November 25, 2012
Guests: Anita Hill, Rebecca Traister, Heather McGhee, Peter Goodman, Carmen Wong Ulrich, Dan Schlademan, Irin Carmon, Diana Greene Foster
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question. How
confident are you feeling about our economy?
And Anita Hill gives us her take on women`s ongoing political agenda.
Plus, restrictive abortion policy pushes some women below the line.
But first, Wal-Mart is ground zero for worker justice, but does anyone care
as long as prices stay low?
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
On Friday, on the biggest shopping day of the year, workers at the world`s
largest employer stepped out from behind checkout counters and out of the
loading docks too as they chanted stand up and live better. According to
organizers, hundreds of retail workers walked off the job across 46 states
and were joined in protest with union members and activists to call for a
living wage and improved working conditions.
Known for being staunchly anti-union, Wal-Mart dismissed the protests as
quote "grossly exaggerated" saying that the organization backing the
protests, our Wal-Mart quote, "was unable to recruit more than a small
number of associates to participate in these made for TV events."
With more than 1.4 million U.S. employees, Wal-Mart`s cost cutting, low
overhead structure has revolutionized the retail industry and of labor
practices for past 50 years. And as the largest and most successful retail
firm in the country, Wal-Mart sets the standards for the industry that
represent nearly a quarter of the American labor force. Those standards
have an effect all along the supply chain and wield huge influence over the
nation`s overall standard of living and economic output. That retail
revolution has been based on the Wal-Mart formula to provide the lowest
prices any time anywhere. Helping, as they say, people around the world to
save money and live better.
Now, there are certainly not just Americans but millions of people across
the world that depend on those low prices, 200 million customers a week in
fact. And considering Wal-Mart`s bottom line alone, I`ve got to say their
model seems like it works, at least by one measure. Just last year, Wal-
Mart earned $16 billion with a b, dollars. And that helped the Walton
family to live better for sure. Grab your Forbes 400 list. Go down the
line, numbers six, seven, eight, and nine are each members of the Walton
dynasty. And together they`re worth more than $100 billion.
But hold on. Let`s put this in perspective. That means the Walton
family`s wealth is nearly equal to that of the bottom half of all Americans
combined. And while the U.S. economy and millions of American families
have been struggling with unemployment and underemployment, net sales for
the Walton family has grown more than $70 billion since the start of the
Now, a lot of those families in the bottom half struggling with
underemployment are in fact Wal-Mart workers. A leaked internal document
revealed that the base pay at the Wal-Mart Sam`s club stores can be as low
as $8 an hour. That`s a mere $16,000 a year with wage increases in drips
and drabs as low as 20 or 40 cents per hour.
Now, new study found that Wal-Mart employees in California were nearly 40
percent more likely to use public assistance to make ends meet costing the
state`s taxpayers $86 million annually. That means people with jobs in
that state are still having to turn to the public safety net to get by
because working at Wal-Mart is not sustainable employment. And if Wal-Mart
became the standard across all retailers in California, taxpayers would
have to subsidize their fellow workers with an additional $410 million a
year. Yet according to a study by the policy development and advocacy
administration, DEMOS, it would only cost a typical shopper $17.73 a year
if Wal-Mart paid its employees at least $25,000 a year. And if that became
the standard, more than 700,000 Americans would be lifted out of poverty.
Now, that`s the key here because while Wal-Mart may not be alone in its
low-wage minimal labor benefit practices, as the nation`s biggest player
can set the standards that make the difference. As the venerable Sam
Walton once said, if we work together, we will lower the cost of living for
everyone. We`ll give the world an opportunity to see what it`s like to
save and have a better life.
With me today, Dan Schlademan of making change at Wal-Mart, Carmen Wong
Ulrich, a personal finance expert and president of Alta Wealth Management,
Peter Goodman, executive business editor for "the Huffington Post" and
Heather McGhee, vice president of policy and outreach at the progressive
think tank, DEMOS.
So nice to see you all.
Wal-Mart has said not such a big deal. There were a couple dozen people.
They walked out in a couple of place. We had record profits. How do you
respond to that poo pooing of what happened in terms of the labor pushback?
DAN SCHLADEMAN, MAKING CHANGE AT WAL-MART: I wish I could say I was
surprised, you know. But, this has been Wal-Mart`s typical response, to
ignore the fact that there are problems inside of the store here. I mean
the reality, there was hundreds and hundreds of workers across the country
went on strike across the country. They went on strike because Wal-Mart
continues to illegally retaliate for those who want to speak up and make a
change at Wal-Mart. And these workers went on strike even the days leading
up to it when Wal-Mart was threatening them with termination, threatening
with some being sued for lost revenue. And these workers still had the
courage to stand up. And then on top of that, we just saw an incredible
outpouring of support from the community that I`ve never seen anything like
in the 20 years that I`ve been working as an organizer.
And so Wal-Mart can continue to ignore what`s happening here. But there`s
something much bigger happening here. What these workers are fighting for
is resonating. What they`re standing up for, everybody knows how important
it is that when our largest private employer is attacking workers for
wanting free speech. We have to stand up against that. I think we saw
that on black Friday.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is this the beginning of a movement with some momentum? I
mean, I love this point that even if it`s not every single worker, even if
they didn`t shut down Wal-Mart, nonetheless, you have this sense of a shift
in the discourse for the first time. This is part of the narrative about
what occupy does. It helps us to see things that are invisible to us.
