The headline in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week sums up stormy presidential politics: “2016 race devolves into ugly fight over treatment of women.”
Many believe the battle over which presidential candidate is more endearing to women is the crux of the women’s vote. It isn’t. Not every woman is a “victim” seeking protection and a “safe place.” Not even most of them. There are working mothers, single mothers, stay-at-home moms and women who chose not to have children. They are wives, single women, retirees and senior citizens, welfare recipients, homemakers, home-based workers, professionals and business owners.
Just like the lifestyles women choose or prefer, their policy issues run the gamut. They believe in limited government and charity. They believe in government assistance for the neediest. They believe in personal responsibility, individual opportunity, school choice and lower taxes. They want to be left alone.
If the shallow, surface, pat-the-little-lady-on-the-head-so-she’ll-go-away approach barely worked before, it’s definitely not working today. More groups, conservative and libertarian, focus on commonsense, less-government policies with maximum benefit for women. Numerous groups tackle women’s diverse challenges.
Among them is “Working for Women: A Modern Agenda for Improving Women’s Lives.” It is a comprehensive agenda for policy reforms giving women greater opportunity to flourish by reducing government regulations that hold them back and encouraging innovation and flexibility in their working environments.
It’s important to acknowledge that needs differ. Do women want a minimum wage? Do they want government to establish their earnings and opportunities? Do they expect government to protect them from employers? Do they want the ability to move freely from one job to another without penalty? Do they want to choose between marriage and staying single without being treated differently by the IRS? Do they have the flexibility to manage life and work? Do they want overtime pay or the opportunity to choose between pay and time off?
Careers, jobs and professions are approached differently by different women; commonly, however, politicians and office politics pit working women against one another to divide and conquer.
The beauty of “Working for Women” is it outlines why one-size-fits-all solutions fail. It notes that “solutions” from government and politicians, “may help some, but they will backfire on many more by making our workplaces less flexible and discouraging job creation.”
The report proposes tax reforms to simplify taxes and reduce the tax burden by eliminating deductions and broadening the tax base so that work is rewarded and families can make ends meet. It proposes reducing the tax penalty on married couples.
It proposes expanding job opportunities by re-evaluating occupational licenses and fees, and avoiding minimum wage increases to enable lower wages for new and young workers trying to get a foot in the door.
It suggests pre-tax “personal care accounts” to encourage savings for leave time, and tax credits for small businesses that provide leave to reduce the burden on businesses. (More than 9 million businesses are owned by women.)
The report proposes the Department of Labor reconsider its overtime regulations, warning that losing flexibility will hurt women.
Many women lag in contributions to retirement savings after taking time off to care for children and relatives. Allowing catch-up contributions would end the penalty on caregivers, the report suggests, especially because women often earn lower wages because they’ve taken time out from the workforce.
The takeaway lesson from most of the proposals in this report is that often what it takes for women to succeed and flourish is for government to step aside instead of stepping in. The report is well worth the read; it rights the compass on policy solutions and takes the discussion well beyond the fleeting “tempers in a teacup” of partisan presidential politics.
(Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy.)