If Trump is serious about jobs, he shouldn't destroy the Labor Department's Women's Bureau

If Trump is serious about jobs, he shouldn't destroy the Labor Department's Women's Bureau
Source: AP
Source: AP
opinion
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On Friday, President Donald Trump hosted German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House where the two world leaders had a meeting in the Oval Office.

"It's crucial that we provide our American workers with a really great employment outlook," Trump told reporters in the joint press conference that followed. "And that includes making sure that we harness the full potential of women in our economy."

Unfortunately, Trump appears poised to take the opposite tack.

In many respects, Trump's newly released budget blueprint has followed a host of conservative orthodoxies — making deep cuts to government departments and agencies that the right, whether purely out of budget hawkishness or ideological posturing, care little for.

There's concern among employees at the Labor Department that one bureau in particular could be entirely on the chopping block. Several Labor employees Mic has spoken to suspect that the Women's Bureau could be eliminated entirely. And the rationale would be as disturbingly thin as those given for other cuts: Because women make up half the workforce, the bureau is now "redundant."

The culprit behind this twisted logic is the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation's 180-page Budget Blueprint. Tucked on page 93 is the recommendation to cut the Women's Bureau. The thinking is simple, yet fallacious: If parity is the same as equality, then the "equal rights" women have been clamoring about for so many years have been achieved. (The Heritage Foundation did not respond to request for comment.)

Trump's "America First" budget proposal suggests $2.5 billion in cuts for the Department of Labor alone.
Source: 
Jon Elswick/AP

Trump is reported to be using the foundation's agenda as a guide. Trump's proposed budget indicates a stunning $2.5 billion cut for the Department of Labor, with one former Labor official concerned that cuts would disproportionately affect the Women's Bureau.

Yet the inequities of employment in America would seem to indicate that this government agency needs more funding, not less.

A small agency, but essential to equal pay

By federal government standards, the agency is small: There are 10 regional offices, a staff of 50 people, and an $11.7 million annual budget. But their work is significant, primarily for their seat at the table in Department of Labor discussions and for their ability to find and present data related to women in the workplace. That makes the Women's Bureau the leading agency voice on equal pay in the workplace.

Without the bureau, we'd lose the data. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census, the Women's Bureau provided statistical breakdowns of the pay gap at all levels: by race, by age, for mothers, for first-time mothers, et al. The microtargeting was something that Latifa Lyles, the former director of the Bureau, said was effective in changing the conversation surrounding equal pay.

Latifa Lyles speaks at a Department of Labor Regional Forum on Working Families in Boston, 2014.
Source: 
Department of Labor/Wikimedia Commons

"The data allowed us to go a little bit deeper and drive the point home even more," Lyles said. "Part of the issue [surrounding equal pay] is that people think, 'it's not going to happen to me.' This was our way of saying how this affects various populations." 

When Lyles started working with the bureau in 2009, shortly after former President Barack Obama took office, changes in how the Bureau communicated about equal pay were already underway. Under the Bush administration, the Women's Bureau wasn't able to present information on the pay disparities. 

"Their hands were tied," Lyles explained. "They weren't able to compare men and women, they could only talk about women's earnings in a vacuum."

A singular advocate for women at Labor

Without the Women's Bureau, the Department of Labor would lack any institutional advocate for women. Every bureau within the Department of Labor has a job to do, explained Lyles. The other bureaus rely on the Women's Bureau to advocate for and speak up for women's needs in the workplace.  

The Women's Bureau police department shortly after the Bureau's inception, 1920.
Source: 
Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

The Women's Bureau addresses the work-family conflict to create data-driven solutions surrounding paid sick leave, paid family leave and access to quality, affordable childcare, all concerns identified as barriers to entry for women in the workplace. 

If American women participated in the labor force at the same rate as Canada or Germany, countries with more generous work-family policies, there would be five million more women in the labor force in the U.S., translating to more than $500 billion of additional economic activity per year. 

Assuming that Trump is genuinely looking for quick wins on job creation, perhaps he should set his sights closer to home and remove barriers that keep more women from working jobs while still caring for a family. A good way to start would be keeping the Women's Bureau around — and well funded.

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