Wal-Mart is good because it creates low prices. Yet, Wal-Mart also creates
a circumstance where taxpayers are subsidizing Walton`s billion dollars of
profits. Is this the moment when we start to see the ship turn.
HEATHER MCGHEE, VICE RESIDENT, POLICY AND OUTREACH, DEMOS: Absolutely. I
think the key has been throughout the economic pain that the American
people have been feeling since the great recession. The conversation has
really lurched between because of occupy, the role of Wall Street, the
corporations and when the right has the control of the conversation, it`s
really a conversation about taxes and spending as if that`s what`s making
the American people have less and less take home pay, as if that`s making a
third of all the jobs in the country below wage jobs.
And so, I really think that the more that we can have a conversation about
the employer role, it takes business, it takes government, it takes
individuals to sort of create a contract in the country. Employees simply
walked away from that bargain. We have not had accountability at all.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, explain to me that, I mean, you were with DEMOS. And
part of what you all DEMOS to try to quantify, to try to move the focus to
employers in part by telling us would happen if this employer behaved in a
different way. What`s the take away point from the study DEMOS study?
MCGHEE: Well, we wanted to ask the question, we know that the government
could do a lot more to put people back to work. But actually, couldn`t
private sector do a lot more to put people back to work? And so, we looked
at the retail industry at large which is the largest retailers as a whole,
the big chain stores and said, OK, if they lifted the wage floor for the
most underpaid workers to $25,000 a year, what would be the economic
impacts. We found it would create by putting more money in the job
creators of the country, the low wage workers who spend every time they
get. It would create up to 130,000 jobs in the year after the wage
increase. It would put $5 billion back in the pocket of the same retailers
because surprise, surprise when people spend money, they`re spending them
in the retail sector. It would lift a million and a half people out of
poverty and near poverty and be an increase in the take-home pay of 5
million people. And all of that, if they passed on the cost to consumers
of the wage increase, let`s say, don`t have to do. But they did it, this
is the question. Would we see inflation in prices? No. We found they
passed on 100 percent of the cost. It would only be about 30 cents more at
maximum end per shopping trip.
CARMEN WONG ULRICH, PRESIDENT, ALTA WEALTH MANAGEMENT: That`s a part to
understand on. I mean, this is just good business. We look at this as a
business model; it makes sense to pay your workers more because - and
MCGHEE: This is the Henry Ford model.
ULRICH: Exactly. If you think about it for consumers, who is going to pay
for the $5 shirt? Yes, you can get a shirt for $5. But at some point,
somebody is going to pays for it. We are going to have exploitation of
wages, not just overseas, but here.
But, you`re talking about pumping more money into the economy through their
wages. And also, getting millions of folks off of federal assistance
because so many folks who are making low wages actually have to lean on
food stamps, lean on federal assistant, this would get rid of that. And
even if we had to pay an extra dollar for that shirt, I think we`re OK with
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, back it up a little bit for me on the supply
chain. I mean, so what - when you`re talking about that $5 shirt, it`s
made $5 in a couple of different ways along the chain, right? Part of it
is by paying your retail associate in the store, the last person you see at
Wal-Mart to checkout, you know, man or woman, a low wage, but it backs way
up. Who are the other folks --?
ULRICH: All the way down the production line to who is actually making the
shirt. Where does the material come from and advertising costs. But, if
you think about it, so many of the folks who actually shop at Wal-Mart are
people who works at Wal-Mart who have family who works there. It seems
like great business decision to actually lift up everybody together and act
like have more sales.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yet, Peter, that feels that exactly why this organizing is
PETER GOODMAN, Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, you know, living in Louisiana, right, there are
whole communities, where if you`re going to boycott Wal-Mart, you`re going
to boycott grocery shopping, right?
GOODMAN: We saw this on Friday. I mean, I sent a reporter to Dallas,
which is one of the major scenes of activity in terms of black Friday
strikes. My reporter ran into a woman who works at Walgreens. It was her
day off. And she was going to Wal-Mart to buy stuff. And she maybe was,
you know, I feel a sense of solidarity. I`m delighted to see that my
fellow low-wage service sector workers are standing up for their rights. I
wish them well. But now I`m going to buy a TV because I don`t make much
money at work either and this is the day when I can avail myself of the
I mean, the toughest thing, you know and I applaud the work that Dan is
doing. I hope this is the beginning of a movement because it is. As we
all said, incredibly important that people particularly at the lower end of
the economy have more money to spend. That`s good for the economy.
But, those are the most desperate people. The people who work at Wal-Mart
are by and large people who have that job because they couldn`t get a job
that would pay them a living wage and now they are stock making
(INAUDIBLE). They`re hoping for better.
It`s very tough to get people to think in terms of, you know, beyond today.
And today, involves how do I keep my paycheck if I work in this company?
If I`m going in the door, I`m here because is this is where I get the low
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And so, as we go out, I want to listen a little bit to
Wal-Mart employees themselves saying why they were making this decision to
go on strike. But, this point is so critical, living in Louisiana where
the loss of our environmental integrity is tied up for example, with oil.
And yet oil is also the thing that feeds the family. And so, whenever we
have those multiple relationships to these troubling industries as it gets
complicated. But, let`s listen as we go out to Wal-Mart workers themselves
saying why this matters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because my fellow associates have to use local food
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I`m tired being discriminated by management.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because we have to depend on each other check by check
and borrow money from each other to make it to the next week.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stand up, live better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If there are workers who
can`t get the health care they need, who don`t receive the wages they
deserve, who are divided in to two tiers, even when they do the same work,
that`s a threat to workers everywhere. That matters to all of us.
