Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat’s Luncheon Remarks

On October 23, The Women’s Foundation President and CEO, Jennifer Lockwood- Shabat, gave the following remarks at the 2014 Leadership Luncheon. Please click here to see a video of her delivering the speech in its entirety.

Here. Now. For Her. – is this year’s luncheon theme.  I hope as you thought about coming today, you also took a moment to reflect on what this means to you.

Why are you here, now—in this moment?  Who is the “her” in your life who has touched you profoundly, or whose life you have touched? 

For me, this theme is deeply personal. You see, in many ways, I am HER.  And I am here today because of my mother, Dianna Lockwood.

My mom grew up poor in a small town in NH, on a working farm, the youngest of three sisters. She never had the opportunity to go to college.  She met my dad while working as a medical transcriptionist at a VA hospital in Vermont.  He was a physician’s assistant.  They created a wonderful life—two kids and a house they built on 10 acres of land.


And then the summer I was 10, it all changed. I remember the day well – my mom and dad came home in the middle of the day looking very sad and confused.  It was the early 80s, and many of you will remember, a recession was hitting the country.  The small private doctor’s office in our hometown was struggling financially, so they made a business decision – lay off the person who made the most (my dad) and the person who made the least (my mom). That decision changed our lives forever.

Up until that point, my dad was a high-functioning alcoholic. But being laid off crushed him, and he turned to alcohol frequently and worked only sporadically. We repaired our relationship later in my life, and he was an amazing grandfather to my girls before he passed away 5 years ago. But for the rest of my childhood, it was my mom who got up every day and put one foot in front of the other, consistently working two and three jobs to make ends meet.

I knew that my mom was making great sacrifices so that my brother and I would have the opportunities that she did not.  I could see how tired and stressed she was, and I’m certain there were many days when she’d simply had enough. I learned early on that if I wanted something, I needed to work hard to earn it.  I got my first job at 15.  That summer, and every summer for the rest of high school, I too worked two jobs, selling tickets at the local race track by day and waitressing at the local Pizza Hut by night.

I worked not because I wanted extra spending money, but to pay for basic necessities and do what I could to save for college. My mom always regretted not having that opportunity, but was determined that her children would.  It wasn’t easy financially, and I worked full-time pretty much the entire way, but I am proud to say that I am the first person on my mom’s side of the family to not only get a 4-year degree, but also a master’s degree.

Today is a big deal for my mom.  She’s here, with my husband, my daughters, and my brother.  She’s watching her little girl on stage, running a nonprofit in the nation’s capital, remembering some very dark days, and I know she’s thinking, “Damn, it was all worth it.”

Women's Foundation Luncheon 2014

So, I do what I do because of her. I’ve devoted my career to working on behalf of low-income women and their families because I want her to know that the investment she made in me, all of her sacrifices, were not in vain.  And now that I’m a mother, I have a new, more profound understanding of what she did, and I know that as I strive to make a better life for my own daughters, I am paying forward what my mother has given me.

But, my story is just one story.  There are many, many others.  Thousands of women who do all they can to ensure their children and families can step beyond their own experiences and limitations to live their dreams and achieve their potential.  But sometimes having a dream and working hard is not enough. Sometimes the deck is stacked against you.

There are more than 200,000 women and girls living in poverty across the Washington metropolitan region. Sadly, that statistic hasn’t changed significantly in recent years, particularly in light of the recession and what has now become a slow and prolonged recovery for those most in need. That stat also doesn’t capture the additional 250,000 women and girls who are living just above the poverty line, but certainly aren’t earning enough to make ends meet.

As frustrating as these numbers are, and as impatient as we all are for change, we have to remember that most women in our community didn’t suddenly fall into poverty.  It’s multigenerational.  And just as it didn’t happen overnight, it won’t be resolved overnight.

What does it take to move women and girls from a place of economic vulnerability to security?

The answers to that question and the issues our region faces are complex, but now is the time to stand firm in our commitment, craft a bold vision, and re-double our efforts so that future generations of girls can achieve their dreams. That’s why we launched an innovative two-generation initiative to work with middle school aged girls and their female caregivers—whether that’s a mother, grandmother, or another women responsible for guiding and shaping that girl.

You all remember what it was like to be in middle school. It’s a difficult transition under the best of circumstances. As girls develop into young women, there are clear and critical markers that can support or challenge their future economic security.

