REPORT: An Economics-Only Approach to Achieving Justice Will Leave Women of Color Behind

By Miriam Zoila Pu00e9rez May 31, 2017

An extensive new report from the Roosevelt Institute and the Ms. Foundation is the latest salvo in the argument swirling around the progressive Left about whether economic and class barriers should trump racism and sexism in policy and political strategy discussions. The class-versus-race-politics debate took center stage during Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and in post-election analysis attributing Trump’s win to White fatigue with so-called identity politics. The new report, titled "Justice Doesn’t Trickle Down: How Racialized and Gender Rules are Holding Women Back" and authored by Andrea Flynn, is a veritable takedown of the class-only argument. It argues that racism and sexism will endure unless they are specifically addressed in all approaches to achieving equality:

In recent years, some progressive political leaders have suggested that improving economic conditions for women—by increasing the minimum wage, instituting paid family leave and paid sick leave, and expanding affordable childcare—will create the rising tide that will lift all boats.

[But] addressing these issues alone will not be sufficient to improve opportunities and outcomes for women, and particularly for women of color. Vast wealth inequities and numerous violations of women’s safety and health—which exist largely because of the location of women of color at the intersection of numerous systemic barriers—hinder economic opportunities and limit the impact of those economic opportunities when they are accessed.

To abandon all other identity markers to focus exclusively on class is to perpetuate structural racism and sexism, and this strategy simply cannot win.

The report goes into detail about how a number of factors including wealth, health and safety impact women of color, and why this class-only, identity-blind approach will fail. Combining historical examples as well as interviews with women of color leaders, "Justice Doesn’t Trickle Down" uses an intersectional framework to iterate the challenges facing women of color. The report, which was released on May 24, also shows "that addressing the symptoms of inequity without addressing the rules that undergird them will be ineffectual." For example:

Raising the minimum wage will raise some women above the poverty line, but will not necessarily protect them from the sexual harassment they face on the job or the combined racism and sexism they experience in the world. Paid sick leave will ensure women won’t lose their jobs when they or their family members are ill, but a lack of affordable, comprehensive, and high-quality health care makes it harder for women to prevent, manage, and treat illnesses. Violence against women, either by an intimate partner or by the state, makes it more difficult for women to secure and retain employment, fueling a vicious cycle of physical and economic insecurity. For black transgender and gender nonconforming individuals who are at the crux of multiple identities and experiences, economic security will neither protect them from the violence they are more likely to face nor solve their lack of access to public spaces or to gender-affirming health care.

Read the full report here.