It isn`t about attacking Wal-Mart. This is about demanding more
responsibility from an extraordinarily profitable and successful company.
It`s about reminding that company that they have a stake in the communities
where they set up shop, that the well-being of their workers and other
workers should matter to them, that opportunity and justice should factor
into their bottom line. That`s not too much to ask for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was then Senator Barack Obama in 2007, speaking to the
united food and commercial workers union about the grievances with Wal-
Mart`s labor practices. At that same year, human rights watched called the
company a case study in what is wrong with U.S. labor laws.
Yes, little has changed for labor under the Obama presidential
administration. In fact, at a federal level, few have even commented on
recent labor organizing against Wal-Mart. While on a local level, whether
it be boycotting or purposefully spending your money at a retailer,
shopping at Wal-Mart has become aligned with certain political statements.
Yet, the majority tends to have few choices about the matter.
Back with me at the table is the panel.
Dan, let me ask a little about this. Because it does feel to me like a
couple of retailers now, the choice to shop there or not shop there has
become a political statement. We had Grover Norquist tweeting, avenge
Twinkie, shop at Wal-Mart today, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: So now, if you`re a Wal-Mart shopper, you`re somehow pro --
how does this happen?
SCHLADEMAN: You know, Wal-Mart workers taking the stand had certainly
brought an amazing debate and that debate includes tweets like that.
SCHLADEMAN: But you know, the thing that`s been much more exciting is a
larger debate that`s happening. Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the
country. The debate that`s happening is -- as said by then senator Obama,
what is the responsibility? What is their responsibility that they have as
being the largest private employer? I mean, if we think about other times
when other companies were our largest employer. We think about GM. The
kind of jobs GM created and the kind private those created for people built
them, quite the middle class.
Our economy has shifted. We now have a retail-based and consumer-based
economy with 70 percent of our GDP based on consumerism. So, the question
now becomes is what are the jobs creating a middle class and healthier
economy? And we would argue say that Wal-Mart needs to play a major role
with, you know, 1.4 million employees.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, your point isn`t to put Wal-Mart out of business. As
you make this point, I was thinking back to the moment when you have civil
rights activists sitting in at Woolworth counters, right? And those are
extremely sort of localized. I mean, Woolworth even for the kind of
economic power that it had at the time in Greensboro isn`t a Wal-Mart. It
doesn`t have that sort of broad international multibillion dollar impact.
And so, there`s just this part of me thinks have we shifted to an economy,
that is now not a Ford car`s based economy, it`s a Wal-Mart-based economy.
They`re huge, they are multinational, they are multibillion. Can workers
still have a voice in that kind of a company?
GOODMAN: It`s tough. In the ford model, you enable that worker to go home
to their community and spend their dollars in the community their spending
would then, you know, they would use the car they can afford to drive to
the shopping center where the products that they would buy would mostly be
made in the United States using material sourced in the United States. I
mean, nowadays, there`s a feeling. I think Wal-Mart very effectively plays
on this. It`s sort of implicit narrative in the, we deliver the lowest
There`s an understanding, I think, by most consumers that a lot of not very
nice things go into delivering those good prices. The alternative is,
let`s face it, if the Wal-Mart worker got paid a lot more money. Some of
that money, and I think it`s significant. I think this is the most study
highlights it, would benefit the American economy. But not to the same
degree that similar sort of market stimulus would have back in the days of
ULRICH: I do want to look. The institute -- if we raise the minimum wage
by $2 in the next two years, we`ll add $40 billion of instant spending
money, not money into savings accounts to pay our credit card, instant
spending money to this economy. It would be a tremendous stimulus.
GOODMAN: True. But some that of would go to best buy where Samsung would
pull products from an Asian supply chain. I mean, I think the consumer
HARRIS-PERRY: So Peter, let`s look at exactly that. Part of what Wal-Mart
has done in its practice, I mean, part of it is the low wages and the
question of raising in order to get more consumption. But, let`s also look
at the fact that Wal-Mart has actually generated trade deficits, right?
So, when you look at this -- this blew my mind. This is the size that Wal-
Mart has in our economy. That the Wal-Mart trade deficits with China
eliminated nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs between `01 and 2006, just Wal-Mart`s
decision, right? Just that.
And so on the one hand, like yes, you`ve got this issue of how these supply
chains are connected. But it feels like how else do you lift yourself out
of that sort of thing? It`s not just sort of what`s good in a moral or
ethical sense, although it is that. But, it does feel like an economic
what is good is going on.
ULRICH: Good business. I mean, this is just really good business. You
got to understand, a lot of folks that these giant corporations do live in
this bubble. The bubble, where it`s OK to do what they do in order to make
more profits or to give bonuses or whatever, I`m not anti- -- in any sort
of way, but really, just understanding that they believe that the hourly
workers are super transient. OK, you want to leave. We`ll get somebody
else. All these people are happy. That it`s just these people are cogs in
that wheel, instead of seeing the business argument for having better
business practices. And I think that what you`re doing and the fact that
we`re discussing this and adding pressure to them in that way hopefully
will get them to think more about it.
SCHLADEMAN: And what`s amazing is, I mean, you know rather than seeing the
workers who are standing up and saying this company can be something even
better than it is, we love this company, we just want to see it better,
rather than seeing those as something they want to invest in, it`s
something they`re attacking, right?
