jobs that are projected to lack skilled applicants with qualified women.”

Kathy Icenhower, founder of Shields for Families, observed that success for at-risk women requires pro-actively addressing the needs of their household members and ensuring that women and non-profits are seated and heeded at the tables of power.

Ashley Thomas, analyst for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) called for strengthening the safety net and quoted study findings that union membership significantly raises the wages of the working poor, especially for women of color.

Desiree Torres, a 19 year-old foster mother to her own siblings, spoke of the importance of family unification and of the kind of wrap-around services that Shields for Families offers. Gilberta Gonzalez, a child care worker, talked of the need for assistance for poor families which offers individual attention, nurture and hope, as well as social services.

Senator Mitchell closed the hearing by summarizing key points, noting that follow-up to prioritize implementation of feasible recommendations is the committee’s next order of business.