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FEATURES | spring 2008

Your Money, Your Vote
With a sour U.S. economy that often ignores women's particular needs, it's time for us to wise up about government money matters-and then use our proven political clout to make our interests count.

(The full text of this article appears in the Spring issue of Ms. magazine, available on newsstands and by subscription from www.msmagazine.com.)

Too often an election will be dramatically characterized as the “election of the century,” or “the most important election in our lifetime.” But this time it may be true.

In the past eight years, the U.S. has gone from record surpluses to record deficits. We are at war in two countries with no end in sight. Gasoline prices have doubled since 2000. Our country has been flooded with contaminated consumer products, including the toys our children play with, and our food supply is becoming less safe. Climate change is threatening the planet, yet the government is unresponsive. Women’s rights, for which we fought so hard in the 20th century, have been steadily eroded since 2001.

There are many pressing national issues we don’t normally think about as women’s issues, but that is indeed what they are. The economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the health-care crisis, tax policies—all affect women in different ways than they affect men, and all are growing concerns.

Women are 32% more likely to be targeted for subprime loans than men.If this sounds like a doomsday scenario, it’s not—though it is a challenge.Women have the numbers and the voting power to control any election, and we have the numbers to affect the national agenda after elections are over. The gender gap first identified in the 1980 elections—the difference between women and men in their levels of support for a given candidate or issue—has never gone away, and neither has women’s majority in the ranks of voters. That’s why women-generated change is possible.

Since he took office in 2001, President Bush has had one solution to virtually every economic problem: tax cuts primarily benefiting the wealthy, predominately white men. His philosophy is a simple-minded version of conservative arguments in general—if corporations and the wealthy individuals who fund them through investments pay lower taxes, they will invest those tax savings in ways that will create jobs, such as building new plants, acquiring new subsidiaries or expanding product lines. This theory has been generally referred to as “trickle-down,” or “supply side economics,” meaning change made at the top of the wealth pile eventually makes its way to workers at the bottom.

This theory sounds pretty good—if you believe the tax savings really will be spent on creating jobs instead of multimillion-dollar bonuses for CEOs, fines and legal judgments for various corporate abuses or fatter dividends for stockholders. As for expanding facilities and building new plants, that might work as advertised—unless the facilities are already in China and the new plants will be in Mexico.

Progressives believe that putting money in the hands of those who actually need it to live on is a better plan to keep the economy going, because they spend more of what they have instead of just adding it to stock and bond accounts. Very-low-income people, disproportionately women of color, have to spend it all, every month, just to buy the basics. Progressives also believe that the government can have a positive influence on economic growth through spending tax dollars, and that in a recession money should be injected into the economy as fast as possible. They would create some jobs by repairing infrastructure such as roads and bridges, funding green energy research and development and restoring government services that have been cut.

Whether the economy improves in the short run or not, women must hold candidates and elected officials accountable for long-term solutions. Read their records. Go to town hall meetings and confront them. Call in when you hear them on the radio. If they don’t mention women, ask why not. Spread the word when they say something about our issues, good or bad. Email. Blog. Raise hell. Forget fancy speeches and red-hot rhetoric: Arm yourself with knowledge and vote your own interests.

Martha Burk is money editor of Ms. magazine and author of Your Money and Your Life: The High Stakes for Women Voters in ’08 and Beyond, available at msmagazine.com.