And so, the idea that people want to stay somewhere, like the response that
I`ve seen from a lot of people like, why don`t you get another job. These
folks have been incredibly powerful in saying, no, because like, this is a
bigger problem. Like, if we don`t change Wal-Mart, we`re not going to
change anywhere else. And so like, people are really taking a stand here
to say like we want to see something different. It`s really powerful.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is an important point. This happens for those who are
critical of political system, right? So, if you`re a moderate Republican
within the Republican Party and saying hey, the way you`re behaving is bad
for the party, then response is you`re a hater, get out. Or if you`re a
critic of the president from the left, you know, out of the coalition, you
So, this point of saying, no, no, no, what we`re asking for here isn`t
shutting Wal-Mart down. It`s getting a different set of choices.
When we come back, I want to talk about how the key change to labor
practices in America might rest with us as consumers. So, I want to ask
you about Costco, all when we get back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I`m tired of working for a company where
workers get cheated and cheaters get rewarded.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I want a better life for my son.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because my management suspects me in front of
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand up, live better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Those some of the Wal-Mart workers associated with our Wal-
Mart. But before there was our Wal-Mart, city councils across the country
have gone up against the big box giant to keep its low prices and even
lower wages out of their communities. From Massachusetts to Illinois, to
California, Americans have said no to Wal-Mart opening doors in their
neighborhood for years. Community-driven consumer choices may well be the
key to changing our national labor practices.
Today, I want to ask about this. Now we have a national view. But the
language of say no to Wal-Mart and yes to Costco, the one that I`m
extremely familiar with sort over the years, I get to want to ask two
questions. One, why is it that Costco is able to do what it does with good
labor practice and feel that out but also is there a way to start moving a
Wal-Mart model toward some of the model that is a Costco model without sort
of eliminating the ability of ordinary folks to get the products they need.
SCHLADEMAN: Right. I mean, the Costco, no question, does not see turnover
as a benefit to them. And so therefore, much higher wages, much higher
benefits. Really invest in their employees, you know, customer service is
really important. And you know, if you look at the popularity in how
people talk about their experience at Costco, dramatically different than
what a customer --
HARRIS-PERRY: It is a little bit of the cult. It`s like a Costco cult. I
mean, we realized those who love it, love it. Yes, yes.
SCHLADEMAN: Because people have a good experience there, right? And so,
and you know, I think, you know, the challenge to Wal-Mart is as the DEMOS
report shows and everything else is, I mean, there is another way. And you
know, I would argue strenuously that Wal-Mart, who revolutionized retail
and has been in many ways quite creative and innovative, could be also be
innovative in new way. It would be innovative in a way that starts to
really rethink this race to the bottom and rethink the way it`s happening.
I mean, there was a study done by a Harvard professor that showed for every
dollar invested in the hourly rate of retail worker would actually get you
anywhere from between four and $28 per square foot back in additional
sales. And so, there`s a real connection between, you know, taking care of
your people and your people taking care of you, you know, et cetera.
And then, the other thing that I think other retailers are doing well is
the staffing levels. I mean, Wal-Mart is dramatically understaffing. And
you know, I hear stories all the time about, you know, workers who talk
about how somebody wants to go in and buy a Hawaii item product at a Wal-
Mart, they can`t open it up. So they miss the sales.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. You mean, just be helpful on the floor
MCGHEE: That`s the difference between as professor at MIT (ph) says
between seeing labor as a cost to be minimized and seeing your workers as
an asset to be maximized. I mean, this is the question, what is a company?
I think of my organization and the people who work there are the
organization, right? Obviously, we are not a publicly traded company. And
that`s, I think, where the tension comes in. It`s where you identify the
value that your company is. Is it the people who go to work there every
day who make the decisions on the floor, who are the face of your
enterprise to the customers, or is it the sort of invisible shareholders?
And time after time, we`ve seen in this new economy management choosing
shareholders oftentimes distant people who are just, you know, clicking on
Ameritrade over their workers. I mean, we looked at the amount of money
that the retailers, the large retailers as a whole would need to do this
new wage floor we were talking about in our study, was about $20 billion.
Just the top ten retailers spent more than that, $4 billion more than that
last year, purchasing back their own stock from the market. Just to
MCGHEE: -- which is something that`s great for investors, that`s great for
executive comp as it time for compensation. And that money could have gone
back to the workers with all the productivity gains.
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s a perfect parallel there between as we face a fiscal
cliff, how we think about what our citizens. I love this, is labor a cost
to be minimized or the investments that we maximize as we face the fiscal
cliff. Domestically, it`s the same sort of questions. Do we invest in
health care, in education because our citizens are our great American
resource or do we just say, let`s spend as little as possible and leave
people as out there as they can.
MCGHEE: Well, we have to create opportunity for folks that whoever
realized this and give --
ULRICH: Capitalizes on the fact that this is happening right now and the
bad press and people can either go with their wallets and/or say, I choose
to shop someplace else. And someone could take advantage and said, I`m
going to treat my people great, they`re part of the advertising campaign,
everything. This is a great moment.
HARRIS-PERRY: I always keep bringing it back to good business practices.
We are going to bring back in all of this. But, when we come back,
crunching and talk a little bit about black Friday. It has come and gone.
Are we in the red? And then, more after that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right after the turkey has been devoured shall the pies
savored, the dishes washed and the relatives gone home, many Americans have
already geared up for another annual frenzied ritual, Black Friday.
