Fiscal Cliff 2013: Cuts to Social Services Will Hurt Women, People of Color

ByWagatwe Wanjuki

I bet most people who pay even the slightest bit of attention to U.S. politics are tired of hearing (and reading) the words “fiscal cliff.” If you’re reading this, I could safely assume that you are among them. However, I ask you to bear with me. Amongst all the articles, op-eds, television segments, and Tweets I’ve seen discussing the consequences of the looming January 1st deadline, I’ve noticed there are some people who aren’t getting as much attention as others.

Amongst all the talk of CEOs, millionaires and billionaires, senators, and the president, there are communities with a lot at stake who are being practically ignored: women and people of color.

Part of the fiscal cliff is the elimination of the emergency unemployment-compensation program — something that weighs heavily on those who are still unable to find work. With the latest unemployment figures showing that 10% of Latinos and 14.3% of black people (compared to the national rate of 7.9%) are unable to find jobs, it is clear that there are some Americans will be hurt particularly hard if the cuts go into effect. While women overall have a 7.2% unemployment rate, it is a particularly vulnerable group as they, too, have had more difficulty than recovery in this economy.

Women and people of color consistently have had higher rates of poverty and unemployment than the national average. For those living at the intersections of race and gender, economic matters are particularly hard. Black wealth has been basically obliterated during the Great Recession. We are seeing record rates of poverty among women — many of whom are serving as the heads of their households — it is clear that not only women, but their families are at risk as well. This means even more mothers will be wondering this winter how to get their child’s next meal or how to keep a roof over their heads.

Keep in mind the cut in unemployment benefits will happen along with other vital safety nets for poor families, such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Medicaid, leaving a very somber hypothetical situation for poor women, people of color, and their families.

There has been much discourse about how inappropriate the term “fiscal cliff” is. Many have written that it is merely an over-hyped term. Even the Congressional Budget Office has said that a more appropriate term is “fiscal slope.” However, when I consider the $26 billion that will be cut from the federal emergency unemployment compensation program I envision millions of unemployed Americans who will suddenly be cut off from a vital source of income. I would even go as far to say that for these vulnerable citizens there is indeed a very steep cliff.