Monday, January 14, 2008

The Race and Gender Presidential Debate — and the Invisibility of Women of Color

There has been a lot of discussion within the last few days about whether voters will find race or gender more relevant as they weigh in on the contenders for the Democratic nomination for president. See, "Race and Gender Issues in Tense Day for Democrats," New York Times, January 14, 2008, at

Presumably those who care about race will favor Barack Obama and those who care about gender will favor Hillary Clinton. Yet lost in all this discussion about the relative weight of race and gender, is the way in which women of color cannot fall neatly into the "either-or" split about race and gender. Women of color who are disproportionately working class, can't automatically presume Hillary Clinton will prioritize their issues because she is a woman. For women of color who live at the intersection of both race and gender, what is most relevant is the substance of a candidate's approach to the economy.

Looking at Barack Obama's specific commitments to low-wage workers indicates that Latinas, African-Americans and other women of color will have their interests well served by someone who understands that race and gender are not two separate categories of existence. Specifically, as President Obama will increase federal investments into transitional jobs, which are a promising way to help chronically unemployed people break into the workplace. This approach places participants into temporary, subsidized wage-paying jobs. It also offers mentoring and social services designed to address the work-blocking problems like personal and family conflicts. Obama also supports funding for bridge programs that partner the federal government with employers and community-based organizations to identify job opportunities, develop customized training programs, and place low-income employees in better jobs. He also supports funding for apprenticeship programs and investments in community college programs that target adults looking to gain new skills.

Barack Obama also believes that all workers who want a job should not only be able to gain meaningful employment, but also be able to move up the career ladder to further support their families and serve as role models for their children. Obama has introduced legislation to help strengthen career ladders by first identifying regions and industries where career pathways are not fully developed and then establish public-private partnerships to lift up low-wage workers. Obama supports using the successful organized labor model of providing workers with additional skills and opportunities, and looks forward to working with organized labor to build more opportunities for low-income workers to reach economic security.

And most importantly, Barack Obama believes that people who work full time should not live in poverty. Before the Democrats took back Congress, the minimum wage had not changed in 10 years. Even though the minimum wage will rise to $7.25 an hour by 2009, the minimum wage’s real purchasing power will still be below what it was in 1968. As president, Obama would further raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure that full-time workers can earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs such as food, transportation, and housing -- things so many people take for granted but that working class women of color still stuggle to attain.

T.K. Hernandez

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