The commercial brainchild of department stores from sea to shining sea that
amounts to Valentine`s Day, Mother`s Day, and a baby shower all wrapped
into one big shopping bag. It is the holiday that literally puts all other
holidays to shame. It`s a pre-planned outburst of spending bliss. And
many stores started even earlier this year, opening up earlier on
Thanksgiving Day than ever before.
It`s a real celebration at Wal-Mart on Thursday night where the retail
giant processed 10 million register transactions, ringing up 5,000 items
per second. And by Friday morning, the Walton family hawked 1.3 million
televisions, 1.8 million towels, 1.3 million dolls and about 250,000
bicycles. I`m not exactly sure how much all those towels do for the
economy at large, but I would say it`s a pretty good four hours for Wal-
Mart. They say it was the best ever.
So, overall, though every year black Friday`s unapologetic celebration of
commerce can`t add up to 40 percent of annual sales, bringing retailers
into the black. Between black Friday, small business Saturday, and cyber
Monday, an estimated 147 million shoppers who will opened their wallets
putting smiles on the faces of CEOs across the country who are hoping this
holiday season`s optimistic forecast comes true.
The national retail federation is predicting a 4.1 percent gain in sales
this year over 2011. Amounting to about $586 billion that could be good
news for our economy overall. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of
the total U.S. economic output. Retail specifically contributes a whopping
$2.5 trillion puts to our annual GDP. 1. Some call it a daily barometer
for the nation`s economy.
And if consumers are happy, they often are spending. October is consumer
confidence index came in at 72.2, the highest level in five years. So
increasingly, American consumers are pretty optimistic. And they have been
bringing that enthusiasm to their local checkout counter where one in four
Americans goes to work.
Retail supply jobs to 42 million Americans. But according to the bureau of
labor statistics, the typical retail salesperson earned $20,990 last year.
That`s below the official government poverty threshold of $22,113 for a
family of four. It has been that way for some time. During the five years
through October 2011, average weekly earnings for private sector workers
have increased by a mere 12 cents.
Although American consumers have been the engine of the U.S., not to
mention global economy for decades, when 25 percent of American wage
earners are making a pittance, confident or not, the consumer may not be
able to bear the brunt of our economic future.
But can consumer confidence fix the economy? That question next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hey America. How are you feeling? About the economy, I
mean. Are you feeling good? Like maybe this good? Maybe you`re feeling
this good? I know you`re feeling this good.
This was the scene on black Friday. People ready to shop by any means
necessary. People ready to spend. These people you are seeing here, they
have got to be feeling good about something, the economy?
But how do we quantify this kind of good feeling? Of all the math that we
use to figure out how well the economy is doing and how fast it`s
recovering, one of the strangest, oddest, just weirdest measurements is
consumer confidence. It`s not an unemployment rate or a number of homes
purchased. But it is a number. Just not one we can agree on exactly on
what we are measuring. We told you in the last segment, the consumer
confidence index for October was 72.2, the highest in more than four years.
It was based on a monthly survey by a nonprofit organization called the
But, get this. They`re not the only ones with a number. According to a
survey done by the University of Michigan and Thompson Reuters, the
consumer sentiment index is at a five-year high at 82.6 in October, 82.7 in
But, whether you want to go with 72.2 or 82.7, you just got to ask out of
what, out of 100, 82 what? So maybe, it doesn`t really work like that.
It`s like Celsius and Fahrenheit of consumer economics, all quantifying an
Really, it`s about how we as consumers are feeling. What tangible
information can we derive from that?
Back with me making change at Wal-Mart`s Dan Schladerman, personal finance
expert Carmen Wong Ulrich, "the Huffington Post" Peter Goodman and DEMOS`
Carmen, what exactly is this consumer index and why is it so important?
ULRICH: Here`s what you need to know. When the index is high, we want to
buy. That`s what Wall Street wants to hear. And here`s -- just to give a
comparison. So, when the recession was absolutely at its worst, consumer
confidence was in the 20s. When at its best before the recession, it was
in the 90s. You`re close when you come to 100. You really want the
highest number possible. But really, what is this that we`re measuring?
What we are measuring is our ability and sense to go out and spend more
money. This is really what the confidence is really tied to.
And here`s the thing. We`ve had good job numbers. We have great housing.
And that`s what consumers really need to see in order to feel confident and
to feel secure. They need to see their homes going up in value and they
need to see the unemployment numbers going down. And that`s what they`ve
seen. So, they feel more confident. I think it is very interesting to see
the consumers are not shaken at all by all these cliff talk.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Yes.
ULRICH: It is good for them. There is a lot of shenanigans. So, they
really are paying attention to do I have that job. Is my home going up in
value? And they make it happy to spend more? What I worry about when
consumer confidence goes up, we start with the bad behaviors again. Our
savings rates have gone back down and our spending continues to go back up.
Now, we have managed to keep credit card balances in general low. But we
still kind of fall into that I`m going to spend my way to happiness
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t want to miss that point. It`s a bit of what we were
talking about earlier. If you`re a working person, you could just a
marginal a little bit more money. That is great for the economy. But, you
can sort of a personal finance. But, you know, if I were doing that, my
mom and dad would say to me, don`t spend your last margins, right? And so,
there`s a kind of disconnect between on the one hand our confidence to
spend but what my act should be good for personal finances.
