In January 1987, Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein was appointed chairman (I cannot bear to use the word chair) on "women's issues" in New York state. This task force has a mandate to offer legislation or promote legislation concerned with the "specific problems of the state's women" and to encourage women's rights. By any measure, this task force and the report is produced in 1990 are political, using all definitions of that word.
The report begins with a plea for economic equity arguing that poverty has been feminized. This point is unobjectionable as far as it goes, but as one might guess it does not go very far. Overlooked in the analysis is the obvious point that women having children out of wedlock represent a significant portion of those who live in poverty. To contend, as this report does,that 75 percent of the state's poor people are women and children is like saying that 75 percent of the nation's criminals are adolescent males. The key, but unspoken point, is that illegitimacy contributed to the problem.
The report also cites the gap between male and female income with women earning 67 percent of a male dollar. What the report excludes is the fact that polling data indicate women prefer part-time employment so they can be home for their children. Comparing full-time male employees with full-time and part-time female employees invariably skews the data, a point conveniently ignored by Ms. Weinstein.
In 1983, due to the efforts of those who share Ms. Weinstein's orientation, a study of comparable worth in state civil service jobs concluded that women and minorities were undervalued. As a result, $75 million was made available for pay equity adjustments to affected state workers, a condition which accounts for state employees receiving compensation rates well above comparable positions in the private sector.
Ms. Weinstein notes that women workers do not receive equal pension benefits. While this is undoubtedly true, the actuarial tables provide a satisfactory explanation: women live longer than men. If they expect equal benefits, then women should live to the same age as men or pay higher insurance premiums. Neither of those options occurred to the Weinstein task force.
As one might readily predict, the task force argues the state isn't doing enough for women on relief. What isn't noted in the report is that increases in public assistance over the last two decades have served to increase those on public assistance. The marginal propensity for joblessness is served by public assistance payments within the range of the minimum wage. Why work when welfare assistance approximates the income derived from labor? The spiral of more welfare assistance proposed by Ms. Weinstein only increases the welfare rolls and produces plaintive cries of statewide poverty.
Examining the hundreds of bills passed in the last decade by the State Legislature is a mind-boggling task. Every sphere of potential influence on women from pre-natal care to sexual assault has been considered. The flurry of activity designed to satisfy a particular view of women is nothing short of breathtaking.
What it adds up to, however, is what I would describe as the burgeoning women's action industry in which self-described proponents of women's rights find new and even more resourceful ways to spend taxpayers' money. Clearly even the advocates of this legislation would contend the acts haven't solved the problems addressed.
Alas, if the problems ever were solved, these proponents would be obliged to move on to a new area of activism. It is instructive that Ms. Weinstein recommends that women "access the ranks of the decision makers." That means lobby your local legislator for new bills and ever larger appropriations.
As tax rates in New York go skyward and as people leave the state (and in the process further reducing the tax base), state leaders must return to those who shoulder the burden and ask for new and higher taxes. Ms. Weinstein doesn't respond to those concerns. After all, she has her own agenda on which a career has been built.
HERBERT LONDON is the Conservative Party candidate for governor.