Our goals for investing in girls are to support high school completion, develop self-esteem, encourage positive choices, and empower them as social change agents.

Our goals for investing in women are to obtain jobs with family sustaining wages and benefits, support increased financial capability, and provide the foundational skills that allow them to break the cycle of poverty for their children.

In the past year, we’ve been proud to partner with College Success Foundation, DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative and YWCA National Capital Area to help forge collaborations and creative thinking on ways to serve both middle school aged girls and their female caregivers with programming that meets their individual needs, while also bringing them together so that they can support one another on this journey. This work will first launch in Ward 7, but our goal is expand our two-generation work across the region, so that the 53,000 girls currently living in poverty can have a brighter future.

The two-generation strategy actually builds and expands upon a decade of investments in our community that have focused on low-income women and women-headed families specifically. Through our grantmaking program, Stepping Stones, we have invested more than $7 million. And that investment has helped over 10,000 women increase their incomes and assets by $45 million through higher wages, decreased debt, and increased savings.


Yes, these are impactful outcomes, but I believe we need to think bigger.  We are capable of doing more.  How do we move from 10,000 women to 100,000 or 200,000?  My goal is to, one day, stand before you and say we’ve accomplished this.  And I believe we can do it.

The Women’s Foundation has a powerful voice, and we have a responsibility to use that voice and our power as a convener to affect greater change. Yes, our investments in the community are critically important, but so too is our voice and our deep expertise and knowledge.  These are tools we can leverage, and it’s the combination of our investments and our influence that will ultimately have the greatest impact.

But it’s not just about us.  I know that no one organization can single-handedly end poverty.  This will require unprecedented collaboration and partnership among philanthropy, business, government, nonprofits, and individuals. And we need all of you, here in this room, to help spark a movement. We are poised and ready to lead that movement, and I want each of you to join me. Let’s harness our collective strength to, in turn, strengthen others.

This is the time—NOW.

Because what we do in this moment will shape the future of our communities. There are thousands of women and girls who need us now, more than ever.  Each one of them has hopes and dreams, and they deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Stand with us. 


Thank you.


A Look at the 2013 Poverty Data For Our Region

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released new data that gives us a snapshot of what poverty was like in 2013 in the Washington region. The data shows that poverty rates have slightly increased from 2012 and that women continue to be more likely than men to experience economic insecurity. This means they can barely afford paying their basic necessities such as food, housing, health insurance, and transportation. Roughly 10 percent, or almost 210,000 women and girls, in our region lived in poverty, compared with 159,700 men and boys, or 8 percent. Things were worst for families headed by single mothers—almost a quarter were poor— and for women of color—about 14 percent of Latinas and 16 of percent of African-American women struggled with poverty compared with only 6 percent of White women.

Poverty Data chart

There are many reasons why families fall below the poverty threshold, including unemployment, the persistent gender wage gap, barriers to accessing education and discrimination. But one of the key factors is low-quality and low-income jobs. Many women in our region are working more than full-time at poverty-level wages with little to no benefits. That means, for example, supporting a family of four with less than $24,000  last year.  In a region like ours, where costs of housing, food and transportation are among the highest in the nation, $24,000 is not nearly enough to make a living. According to the Economic Security Index calculated by Wider Opportunities for Women, a family of four composed of two workers, an infant and a school child need an approximate annual income of $117,880 in the District of Columbia and $103,960 in Prince George’s County, for example, to meet their basic needs without receiving any public or private assistance.

The newly released data highlights the urgency of the work we are doing at The Women’s Foundation. In collaboration with our Grantee Partners we are helping women access basic education, enroll in workforce development programs, access financial education programs and find high-quality and affordable early care and education for their children. Such efforts help build their economic security and give them the opportunity to achieve their goals. Securing stable employment with living wages can alleviate the burden of living pay-check to pay-check and the constant worrying about how to make ends meet and care for their families, while allowing them to save and plan for a bright future.

Based on the stories we hear from our Grantee Partners and learn from our evaluation efforts we know we are impacting women’s lives. Maya was enrolled in one of YearUp’s workforce development programs. The odds were against her. She was living in a low-cost housing complex for mothers with many rules that made her participation in the program more challenging. She had to miss several days to take care of her sick child and money was always a concern for her, but she pushed through these obstacles and exceled at her classes and job internship. Upon graduation from the program she secured a full-time job with benefits and a salary that lifted her and her son out of poverty and changed the trajectory of their lives.