ULRICH: The best case scenario is not to be overconfident. Be confident
enough to spend within confines where you`re also saving. Right now, we
are about at that point. What we don`t want to see is when the numbers get
over 80s in consumer confidence when the numbers get over 80s. So we again
see, no savings anymore. We see overspending. I want to make sure that
that does not happen.
GOODMAN: Consumer confidence is not consumer spending. Confidence is like
a mood ring. It`s sort of --
HARRIS-PERRY: Sort of purplish.
GOODMAN: Right. And the truth is, that we can feel a certain way and yet
not behave in another way because the fact is, that we`ve still got one out
of every five mortgage holders in America owing the bank more than their
home is worth. Even the people who have gotten jobs have generally traded
down in terms of the wages and the basic -- the country at large is not
running around sell operating that the recession is over. And in fact, you
know, half the country, before the recession had liquid assets of $5,000 or
less and learned that catastrophe can arrive in a heartbeat. And a lot of
people still don`t have the credit to participate in whatever sort of
consumer good feeling bonanza is upon us.
So you know, you can drive a lot of consumer spending with the people at
the top of the economic pyramid going out and spending a lot of the people
in the middle and at the bottom end are people who haven`t been able to
replace the washing machine that broke four years ago or living with
neighbors because they`ve had to rent out their house while they
desperately tried to keep it. I mean, there`s a lot of complexity to this.
And I think we would be wrong to look at this number and say, OK, recession
over, victory upon us.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think that`s a really key because the consumer confidence
index is an aggregate number. When it is broken out by income at 72, and
when it is broken up by income, you see that people making $50,000 have
about a 30 percentage point higher consumer cough confidence index than
people making $25,000. That makes total sense.
We`re not one economy, right? We are, in fact, two economies. We`re two
Americas as it were. In terms of the entire income gain since the
recession, 93 percent of the income growth has gone to the top one percent
of the country. We got things like wine and jewelry, and art and antiques
and stocks which are at record highs whereas most people are still
struggling with the only real asset they have, their home. We have a
really uneven higher mortgage market. And we have got the fact that people
who have great credit are able to get basically free money whereas, credit
is much tighter for working folks.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is part of that recovery in the housing market, right,
isn`t tied to the fact that folks at the very top are able to buy bigger or
second homes whereas ordinary folks are still under the circumstance of
MCGHEE: And don`t be a renter. Don`t be a renter who has no assets
because actually, the demand for apartments has pushed rents sky high to
where in some places actually more expensive to rent than it would be to
buy. It`s an incredible inequality.
SCHLADEMAN: I mean, if we look at, I mean, you know, the jobs are lost in
`08 and the jobs being created. I mean, by far, they`re low-income jobs,
SCHLADEMAN: And so, we are building the broader, the two Americas getting
bigger and bigger and bigger. And you know, and so, you know, that is just
having a huge impact on consumer confidence and people, you know, being
able to, you know, 70 percent of our GDP is people, you know, people
spending, this is, you know, this a different kind of cliff we`re creating.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. When the Wal-Mart CEO makes in an hour what his
employees make in six months, of course, you have high confidence for some,
but little others. We are going to see on exactly this issue of bring in
this housing boom question in a bit. When we come back, is there really a
housing boom? I will explain when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Given how intertwined the burst of the housing bubble is
with the great recession data from the housing market is one of the most
important indicators our economist looked to for signs of strength and
recovery, if that is the case, that may be wow.
In October, not only did housing starts rise, the rate of breaking ground
on new homes is up 42 percent from last year. And overall, it`s at a four-
year high. What does it say when people are feeling this free to spend
money on perhaps the biggest purchase that most of us ever make, a home.
Peter, what`s the connection between the consumer confidence and the
GOODMAN: I think there`s a direct connection. I mean, I think, there`s a
feeling that the foreclosure crisis is still happening, but it`s slowed
down quite a bit. Prices are coming up. Volume is going up. That`s a
But you know, let`s remember, the housing market is not just a market as in
supply of thing, demand for a thing, what`s the price? It is the
repository for most people`s savings. It`s the biggest asset most people
will ever own. It`s a thing that small businesses use to borrow against,
to go out and take a little risk. Hire people and put themselves in a
building. There`s still, we have a long way to go. Have we hit bottom?
Seems that way. A lot better than a year ago or god forbid three or four
years ago. But, we have a long way to go before there is a sense that
people can look to the biggest repository savings and feel like it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And as much as we are climbing, climbing, climbing. Does,
we keep hearing every day, we`re climbing up to the edge of a cliff. And
so, on the one hand, it feels like consumer confidence is not immediately
being impacted by the (INAUDIBLE) conversation that is emerging. But I got
to believe it`s continuing to have some kind of impact and as long as the
partisan bickering remains, it will continue to have an important impact on
GOODMAN: I mean, both parties in the run-up to the election told us with
differing narratives that we had a problem. We had dysfunction in
Washington. The Republicans said well, we`ve got all this uncertainty and
business feels they`re being demonized and don`t want to invest money. And
the Democrats essentially said we have tremendous inequality and the middle
class isn`t stable. And until we build a middle class, we are not going to
have a thriving economy.
We`re still there. We just voted for the status quo. And the Republican
position is still, let`s not give this president any victories. Let`s not
participate in real sustaining economic recovery and the president, yes,
he`s stronger than he was before the election. But he`s still somewhat
constrained. And I think the public understands that there`s a lot of
uncertainty. We may go over this cliff. Now, some say it`s not a cliff.
