Politics & Policy

Is Hillary Good for Women?

Clinton at a “Women for Hillary” event in Culver City, Calif. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
She draws attention to women’s economic issues, but that’s not her biggest advantage.

She enjoys the highest level of support from women of any presidential candidate in four decades. She leads Trump 59 percent to 35 percent among Democratic and Republican female voters, according to Pew Research. She is likely to smash “the final, hardest glass ceiling,” according to the betting markets and most public polling.

Which raises the question: Is Hillary Clinton actually good for women?

When it comes to the economy and jobs — voters’ No. 1 concern — the answer is probably not.

Hillary has rejected her husband’s New Democrat platform, which led to one of the most successful economic periods for American women. Free trade, fiscal responsibility, and welfare reform were followed by rising wages in the 1990s and by the highest labor-force participation rate among women ever reached in America: 60 percent in 1999.

Instead, she has taken a page from President Obama’s playbook for economic growth, accepting as the new normal the weakest economic recovery since World War II.

That means that Obama-era weakness would continue, which isn’t great for women (or men, for that matter). Median weekly earnings for women working full-time increased by less than 1 percent from 2009 to 2015. The labor-force participation rate for women is 56.6 percent and trending downward. And economic growth is trundling along at 1.1 percent, with projected growth rates not expected to surpass 2 percent, which will do nothing to create new opportunities for working women.

Hillary has promised to double down on the Affordable Care Act, despite significant evidence that it discourages hiring and has spiked employee insurance premiums. Women are most impacted by the ACA’s labor-market effects. The Congressional Budget Office found that the ACA will lower wages and result in 2.5 million fewer full-time jobs by 2024. The jobs most likely to go are low-skilled, low-wage ones, predominately occupied by women.

She has promised to hike the minimum wage, despite the CBO’s pointing out that even a hike from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, would result in lost jobs for nearly 1 million workers. Again, this primarily impacts low-skilled workers, who are disproportionately women. A wage subsidy would be a much better option for boosting wages and encouraging work and has wide bipartisan support.

She has been curiously silent on the occupational-licensing debacle. Occupational licensing wraps red tape around 30 percent of the professions in the country, making it difficult for a worker to break into a new field, and contributes to unemployment and low wages for those left outside the licensing scheme. Women are more likely to seek licensed professions than men are.

By raising taxes, Clinton will implicitly encourage many women to drop out of the labor force.

Clinton would raise, not lower, taxes on millions of working women who are already struggling to make ends meet. Her tax plan would reduce economic growth by 1 percent, or the equivalent of 311,000 jobs, according to the Tax Foundation, while boosting government coffers by only $191 billion when the negative growth effects are accounted for. So no hope for a growth bump from tax reform. It also means that, to pay for her priorities of universal pre-K, free college, infrastructure spending, and other freebies, she’s going to have to raise taxes by a lot more than what she’s promised.

This is bad news for women. Economists have long known that, in the face of higher tax rates, women are more likely than men to scale back their hours or stop working. Economist Nada Eissa examined the impact of the 1986 tax reform on the labor supply of married women. She found that reducing the top marginal tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent increased their labor supply by as much as 18 percent. Increasing marginal tax rates, of course, would have the opposite effect.

So by raising taxes, Clinton will implicitly encourage many women to drop out of the labor force. This is especially true of married women, since they tend to function as secondary earners and bump up against higher tax brackets faster. But it also holds true for low-income women with no income-tax liability at all. In the current welfare system, low-income women can face effective marginal tax rates of up to 100 percent when they begin working more and lose government benefits. This is a problem that demands to be solved, yet Clinton has said nothing about it.

#share#The acquiescence to and enactment of high effective taxes on working women is unfortunate, because arguably Hillary Clinton has done more than any presidential nominee in modern U.S. history to draw attention to other important working women’s issues, such as paid leave and child-care costs. On this front, her candidacy is an important step toward modernizing public policy to meet the needs of family and work arrangements for the 21st century.

Women’s economic issues — if addressed thoughtfully — would increase work-force participation and make it easier for women to help raise a family and climb the ladder of economic opportunity. For example, paid maternity leave is strongly associated with breastfeeding, improved maternal healing, and greater work-force attachment, i.e, the likelihood of staying in the labor force. Addressing high child-care costs is associated with less welfare dependence and increased economic choice for mothers.

On the issues of paid leave, child care, and equal pay, how do we move forward in ways that don’t discourage hiring, increase taxes, or add to the federal debt? The devil is in the details, although there are several conservative plans to do so. In any case, they are important conversations to be had, and Clinton is leading them.

Trump could steal some of Clinton’s thunder by rolling out his own policies to help working women. Thus far, he has chosen not to.

#related#Hillary’s biggest advantage among women is that she’s not Donald Trump. That she doesn’t have a record of calling women bimbos and pigs. That the wife of a philanderer is more sympathetic to women than someone who boasts of his own sexual conquests. She is likely to let the economy stagnate but doesn’t present the recessionary risks that Trump does, with his threats to throw us into a trade war or default on our federal debt. To be sure, Hillary carries a ton of baggage that would sink her in a normal election, but much of that is neutralized by Trump’s own baggage.

Whereas opinions on abortion and national security tend to split along traditional party lines, no one wants a third term of Obama’s economy, with flat wages, increasing red tape, and higher taxes — even with a symbolic nod to women’s issues. Yet most women voters will probably cast their ballot for Clinton in November — not because she’s that good for them, but because of concern about the alternative.

Abby M. McCloskey is an economist, is founder of McCloskey Policy LLC, and has advised numerous presidential campaigns. She is a member of the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Leave.


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