Taking the Nation's Temperature One Year After ARRA's Passage

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). In its first year, ARRA has provided tax cuts to individuals, fiscal relief to states, and aid to those most directly hurt by the recession. According to the Council of Economic Advisors, the Recovery Act has added around 2.3% to real GDP growth and in August, it added one million jobs that would have been lost without the Recovery Act. That said, the national unemployment rate currently stands at an unacceptable 9.7% (which many experts say is a conservatively low estimate).

Since the bill's passage, the National Council for Research on Women has been concerned with whether or not ARRA funding would reach communities most in need. Flaws in the recipient reporting framework required by the Office of Management and Budget, however, have made it nearly impossible to systematically track ARRA's impact on marginalized communities, such as low-income women of color and their families. Due to this gap in data reporting, we must rely on the eyes and ears of those on the ground, working with families and communities trying to survive the economic recession. We want to know how ARRA has impacted our economy at local, community, and household levels. To get these answers, we turn to the experts: our network and partners working to influence change. In this forum, they have provided their take on current recovery efforts and suggestions on how to ensure a more inclusive and vigorous recovery that leads to sustainable growth.

Economist Randy Albelda says that even though ARRA has been an "economic lifeboat," it missed the mark in two important ways. First, "macho spin" has characterized human infrastructure as short-time aid to the states rather than long-term investment. Second,

"ARRA missed a shot at making key changes to anti-poverty and workforce development programs despite temporarily spending more on them. The lackluster economic performance in the early 2000s, the lack of employer-based benefits in low-wage work, and this recession makes hollow the 1980s and 1990s poverty alleviation strategy of "get a job" directed at single mothers."

Lauren Appelbaum, Research Director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that "Revenue sharing with the states, direct job creation and worksharing are proven policies for preserving and creating jobs in a recession."

Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change, calls for a targeted, federally funded jobs program that reaches out to communities hit the hardest: women, people of color, single parents, and underemployed parents. Says Bhargava,

"These programs restored dignity and self-esteem, provided real and necessary income, and created some of our most lasting and noteworthy public resources from which everyone has benefited. When designed carefully, jobs programs can significantly boost employment for those in immediate need and help stimulate an economic recovery that doesn't leave vulnerable communities behind."

Both Sara Gould, President of the Ms. Foundation, and Yvonne Liu, co-author of the Applied Research Center's Green Equity Toolkit, see access to green jobs as key to the future economic security of women and people of color.

As Juhu Thukral of The Opportunity Agenda points out, however, these measures may fail to reach the truly vulnerable--workers in the informal economy:

"The reality is that many of the jobs saved or created by the stimulus package will be those from traditional labor sectors, like construction and education. Its impact on workers in the informal economy, such as domestic workers, sex workers, and agricultural laborers, remains to be seen, and may never be properly measured."

However, it's not too late to make the changes needed for a successful and robust economic recovery. "The legacy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is still unwritten," says Alan Jenkins of The Opportunity Agenda. And Linda Meric, Executive Director of 9to5 National Association of Working Women reminds us, "We all have a role. Monitor. Organize. Speak out."

In these uncertain times, it is important that we seize the opportunity to develop a long-term recovery plan that builds a more equitable and sustainable economy. To secure a true economic recovery for all citizens, job creation efforts must ensure that women and low-wage working families have access to quality jobs through job training and inclusion in emerging sectors such as green jobs and that women are included in nontraditional sectors, such as construction and transportation. We must not forget the importance of long-term investments in education, health, and human infrastructure in boosting the well-being of our economy and communities. And we must think big on new ways to make our economy more inclusive of those traditionally left out of the equation, such as workers in the informal economy.