It`s a hill. Certainly it would be good to have higher tax rates for
wealthier people. It might not be a long-term catastrophe. We get some
reform out of it.
But, let`s remember, the deals that we`re discussing to avert the cliff
involve balancing a budget deficit that was a lot of fun for people who,
you know, on the take, the military defense contractors who got paid off
GOODMAN: Taking health care away from poor people.
ULRICH: The impact that we`re seeing now may not be -- the consumers may
not see it through them but we`re seeing it through the banks and business
who is are right now still being very conservative about who they`re
lending to and how they`re doing business because they are spooked by these
talks, much more so than consumers.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, why don`t they push the Congress? Why don`t you see
the business community, particularly in advance of the holiday shopping
season, say, you know what, you guys are going to have to signal that
you`re going to resolve this because these are the weeks in which we make
all our money for the year. We need consumers happy. We need them
GOODMAN: Because those businesses are run by executives who don`t want to
pay higher taxes. It`s not that complicated.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right.
GOODMAN: I mean, we have you know, Jeff Emo (ph) will saying, well, we
need more revenue. You want to pay more revenue, you want to start paying
capital gains taxes that actually equate to how the rest of pay taxes. I
mean, there`s silence from the business community when you start talking to
HARRIS-PERRY: Exactly. That`s sufficient to explain it.
All right, ladies, you guys are sticking around because we have a lot
happening on the next hour on questions of the women`s agenda.
But, thank you to Dan and Peter, for being very dept. Thank you for all of
your work with Wal-Mart. We are going to keep our eyes on this.
SCHLADEMAN: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Wasn`t a one good Friday sort moment.
Coming up, if you think 2012 was the year of the woman, just wait until
2013. Professor Anita Hill is joining the Nerdland table next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are still trying to get a deal done before we
all go over the proverbial fiscal cliff at the beginning of 2013. And if
the debt ceiling debacle of last year was an indicator, it isn`t looking
Now, the fiscal cliff will affect many. But how does it look
different if you`re at the edge of that cliff and you`re a woman? But the
recession having a disparity affect on women, the fiscal cliff can`t look
Economic security is no longer guarantee for women and their
families. Twenty-six million women have trouble paying for food. Forty-
six million women have trouble paying for health care. Thirty-two million
women have trouble paying their rent. And 65 million women are unable to
save for the future.
And onto those numbers, the realities of sequestration or cutbacks to
programs take effect because lawmakers are unable to come to an agreement
before the deal before the end of the year. So, if a deal isn`t reached,
it`s not just the defense budget that will be impacted, no. Domestic
programs will be impacted as well. With $500 billion in cuts, some of
those are the very programs that disproportionately impact women and their
Those cuts can include 2,300 National Institute of Health research
grants. Almost 100,000 kids losing Head Start services and 80,000 losing
child care assistance. Add to that, potential Medicaid and social security
cuts, which Democrats may have to yield in order to get Republicans to
concede to any form of tax hike.
Nearly one in 10 women between 18 and 64 rely on Medicaid for health
coverage and Social Security that entitlement support, about three in 10
women, age 65-plus. Without it, half of the women over 65 would live below
the poverty line.
These issues are huge. And they may further negatively impact the
futures of mothers and daughters and granddaughters. Politicians need to
take heed because if these issues which are key to the women`s agenda
aren`t dealt with effectively, those same women that voted you into office
this time around can vote you out the next.
At the table, Rebecca Traister, author of "Big Girls Don`t Cry" and
senior writer at "Salon". Carmen Wong Ulrich, president at ALTA Wealth
Management. Irin Carmon, a staff writer at Salon.com. And back for a
second visit to Nerdland, Anita Hill, professor of social policy law and
women`s studies at Brandies University and also author of "Reimaging
Equality: Stories of Gender, Race and Finding Home", which is now out in
It`s great to have you all here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: Professor Hill, I want to start with you. We just
sort of -- you know, we recognize the fiscal cliff may not happen in
precisely these ways. But it does look like women are particularly
vulnerable to the cuts that could occur.
ANITA HILL, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Well, you know, the
economic vulnerability of women is something we talk about. These really
do present stark, stark realities to consider. And we started to consider
it in around 2008 when we start looking at what kinds of cuts were being
made in the budget.
And so, now, we`re revisiting in as we look at the future of what`s
going to happen in the next few weeks. And what I`m afraid of is that if
we don`t do something, that even more extreme cuts to things like two
things, like child care, for example will -- or housing assistance --
HILL: -- will put women in further jeopardy. And we really are
already as your numbers indicated, at a critical juncture for being
devastated by these cuts.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we`re reminded, I feel like Rebecca, when we look
at the things that women have difficulty paying for, food and health care
and rent and their ability to save for the future. Or we look at things
like the loss of Head Start and child care, we`re reminded that when women
are trouble, there`s a whole lot of folks who are in trouble along with
REBECCA TRAISTER, AUTHOR, "BIG GIRLS DON`T CRY": Well, one of the
things that the numbers unfortunately, give us the chance to discuss are
the multiple angles from which women are hit and the kind of systemic
problems that put women more at risk.
So, when you talk about those Head Start numbers, you`re talking
about hundred thousands of kids who aren`t going to have Head Start
program, that makes it more difficult for their parents and often their
mothers to do their jobs, earn their living, work.
HARRIS-PERRY: How can you go to work if you --
TRAISTER: You can`t -- and especially if you`re already a low-income
wage earner. It`s also true that women are more likely to hold the public
sector jobs that are going to be cut. So, when Head Start cuts 100,000
kids, it also cuts 30,000 jobs for teachers and administrators and aides.
