Women CAN have it all!

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I finally got around to reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. I confess that from the reviews, I wasn’t sure if I’d like or hate the book.  I liked it a lot, but even more, I think it’s an important book. It’s a feminist manifesto for the current generation of working women.  Sandberg counsels her peers not to drop out of the workforce because someone convinced you that “you can’t have it all.” I’ve always disliked that phrase.  It’s self defeating and ultimately meaningless.  She tells women to use their brains, their education, their families, spouses and moxie to figure out a work-life balance. Having children and working full time is do-able with the right support systems in place. She acknowledges that not every woman has those support systems; but if you do, don’t shy away from a promotion, a new job, or new opportunity.

This is an inspiring book. It’s true that Sandberg’s led a charmed life –which is why I had my doubts about the advice she was dispensing – she’s has two degrees from Harvard – undergrad and the Business School (when I lived in Boston they called it Preparation H!) , she’s a protégé of former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and his chief of staff at Treasury, was recruited by Eric Schmidt to work at Google, then recruited to be CEO at LinkedIn and turned it down, and is now one of Mark Zuckerberg’s general’s at Facebook.  She’s also a Jewish girl who managed to find the ideal, supportive Jewish husband and have two perfect kids. Plus, she’s reported to be worth over a billion dollars. I’ll get to that point in a minute.

In spite of this gilded path, it’s hard not to like Sandberg:  she’s supportive of colleagues and friends, she’s funny and self deprecating, she acknowledges leading a privileged life, and notes that she learned  along the way – to her surprise – that she’s actually a feminist, a description she rejected in her younger years. Many in my generation of working women cheer when we hear that, since so many younger men and women have accepted the negativity foisted on the word “feminist” by a culture threatened by empowered women.

Sandberg’s had a few bumps in the road. She got divorced after a hasty marriage right out of college and experienced some old fashioned sexism while serving as a page to a New York Congressman. When she was introduced to House Speaker Tip O’Neill he commented “She’s pretty,” and turning to Sandberg asked her “Are you a Pom Pom girl.”  Every working woman has experienced that kind of sexism.

But her advice to working women is solid. History is replete with examples of women who did it all – raised families and had remarkable careers.  The women who first ran the National Consumers League are a case in point.  Florence Kelley had three children, fled an abusive husband to land at Hull House in Chicago, relied on friends to care for her small children while she pursued her remarkable career of exposing the evils of child labor, drafting the nation’s first minimum wage laws and getting the Supreme Court to hear the first maximum hours’ case laws. She traveled far and wide, speaking at women’s clubs and conferences. Frances Perkins served as Secretary of Labor all four of FDR’s terms and is largely responsible for lifeline programs like social security, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance. She lived in Washington, traveling to see her husband (who suffered from mental illness so she couldn’t depend on him to care for their daughter) and daughter on weekends. Neither of them was rich, nor did they have parents they could rely on for support. Both Kelley and Perkins felt guilty about being away from their families, but each had a calling and what an enormous debt we owe them for their impact on social reforms in America – and what a loss it would have been had they chosen not to work.

So thank you to Sheryl Sandberg advising working women to lean in and to stay in the workplace if they want to. Don’t believe that adage that you “can’t have it all.” What bunk!  Women in America today have far too much education, talent, and valuable skills to let themselves be talked out of a fulfilling career. I recommend Sheryl Sandberg’s book women of all generations.

That said, I also think Sandberg should put some of the cash – of which she has so much – toward bettering the lives of low income working women and families. Below are six organizations that I would put on my Hanukah giving list if I was worth what she’s worth (of course, the National Consumers League get my first $100 million!):

National Employment Law Project (NELP) – NELP works in partnership with national, state and local allies, promotes policies and programs that create good jobs, strengthen upward mobility, enforce hard-won worker rights, and help unemployed workers regain their economic footing through improved benefits and services.

National Partnership for Women and Families – Founded in 1971 as the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, the Partnership promotes  fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care, and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family.

MomsRising – MomsRising combines the best of American innovation and ingenuity. They are a transformative on-the-ground and online multicultural organization of more than a million members and over a hundred aligned organizations working to increase family economic security, to end discrimination against women and mothers, and to build a nation where both businesses and families can thrive.

9to5 – 9to5 is one of the largest, most respected national membership organizations of working women in the U.S., dedicated to putting working women’s issues on the public agenda. Their mission is to build a movement for economic justice, by engaging directly affected women to improve working conditions.