As we continue supporting the work of our Grantee Partners many more lives and families like Maya’s will be impacted. In the meantime, the updated poverty numbers are an important reminder that the work we do together is crucial to our community. We still have a long way to go before we realize a future where all women are economically secure.


Is "care" having a moment or a movement?

This is the final installment in our series on the White House Summit on Working Families, which The Women’s Foundation attended earlier this summer.  Be sure to read the other posts in our series.

As a foundation focused on economic security work, “care” is both a central and pervasive challenge – and an opportunity to influence the trajectory of multiple generations. Child care allows parents to work, or to complete the education and training necessary to find a good job. But quality early care and education is expensive, and not always accessible – in terms of location, or the hours that may or may not match up with a worker’s schedule. Quality also comes at a cost: “In 2012, in 31 states and the District of Columbia, the average annual cost for an infant in center-based care was higher than a year’s tuition and fees at a four-year public college.” That said, quality early care and education provides critical early learning opportunities, and helps prepare children for kindergarten and beyond. For low-income children in particular, early learning can help close the “readiness gap” that influences educational attainment and economic security in the long-term.

As a women’s foundation, these issues are even more central. Women make up a large percentage of the care workforce (in the child care and early learning space, but also home care and eldercare workers). These professions are low paying. Look at the formal child care workforce alone, and you’ll see that women make up nearly 95% of the workforce. Those jobs are also some of the lowest paying in the US: of the 823 occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 24 professions earn less than child care workers. Looking beyond the formal care workforce, women are also largely informally impacted by the “sandwich generation,” no matter their profession – that is, they are taking on the responsibility of caring for children and aging parents simultaneously. This has a tremendous impact on work/life balance, employment opportunities, and earning potential.

The White House Summit on Working Families featured a panel discussion on caregiving. A few highlights from the conversation…

  • On quality early care and education: In decisions about child care, quality is not always the driver of parent choice. Other factors could be cost, convenience, or the comfort of knowing a family member or neighbor. In practice and in policy, we have to find ways to get beyond the amorphous “quality” concept that may or may not resonate with parents.
  • On economic security: As Gail Hunt, CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving, pointed out, the burden of balancing work and family has a long-term impact on economic security. Seventy-five percent of people with caregiving responsibilities are also working; two-thirds of those people find that they have to make some sort of workplace accommodation to allow them to handle their caregiving responsibilities. The resulting loss in wages, pension, and social security for each of these women: $325,000 over the period that the worker is also a caregiver.
  • On the case for employers:  David Lissy, CEO of Bright Horizons, pointed out the impact of “caregiving stress” on workers. He makes the economic case to employers for workplace flexibility and balancing caregiving responsibilities:  caregiving stress cuts into worker productivity, and it impacts the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare. There’s an economic case for employers to be on board with changes in policy that influence this issue.


What was missing from the Summit conversation?

  • Robust discussion of improving pay for the caregiving workforce. It was only a question from the audience, at the end of the panel session, that sparked discussion around low pay. In response, Duffy Campbell of the National Women’s Law Center pointed to the need for policy solutions – that the market isn’t working for the workers who are parents/caregivers, or the workers who are caregiving providers. I only wish this was a more central piece of the discussion. Higher pay for this workforce would impact the economic security of this mostly-female workforce; it would also help translate to higher quality early care and education programs in the community.
  • Race. I was happy that gender was often discussed at the Summit, but overall, race was left out of the conversation. The same was true in the panel on caregiving – even though, for example, 16% of the child care workforce are African American and 19% are of Hispanic or Latino origin.
  • How issues of caregiving begin early. The Women’s Foundation invests in the economic security of women AND girls. When we planned our strategy for investing in girls , we repeatedly heard from providers and advocates the need to recognize the caregiving responsibilities that girls and young women were taking on at home, and the impact of those responsibilities on their education, afterschool options and workforce participation. When reliable care isn’t available for younger siblings, older girls in the family often step in. Solving caregiving challenges has the potential to impact multiple generations at once.

It certainly feels like care is having a moment in the spotlight – from the Summit, to national conversations about Pre-K access and media stories talking about the crisis of care. We can only hope this moment turns into a movement with real solutions for families.


