By EMILY JASHINSKY
In 2012, Democratic candidates successfully sold the narrative that Republicans were waging a war against American women. Consequently, exit polls found a significant gender gap. By Gallup’s calculations, Obama won women by 12%, while Romney won men by 8%. This constituted the largest gender gap Gallup had ever found in a presidential election. In 2014, however, big wins from high-profile female Republican candidates like Joni Ernst, Mia Love, Elise Stefanik and Shelley Moore Capito, gave Republicans reason to be optimistic about the future of their party.
But if conservatives want to do right by their female constituents, they’re going to need to buckle down. Too many women in Wisconsin are facing serious obstacles and are desperate for innovative policy solutions. The state’s all-red Assembly, Senate and governor have a special opportunity to prove that they care deeply about Wisconsin’s women — and that they’re capable of providing effective solutions to their problems.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 100,000 more women than men above the age of 18 live below the poverty line in Wisconsin. On this measure, Wisconsin’s women outnumber men across every age breakdown. In fact, within the 25- to 34-year-old demographic alone, upwards of 20,000 more women than men live below the poverty line. This includes nearly 26,000 women with at least a bachelor’s degree.
These numbers are unacceptably high. But breaking down this demographic further only reveals more unfortunate truths.
Earlier this fall, the Census Bureau found that the poverty rate among single mothers was spiking. As the Journal Sentinel reported in September, “Four of every 10 single-mother households in Wisconsin with children under age 18 were living in poverty in 2013, according to the latest American Community Survey numbers.... The state’s 42.5% figure is up from 39.4% in 2012, a change the Census Bureau flagged as statistically significant.”
Four out of every 10? Statewide? That’s an unbelievable statistic.
Not to mention that the number of female households with no father present is more than double the amount of male households with no mother present.
Of course, it’s important to note that poverty is rooted in a complicated mixture of sociological phenomena and that neither political party is in possession of a metaphorical Band-Aid to correct these issues with blanket policy solutions or big government programs. But, ironically, conservatives might be the right people for this job.
Conservatives are naturally skilled policymakers on topics like marriage, families, job creation and crime. Maybe it’s time to prioritize these issues as they relate to Wisconsin’s women. That isn’t to suggest the GOP pander to female constituents in a cheap ploy to show effort by sloppily creating more government programs. Rather, conservative lawmakers should visit low-income communities, develop relationships with their community leaders, and use the experience to craft innovative solutions that don’t involve throwing more money at a broken system. In fact, maybe it’s time for conservatives to fix the system.
Does that mean dismantling the system? It might. But maybe it also means encouraging successful private charities to expand and improve. Maybe it means lessening the reach of the federal government but ensuring that nonprofits in urban communities are equipped with funding to pick up the slack. If conservatives spend time in these impoverished areas, they should be able to identify what works and what doesn’t.
Research has shown that right-leaning Americans are especially generous when it comes to donating to charities. Furthermore, Biblical principles of compassion are the lifeblood of the conservative movement. It’s time to channel this incredible energy into specific problem areas of our society.
Republicans can’t wait until the next election cycle to appeal to women. They need to start now, and they need to do it because they genuinely want to help. Many on the right — Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan included — are talking an increasingly big game about their interest in better serving women and people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Prioritizing the urgent needs of Wisconsin’s impoverished women is an excellent way to demonstrate commitment to both of these demographics.
Emily Jashinsky is a Delafield resident who attends George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and served as an intern at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute in 2014. This column reflects her personal opinion.