Interfaith Worker Justice  – IWJ has many work and job sites around the country where workers, many of them low income women, can come for advice when they’ve been deprived of fair wages, are being discriminated against for being pregnant or are facing dangerous working conditions    http://www.iwj.org/

Economic Policy Institute – EPI was created as an economic think tank to address the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security.  To achieve this goal, EPI conducts research and analysis on the economic status of working America, with a focus on low and moderate income workers.

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Closer look at Tax Day

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Tomorrow is Tax Day. People resent the Internal Revenue Service because they take your money. Republican candidate for president Mike Huckabee said during a 2008 candidates debate, “People would love to see the IRS abolished. The harder you work, the more you earn, the more the IRS and the government wants from you.” That’s called “the progressive taxation” system. The more money you make, the more you can pay. Seems fair to me.

So I’m not of the Huckabee school – I much prefer this quote, from Progressive era Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. — and in fact, it is emblazoned on the front of the IRS building in Washington DC: “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

Indeed. And this is also good time to take a look at where our taxes go. Thanks to Campaign for America’s Future and their “National Priorities Project” for excellent information on this topic.

Across the United States, the average taxpayer paid $11,715 in 2013 federal income taxes. The military received the largest share that of tax payment: 27 cents on every dollar, compared to 22.5 cents for health care. Defense spending doubled from 2001 to 2011. So we’ve doubled defense spending in one decade. I was surprised to see that military spending outpaced money going to support social programs, given all the griping and grumbling from conservatives about “entitlement programs.”

This means the average taxpayer paid $3,174.25 to the military in 2013. Health care received $2,662 for programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Meanwhile, only $238 went to education programs, and just $15.84 and $6.56 went to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and National Forest System, respectively.

National Priorities has also looked at each state’s average taxpayer and calculated where taxes from every state are going. These state-by-state tax receipts show the state with the highest average taxes paid (Connecticut, $18,988) and lowest (Mississippi, $7,402), and everything in between.

Although these state receipts show the average taxpayer’s contribution to the budget, Americans don’t all pay taxes equally. In theory the tax code is progressive, meaning those who make more money pay higher tax rates – yet in practice that’s not always the case. As Warren Buffett made famous, billionaires sometimes pay lower rates than middle-class workers. And some corporations, like Bank of America and Citigroup, have gotten away with paying zero federal income taxes, even when they make billions in profit. That’s because the tax code is chock-full of tax breaks.

Ten of the largest tax breaks that together totaled more than $750 billion in tax savings in 2013 overwhelmingly benefited the top 1 percent of households, with 17 percent of the benefits going to those top earners. That’s in part because tax deductions – one important type of tax break – are far more likely to benefit the wealthy than middle- and low-income folks, because deductions only offer savings to taxpayers who itemize deductions. Only 16 percent of households making between $25,000 and $30,000 itemize tax deductions, while nearly 100 percent of those making over $200,000 itemize.

EITC: Do you qualify?

Happy Earned Income Tax Credit Day!

The EITC is a very helpful way for low-moderate income working Americans to get extra money on their taxes. EITC is a financial boost for working people in a recovering economy. Unfortunately, not all Americans who qualify take advantage, but it’s getting better — last year four of five eligible people claimed and got their EITC!

The IRS says: You earned it. Now file, claim it and get it. It’s easier than ever to find out whether you qualify.

Low-income consumers can also take advantage of the IRS FreeFile service to avoid the high costs of tax preparation software or the risk of using a fly-by-night tax preparer.


Airline industry disappoints consumers. Again.

$25 for one checked bag? Another $20 to choose your seat? Is it any wonder that the airline industry consistently scores the lowest in consumer satisfaction surveys? Earlier this summer, the American Customer Satisfaction index reported that, out of the 47 industries evaluated, airlines tied newspapers for the lowest-satisfaction rating, and airline satisfaction only continues to spiral downward.

The airline industry’s actions over the past few months will do nothing to improve consumer confidence. When the government failed to reauthorize the FAA in July, several federal taxes were discontinued, which could have meant a 15-percent break on airfare for passengers. Instead of passing the money saved from the tax holiday on to consumers, most airlines actually raised prices–allowing them to collect nearly $70 million a day, almost $500 million in total, before the FAA’s taxing authority was reinstated.

NCL, along with a coalition of consumer interest groups, condemned airline executives in a letter to the CEO of the Air Transport Association for their greed and lack of transparency in ticketing fees.

If airlines continue to exhibit this type of anti-consumer behavior, it’s a fair bet that the industry can expect a permanent spot on the bottom of the consumer satisfaction scale.