If you’re interested in care issues, check out more on The Women’s Foundation’s Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative. Interested in further reading? Check out the following resources:


What We Can Learn from Employers at The White House Summit on Working Families

The recent White House Summit on Working Families brought national attention to issues facing working families across our country. In the next installment in our series on the Summit, we’re distilling a few key messages from employers who participated in the Summit conversations. What would they tell other employers? What mattered in their decisions to adopt flexible workplace policies? How could companies meaningfully adapt to the 21st century workforce?

  • Tone at the top.  Mark Weinberger, Global Chairman and CEO of EY (the newly re-branded Ernst & Young) shared a personal story. For him, the decision to become Global Chairman and CEO last year was a family one.  When he was offered the position, he asked his family’s opinions and, while being clear about the time and travel responsibilities, made the commitment to still put family first. For his very first speech as Global Chairman, Mark was traveling to China. He prepared, and practiced, and prepared some more. From his account, the speech went well, but no one in the audience remembers it. What they remember instead is that –when asked if he’d be attending the dinner at the Great Wall later that day – he said no. No because his daughter had her driver’s test later that day, and he had promised her he’d be there. After that answer, he received hundreds of positive emails from his staff. Mark realized that he would have passed on his new position if he couldn’t have had the flexibility to prioritize family, and his talent would do the same.
  • Tone at the middle.  Bob Moritz, U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, expanded on the need to balance priorities and specifically how we must adapt to the newest generation in our workforce: Millennials. Interestingly, he noted that – when polled on their views – both Millennials and Boomers had similar responses, valuing workplace flexibility (about 7 in 10 Millennials, and 6 in 10 Boomers). The difference, however, was how far those workers would act on their value of flexibility. Unlike Boomers, Millennials are willing to leave a company if they don’t get the flexibility that they’re seeking. For Bob, he knew PWC needed to adjust their policies, but he also knew this meant setting – or re-setting the “tone at the middle.” The company policies could change, but he needed his middle-aged management teams to see the value in these changes, and manage their Millennial employees accordingly. That has made all the difference in implementation.
  • Transparency and shared ownership work.  Dane Atkinson, CEO of SumAll, spoke during a discussion on worker compensation – clearly critical to the economic security of a worker and their family. As a serial entrepreneur, Dane had recently tried something new with his latest company: sharing a list of all salaries with employees. This move was not without its challenges but, as he explained, is a practice that attracts higher levels of talent to his company. Talent is attracted to talent, and a company that they know will value and support them.Kim Jordan, CEO of New Belgium Brewing Company, took another approach: shared ownership. For the craft beer company, that ownership is both literal (employee ownership was phased in and, as of December 2012, the company is 100% employee-owned) and a part of the fabric of their operating culture. They practice “high involvement culture” that includes open book management, inclusive annual strategic planning and a belief “that the collective is stronger than the individual and that informed coworkers will make responsible decisions.” If you read the company’s core values, you’ll see much of the typical aspirations – innovation, continuous improvement, customer value – but also some of the atypical – such as stating a value for “balancing the myriad needs of the company, our coworkers and their families.”

Wouldn’t you like to work for employers that have this vision, and provide these flexible policies?  Or if you do already, wouldn’t you like for others to also benefit from this flexibility? These were just a handful of the forward-thinking employers who shared their stories at last week’s Summit, showing that policies that benefit working families can also benefit corporate bottom lines.

Takeaways from the White House Summit on Working Families

obama-working-families-summittYesterday, I had the privilege to attend the White House Summit on Working Families.  The White House hosted the Summit along with the Department of Labor and the Center for American Progress, to highlight and discuss some of the most pressing issues facing workers and families in our 21st century workplaces.

The Women’s Foundation will have a series of blogs on the Summit, but for now, here are my immediate takeaways:

1. Expect to hear more about paid family leave, especially parental leave; fair pay; and early learning. These were several policy areas the President explicitly mentioned in his speech. He also mentioned many more and announced new and greater flexibility for federal workers.

2. Get engaged at the local level.  National change is slow and, as the First Lady encouraged when she spoke to the Summit, we have to be okay with incremental progress of 20%, stacked on another 20%, and so on.  It is this steady – albeit slow – progress that can help us push forward.  On the local level, mayors and governors can enact change much sooner in their cities and states.  Likewise, CEOs can enact change in their own companies, and show others how these policies support workers and improve the bottom line.

