(WOMENSENEWS)--Hillary Clinton's victory over Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary last week has burnished her image as the candidate of the struggling anti-elite.
But if Husband Bill's economic legacy is any guide, the shot-drinking woman-of-the-people hardly deserves that mantle, especially not at a time when low-wage workers need real leadership.
People facing foreclosure are just the tip of the iceberg. As we speak, food stamp applications are rising--the government predicts nearly 28 million Americans will be using them by the end of the year--while states from New York to California are enacting utility shut-off moratoria to keep the power going in millions of homes.
In Indiana Obama is tuning up his appeal to wage earners. First, however, he needs to give us a bold stimulus package many times larger than any so far proposed.
But Hillary's blue-collar credentials deserve a special scrub, given the extent to which she's now wooing Indiana voters with intensifying promises of "jobs, jobs, jobs" and has long invoked Bill's record as a reason to put another Clinton in the White House.
Women in particular should wonder who represents our economic interests. Even if you're a woman making more than $50,000 a year, remember that the majority of your sisters don't.
Women Dominate Low-Wage Occupations
Of the five occupations with the lowest wages, four--retail sales, cashiers, office clerks and food service workers--are dominated by women.
Only 1 in 3 women receives income from a private pension at retirement, the rest depend entirely on Social Security, which is determined by earnings. With 30 percent of women between 55 and 64 earning $10 an hour or less, older women are more than twice as likely to be poor than older men.
Would Hillary do much to change all that?
Well, we know she's a stalwart supporter of the Fair Pay Act, which would help end gender wage discrimination.
But Hillary and Bill are both "deficit hawks" who believe in "pay as you go," or cutting government spending to the point where it equals government revenue.
Between 1992, Clinton's first year as president, and the end of his second term, government spending as a share of gross domestic product--a major determinant of wages and employment in the overall economy--fell from 22 percent to 19 percent.
The means a lot of government jobs were lost in a sector known for fairer wage policies for women and minorities. No big deal? Tell that to the 150,000 women--16 percent of total federal female employment--who lost their jobs.
There is no record of any objection from Hillary, who promises more of the same.
Clinton Budget Cut Food Stamps
Bill Clinton's budgets also cut income support programs particularly important to women. Spending on food stamps, for example, fell by $4.3 billion, which meant 8.2 million people were dropped between 1992 and 2000.
In 1996 Congress enacted "welfare reform" with strict "work for welfare" provisions. Yes, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cut federal assistance rolls. But welfare recipients with jobs lost health insurance and education supports, guaranteeing the long-term poverty of single parents. Recently published government data indicates that before the 1996 law 80 percent of unemployed single mothers received government cash support; in 2005 less than 70 percent were getting cash assistance.
There is no evidence that the first lady took issue with these policies. There is nothing in her Senate voting record to suggest she's changed her view.
Today's financial meltdown can also be traced directly to Clinton's embrace of financial market deregulation and in Hillary we see no change in direction.
Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (a leading Hillary supporter) led the charge to repeal key provisions of a Depression-era law--the Glass-Steagall Act--that barred risky banking practices. Once bankers were free to make risky loans with other people's money, that's just what they did. Now women, with less money than men to start with, are overrepresented in the sub-prime debacle and face higher rates of foreclosure.
Amid all this, Hillary pleads with the financial industry for voluntarily reforms.
On March 25 she actually asked for help from former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan--who sat on his hands during not one but three financial bubbles--and Rubin.
Speaking of Rubin, did anyone read Sunday's New York Times? There buried in a long article, Rubin is quoted as saying he abandoned plans to tighten control over Wall Street traders when the Chicago Board of Trade threatened to blackball his former employer, Goldman Sachs. If this is true, Rubin sacrificed the public interest to enrich his former firm.
So when Hillary asks Wall Street to police itself, I ask why stop at asking the fox to guard the henhouse? Why not an invitation to dinner?
Hillary criticizes Bush because wages didn't grow during his two terms. (That's what we expect from Republicans.) What she doesn't remind you of is that stagnant wage growth in the Clinton era explains low inflation in the Clinton era.
The 1990s were the heyday of Chainsaw Al Dunlap and Jack Welch, CEOs infamous for scoring billions in stock options after firing tens of thousands. Workers with white, blue and pink collars faced the "choice" of forced overtime or unemployment. Wage demands evaporated amid widespread fears of downsizing.
Bill Clinton's expansion of the earned income tax credit--which benefited almost 21 million low-income U.S. families with more than $36 billion in tax refunds in 2004, making it the largest poverty reduction program in the United States--is one bright note in the Billary economic record.
But Bill Clinton is not Robin Hood.
Bulk of Tax Handouts to Top Bracket
Estimates of the net impact of Clinton's tax policies show that taxes were cut for the top 60 percent of the population, with the great bulk of the hand-out going to the top 20 percent. My source on that: Citizens for Tax Justice; check out their Web site.
As a package Bill's macroeconomic policies--on budgetary balance, income security and financial market deregulation--actually undermined women's economic wellbeing. And they sound awfully like those espoused by Candidate Clinton.
Hillary-for-President steadily touts the good times that rolled during her husband's tenure.
That's particularly inappropriate in view of the intensity of our economic crisis, which is more like the 1930s than any presidential candidates are so far willing to admit.
The Center on Budget and Priorities reports that at least 20 states are poised for spending cuts that threaten vital social services like public health, K-12 and higher education. The need for these programs is rising because income in the states is falling.
But states--because of their constitutions--are required to balance their budgets. Twenty-two states face combined deficits of $39 billion for fiscal 2009; an amount that wipes out nearly 30 percent of the federal stimulus package.
Wage earners in the United States--women in particular--need serious large-scale economic change, not political rhetoric.
Hello, is anyone out there?
Susan F. Feiner is director of women's studies and professor of economics at the University of Southern Maine. She is co-author of the 2004 book, "Liberating Economics: Feminist Perspectives on Families, Work and Globalization."
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