United States Budget: Moving Towards a Gender Perspective

April, 2009

By Jane Midgley

The United States is in the midst of a crippling recession brought on by unbridled capitalism, which has left millions losing houses, jobs, and economic assets such as the value of retirement savings. This crisis enabled the Obama administration to move swiftly to introduce more progressive economic and budget policies on several fronts. The federal government has increased its share of the national economy in recent decades to 16%, so government spending is essential to any solution to the economic downturn.

The Obama administration injected $787 billion into states and localities through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which will save or create 3.5 million jobs. In a move to create a transparent government, the Obama administration established Recovery.gov that contains data on relevant economic, financial, grant and contract information as well as a means for the public to give feedback on the performance of contracts.

Obama introduced a national budget for Fiscal Year 2010 that would end nuclear weapons programs, take concrete steps to prevent war, respond to climate change, and funds universal health care, education, nutrition, and housing programs, financed partly by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and reducing taxes on everyone else. These are the values that we need to guide budget policy in the U.S. toward more people-centered and gender responsive policies. The biggest challenge will be reducing the high percentage of the budget that still goes to military spending, and reducing rather than increasing deployments of troops in Afghanistan and other countries. The House and Senate have both passed budget resolutions (the first step in the budget process) based on Obama’s budget and will reconcile their versions after the congressional recess.

Obama also moved to impact the place of women in the economy by signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act – the lack of fair pay insures that women and the families they support have less income and assets and are more vulnerable within the economy. Obama also created the White House Council on Women and Girls. This Office will work with all federal agencies to insure they are taking into account the particular needs of women and girls. According to the White House, the Office will also:

  1. Improve women’s economic security by ensuring that each of the agencies is working to directly improve the economic status of women.
  2. Work with each agency to ensure that the administration evaluates and develops policies that establish a balance between work and family.
  3. Work hand-in-hand with the Vice President, the Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women and other government officials to find new ways to prevent violence against women, at home and abroad.
  4. Help build healthy families and improve women’s health care.

Although not as powerful as a cabinet level agency, this Office is the start of putting more focus on the issues of women and girls, and could eventually lead to looking at the Gender Responsive budgeting movement around the world and its implications for our vast US budget and the well-being of our people.

Jane Midgley is the former Executive Director of WILPF US and the author of Women and the U.S. Budget: Where the Money Goes and What You Can Do About It (New Society Publishers).

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