3. Women everywhere, at all levels, are making sacrifices and choices.  As some women ascend, it is our responsibility to mentor the next generation and set “the tone from the middle” or “the tone from the top” – depending on where we are in our careers – and take it upon ourselves to create workplace cultures and policies that are fair, supportive and productive.

4. These are not just women’s issues.  These are issues for all working people, of all family types, and they can’t be pigeon-holed.  Whether it is a working dad, who wants to care for his infant in the first days of parenthood, or a childless worker that needs to take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment, issues like paid leave affect the ability of all working people to provide and care for their families while they earn a living and contribute to the economy.

Stay tuned for more in depth coverage of the Summit from The Women’s Foundation! In the meantime, you can find more information on or check out the conversation on Twitter using #FamiliesSucceed.

Paternity Leave Roundtable Discussion

With Father’s Day just around the corner, we’ve been thinking quite a bit about how men and fathers are important allies in the work that we do. Part of the discussion around here has been about the role that paternity leave could play in women’s economic security, and with the White House holding the first ever Summit on Working Dads earlier this week, paternity leave has catapulted to the national level. Earlier this year, we also saw paternity leave make national headlines when New York Mets second baseman, Daniel Murphy, was harshly and inappropriately criticized for taking paternity leave and missing the first two games of the season. With all of this buzz, we decided to channel our paternity leave chatter and host our first recorded staff roundtable discussion. We are so excited to share it with you and would love for each of you to join the conversation by leaving thoughts, feedback and questions in the comments section below.

To begin our staff discussion, we watched part of the, “Can We All Have it All?” TED Talk from Anne-Marie Slaughter. With her thoughts as a jumping off point, we launched head first into our discussion on paternity leave, recorded for you below. (Note: The recording has been edited for time. The staff at the table for this discussion included Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, Nicole Cozier, Donna Wiedeman, Claudia Williams, Lauren Stillwell and Jessica Zetzman.)


As the discussion unfolded, we touched on:

  • The current state of paternity leave in the US
  • Feedback from our own Nicole Cozier, who just returned from maternity leave, on how the lack of spousal leave means leaving a young child in the care of a stranger vs. a partner (:36)
  • The model for paternity leave that exists in Sweden (1:23)
  • What the lack of paternity leave at a child’s birth means for gender roles and caregiving further down the road (2:07)
  • The need not only for leave when children are infants, but for more flexible schedules that encourage family engagement throughout a child’s life (4:45)
  • Family leave and prioritization of work and family (7:52)
  • Is “re-socializing men” the right way forward? (9:00)
  • The rate at which men use or take paternity leave if it were to be made available to them (11:36)
  • The economic effects on women’s future pay potential for every month that their partner takes leave (13:03)
  • Effect of paternity leave on divorce rates, custody and children’s health (14:50)

If you’re interested in any of the articles or statistics we referenced, here is the Secretary of Labor’s Huffington Post Article, a great New York Times article on the effects of paternity leave in Sweden, Pew research on the increasing role of women as breadwinners and the study on the correlation of lower child mortality rates and parental leave.

We want to know: what are your thoughts on paternity leave? Think we missed something? Leave your comments below!

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month: A Snapshot of Our Region

During the month of May, festivities across the nation highlighted the contributions, richness and diversity of Asian and Pacific Islanders. Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month first started as a week-long celebration established in 1978 to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in May 1843, and the contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed in May 1869.

Nationwide, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have emerged as the nation’s fastest growing racial group, increasing by 51 percent between 2000 and 2012, growing from 10.7 million in 2000 to 16.1 million in 2012. The Washington region is no exception; Asian and Pacific Islanders numbered about 437,000 in 2012, up from 297,000 in 2000, and comprise 11 percent of the total population.

The groups with a larger presence in the Washington region are Indian, Chinese, Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese. But these groups do not even begin to uncover the enormous diversity of people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent that are our friends and neighbors, with ties to more than 20 ethnic groups, languages, religions, customs and origins.

This vast diversity influences the economic security and opportunities of Asian and Pacific Islander women in our region and beyond. While Asian and Pacific Islander women on average are only second to White women when analyzing economic indicators, it is not because everyone is doing well. Looking at the population of Asian and Pacific women without any nuance, glosses over the economic and educational inequities of the many groups that are part of this population.

