State Budget Cuts: The Undeclared War on the Middle Class

Nov 18, 2010June CarboneNaomi Cahn

women-and-moneyA double dip is coming, and it will be aimed at women and families.

The next round of the Great Recession -- the feared "double dip" in employment -- is coming. The Federal Reserve Board is so worried about it that it is encouraging inflation. What policy makers are not saying is that the next round will be the direct result of government policy and that this round will disproportionately target women, families and the most vulnerable.

The explanation is simple. In a recession, tax revenues fall, increasing deficits. State governments are required by law to balance their budgets, so they must either raise taxes or cut spending. Doing either in the middle of a recession makes it worse by increasing unemployment and reducing the money people have to spend, setting off another round of economic decline. Since the Great Depression, economists have emphasized the importance of efforts to counter this vicious cycle. Republicans, starting with Nixon, have argued that revenue sharing that sends federal money to the states is the most effective way to save jobs and avoid waste.

To encourage employment, we should be taking a critical look at shrinking state budgets and the impact it will have on women's lives. While the GOP controlled the legislative and executive branches in 9 states before the election, today they control 21; they've gained almost 700 seats in state legislatures. Obama's stimulus package was the only factor that prevented massive state layoffs and it's coming to an end. The Republicans have consistently opposed federal measures designed to prevent further state layoffs, even when those proposals are targeted specifically at education. Newly elected conservative governors will do away with the rest. This means there is not only less money for state governments, but more opportunities to implement an agenda that preserves tax cuts for the rich while shredding what remains of the social safety net that families rely on.

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Most states are facing severe financial shortages, particularly as the stimulus package runs out. A recent CNN article puts it, "The vast majority of that money went to help states maintain their Medicaid services and education funding in the face of steep drops in tax revenues due to the recession." Women are four times more likely to receive Medicaid than men are, so women are disproportionately more likely to feel the impact of lost stimulus money. Conservative legislators in several states are already exploring the possibility of opting out of the federal Medicaid program. And as they implement the new health care legislation, Republican governors will undoubtedly adopt policies that are more limited than what was initially intended. Budget cuts also allow states to implement political agendas that are hostile to women. States may choose, for example, to limit abortion and other family planning services at a time when women are reporting that they cannot afford more children.

The jobs at stake are those of the schoolteachers, police officers, social workers, and health care aides funded by state and local governments -- and they are jobs much more likely to be held by women. As Bryce Covert points out, "traditionally female-heavy industries such as nursing and education are now getting slashed in the wake of falling state revenues... budget cuts imperil 100,000 to 300,000 public school jobs. Hospitals have had to shut their doors in the face of mounting debt loads. Women are highly concentrated in these suffering industries." In a report released earlier this year on cuts in that bluest of blue states, Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center found that decreased state support to adult education, employment training, and child care are more likely to affect women because they are the majority of those receiving such services. These programs tend to be at the top of Republican budget cut lists, even in good times.

So women of the country watch out. You and your families have a large bullseye painted on your backs. And Franklin Roosevelt also found that after the excitement of the early years of the New Deal, he lost support in Congress and felt forced to cut the budget and scale back reform efforts. The result was the second dip that worsened the Great Depression of the thirties.

June Carbone is the Edward A. Smith/Missouri Chair of Law, the Constitution and Society at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Naomi Cahn is the John Theodore Fey Research Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School. She is the author of numerous books and law review articles on gender and family law.

Cahn and Carbone are the co-authors of Red Families v. Blue Families.

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