Asian Americans are often considered to be high-achieving, high-earning and highly educated, but data from the 2010-2012 American Community Survey reveals, for example, that in the Washington region, roughly four out of ten Pakistani women (38 percent) are living at or below 200 percent of the poverty threshold, compared to slightly more than one out of ten Indian women (13 percent). Median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers unearth stark disparities among women in this group as well; while Chinese women earn approximately $70,000 per year, Vietnamese women earn about $27,000 less.

A single-bloc analysis of the status of Asian and Pacific Islander women could leave the group out of important policy discussions. Immigration reform, for instance, is more likely to be associated as an issue of interest to the Latino community, and racial dialogues often times primarily focus on White and Black relations. The “model minority” stereotype, the idea that Asian Americans are landmarks of economic and academic success relative to other minorities, is an undermining factor that affects the most disadvantaged members of the Asian and Pacific community. This dangerous misconception can cause many who share significant challenges of achieving economic security to be overlooked.

To celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, let’s remember the vibrant diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and the importance of understanding the nuanced backgrounds of women and men, and girls and boys that make this such a vibrant community and allows us to better serve the diverse needs of every woman and girl in our region.

The source of data in this blog post is The Women’s Foundation analysis of the 2010-2012 and 2012 IPUMS American Community Survey, and 2000 Census.  

Memorial Day: One Veteran’s Perspective

Editor’s note: In honor of Memorial Day and the brave women and men who have sacrificed their lives for our country, we bring you today’s blog piece from a Women’s Foundation donor and supporter, Former Sergeant Stacy Kupcheni.

Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor military men and women who died in the service of their country, primarily in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. Although female service members are included in the definition, they are often forgotten. Since the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, approximately 280,000 women have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and as of early 2013 more than 150 women have been killed in these wars, according to the military. This is more than the number of U.S. military women killed in action in Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm combined.

Memorial Day photoRecognition of these fallen women on Memorial Day is somewhat of an afterthought, and is a bit ironic, considering women were almost entirely responsible for the recognition of Memorial Day. Just weeks after the Civil War ended, Ellen Call Long organized a women’s memorial society to reconcile embittered enemies. Usually named some variant of “women’s relief society,” groups sprang up in both the North and South that not only memorialized the dead, but also cared for the war’s disabled and its widows and orphans. The efforts of these women led the way in turning the horrors of war into something that encouraged serenity and reflection.  Unfortunately, many people don’t know the significance that women have played in the origins of this holiday, but even more upsetting, is that all too often, we forget to spend the time reflecting on the meaning of the day itself.

Before joining the Army, I was like many other Americans who just thought of Memorial Day as another day off of school/work, another day for sales events, and the start of summer BBQs. People saying “Happy Memorial Day” didn’t bother me then, and honestly, the day had no true meaning to me. On some level, I knew it was a day for remembering and honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but I did not fully comprehend the scope of it.

After nearly 10 years of service in the military, and another 10 years of civilian service in the Department of Defense, 4 deployments to Iraq, and 1 deployment to Afghanistan, Memorial Day has taken on a new meaning.

To me, it is not only to remember and honor those who died in the service of their country, but also to honor those who returned home, like me, feeling like a shell of the person they once were.

No one who goes to war ever fully comes home – at least not in the emotional and psychological sense.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very real battle wound that affects everyone differently. Some make it back mostly the person they were before, but many return only physically, forever unrecognizable psychologically.  These invisible wounds of war can be even more devastating than the battle scars that can be seen, but even harder to find support around.  This is a sad state of reality, and while strides have been made to provide mental health services to returning veterans, more must be done.

For many people, the military is a place that means opportunity for higher education and career advancement that they would not otherwise have access to – for me, it made the difference between going to college or not.  Yet, in many cases, the potential for economic security as a result from these opportunities is quickly negated by the impact of the psychological trauma caused by PTSD.  At best, PTSD can make it difficult to perform well at work.  But for many, the implications are farther reaching, resulting in an inability to keep a job, substance abuse, and other destructive behavior as coping mechanism.  For some, the trauma is just impossible to bear.

According to a 2012 Veterans Affairs study, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Among active duty troops, 2012 was the worst year for military suicides – making troop suicide more lethal than combat, although this data has only been tracked since 2008.   As women, we are often expected to return to the roles that we led as spouses/partners, mothers, and caregivers while bearing these additional burdens of war.

This isn’t the kind of thing that most people want to talk about.  It’s heavy and it is hard.  But those are exactly the reasons why it is so important to talk about.  As a veteran, my desire is that every veteran returning from combat has access to the supportive services they need to try to return to their life at home as whole as they can be.

As a woman, I hope that these services reflect the full reality of our lives as spouses, mothers, sisters, etc., and that they also recognize the often tenuous line that returning veterans walk between economic security and insecurity when battling PTSD, especially women who are already at an economic disadvantage to our male counterparts in our society.

I hope that those who lose their battle with PSTD or “Shell Shock” after returning home are also recognized and honored with appreciation and reverence on Memorial Day because these too, were wounds sustained in battle.

But for today, this Memorial Day, I hope you will honor those among you who risk it all to serve their country by taking part in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3pm (local time).  Take the time to pause for one minute in an act of national unity, amongst the cook-outs and sales, to honor America’s fallen service members, their families, and the women long ago who made it a priority to recognize them.

Labor Force Participation by Mothers in the Washington Region

For Mother’s Day, we’ve taken a look at the labor force participation of mothers in the Washington region. With over 72 percent of mothers with young children participating in our region’s workforce, families are increasingly relying on the wages of women in order to achieve economic security. It’s never been more important that workplace policies reflect the realities of women’s lives. Flexible schedules, family leave policies, paid sick days and higher wages are critical to ensuring every mother in the region’s workforce has the chance to succeed.

Mother's Workforce Participation (4) (1)

Find this data interesting? Leave us your comments and questions!


Report Shows Need for Financial Counseling for Domestic Violence Survivors

DV-Counts-CoverThe latest Domestic Violence Counts report is out and the 2013 census of domestic violence shelters and services shows the devastating impact that economic insecurity can have on victims of abuse and their children.

Each year, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) takes a look at the people served and the services provided during one 24-hour period at participating programs across the country. On September 17, 2013, just over 1,600 programs participated in the census. They served over 66,000 people. The stories behind the numbers range from uplifting to devastating.

“One of our program participants received a job offer on Census Day,” a Missouri advocate reported. “This employment opportunity will provide her with an income to be able to exit the shelter and obtain and retain her own housing for her family.”

But an advocate in Alabama shared: “Despite extreme stalking and a high threat of danger, a survivor was denied community legal services because there was no physical abuse. The survivor makes minimum wage and is unable to afford a divorce attorney.”

For women who experience domestic violence, economic security and personal safety are closely linked. Sara Shoener from the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice recently explained to the National Domestic Violence Hotline that domestic violence increases the risk for financial insecurity, and that poverty can increase the risk of vulnerability to abuse. “Domestic violence survivors often rank material factors such as income, housing, transportation, and childcare as their biggest considerations when assessing their safety plans,” she added.

Support services that help women establish economic security can help them leave abusive situations and stay safe. In addition to the basic necessities that Shoener listed above, a significant number of women also need help navigating the social services system. They may also need help building their financial literacy skills. In order to maintain control, an abuser might ruin a victim’s credit, fail to pay or hide bills, steal a victim’s possessions or misrepresent the state of their finances. It may take time and guidance for a survivor to get her financial house in order.

The Domestic Violence Counts report found that 29 percent of programs provided services related to building financial skills on the day that the census was taken. Eighty-three percent of programs provide this service throughout the year. And 22 percent of the programs surveyed provided job training and employment assistance on Census Day.

In spite of the clear need for more counseling and support around financial issues – and the dangers associated with economic instability – funding cuts and reduced resources across the country have meant that dozens of programs have had to reduce or eliminate their financial literacy services and job training and employment assistance programs.

These cuts may seem necessary now, but the long-term expense on our entire community is far too great. At the release of the Domestic Violence Counts report, it was revealed that eight million work hours are lost each year as a result of domestic violence in the United States. Victims of abuse may miss work because of injury, legal proceedings or sudden changes to their living situations.

“If we don’t pay for domestic violence aid now, we pay for it down the line through healthcare, lost productivity and the impact on children exposed to violence,” said Kim Gandy, president of NNEDV.

The services and models for assistance are already in place – now we need to restore and increase funding to these programs so that more survivors can have the safety and security that everyone deserves. On September 17, 2013, nearly 400 people in DC, Maryland and Virginia who reached out to a shelter or service provider for help were turned away because the providers did not have the room or resources to serve them. No woman whose personal safety is at risk, and who reaches out for help should ever be turned away. And no mother should have to stay with an abuser because she has nowhere to take her children.

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