Those are going to be largely women.
When you talk -- and you`re already looking at an economy that`s been
devastated by a foreclosure crisis where women were more vulnerable,
especially women of color, who were more than 2.5 times more likely than
white men to have a subprime mortgage.
TRAISTER: So you are -- you`re also looking at a systemic issue,
which is women really weren`t allowed to build wealth by owning their own
property until four decades ago.
TRAISTER: So between the history of inequality and the current sets
of inequalities and our failure to approach it from all angles, you`re
looking at a terribly vulnerable situation.
HILL: You forgot to add the wage gap.
IRIN CARMON, SLATE.COM: Of course. I would add that you`re also
talking about uncompensated care, right?
CARMON: I mean, eventually, Social Security, it sounds like it`s
going to be on the table. You have more women more likely to live on
Social Security. And they are living on less because they have fewer years
wage earning because they`re taking care of family members uncompensated.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And at each point, this is so critical. I`m
now of that age, so many of my colleagues are, when you`re in that sandwich
generation, right? And so, you recognize that a cut to your mom`s Social
Security impacts your household, which then impacts your daughter. Like we
start seeing how that squeeze has these multi-intergenerational effects.
CARMEN WONG ULRICH, ALTA WEALTH MANAGEMENT: Yes, I hope that this
comes to play, the big, big gorilla here is child care and family care, I
want to say, in general. We tend to take care of family members more often
than others. Without that flexibility in terms of your job, you know,
millions of women here work hourly.
You miss one hour, you`re late 10 minutes. You don`t just lose that
hour. You lose the job.
ULRICH: So you have to have something in place in order to enable
women to get out of poverty, to make better money, to build wealth, to buy
homes. And, really, the biggest way to do this is getting child care,
getting family care, and some kind of flexible pay, something in there that
helps when you need -- have a sick child, you have a parent to take care
HARRIS-PERRY: This was the moment so lost in the debate, right?
When Mitt Romney says, OK, if we`re going to have women working, then we
need flex time. But then I was like, so they can go home and make dinner.
But just before he said that horrible thing, he wasn`t completely
wrong about the need to start thinking in these more flexible ways in a
variety of different job settings.
CARMON: Right. And low wage workers, there`d been studies that show
they have the least flexibility.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, exactly.
HILL: And as we look at where jobs are occurring and how jobs are
occurring, we`re now on this 24/7 work cycle. So, women with small
children who are working night shifts, it`s hard enough to get daycare
during the day. But if you`re working the night shift and you don`t have a
family member who can help take care of your children, in many locations,
it`s literally impossible to have take care --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. If you`re the Wal-Mart worker who has to go out
on Thursday night, Thanksgiving night, at 8:00 p.m. to start your shift for
Black Friday and there were many, many women in those circumstances, where
is your 6-year-old while you`re doing that?
ULRICH: Why does being a woman mean insecurity in terms of finances?
This is the state we`re in. For example, I`m a business owner because I`m
a single parent.
ULRICH: And I need that flexibility. I need the ability to get my
daughter and then go back to work at 8:00 p.m. and get things done. But
what the data is a very insecure position to be in. So a lot of women who
thank goodness I`m doing well, but if I were lower -- you know, a lot of,
especially Latino women, are building their own businesses because it gives
them the flexibility to see and take care of their --
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet -- I`m so glad you brought this up because
part of problem with women`s entrepreneurship is it`s often, as you pointed
out, if you are late to the low-wage job, you could lose the job. But also
if you`re an entrepreneur who, for example, is a hairstylist and you become
ill with just a common flu and you don`t work for seven days, then there`s
no sick leave, there`s no --
ULRICH: Maternity leave. I did not take maternity leave. You got
to believe, she was born -- I was back on the computer in two days. You
get no paid leave. You have to pay your own benefits.
So, it`s not a very secure position but it`s a choice that a lot of
moms have to make.
HILL: Can I say something too? I know we talk about daycare --
HILL: -- and child care and family care, which is the reality. But
we can`t underestimate housing costs.
HILL: As you`ve said, there are 42 million households that are
paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. Women are
twice as likely as men to spend more than 50 percent on their housing
That`s not going to leave much for savings. It`s increasing as we
get older. Senior women are particularly vulnerable to spend lots of
income and resources that they have limited on putting a roof over their
heads. Now, just think --
HARRIS-PERRY: Vulnerable to homelessness.
HILL: Exactly. There was a story in "The Boston Globe" this weekend
about the rising number of homeless seniors in the Boston area. So, we`re
talking about issues that are sort of across the board issues for women and
across the life span issues for women.
But we`re also talking about issues that are sometimes regional,
because the cost of housing varies region to region.
HILL: I think what we have to do is stop looking at women when we
see a crisis.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
HILL: We`ve got to start looking at the reality of our experience as
you say in a holistic manner throughout our election cycle and not simply
wait until there`s something catastrophic.
HARRIS-PERRY: And on exactly this point of the election cycle, as
soon as we come back, I want to talk about the fact that one of the things
that happened this election cycle is women made their voices heard and one
of the strongest women in the country may be a woman in the Senate. Who is
she? That`s next.
HARRIS: In setting the women`s agenda, especially when it comes to
economics, one of the most important voices may be Senator Patty Murray.
What? That name doesn`t ring a bell? Well, get used to it, because you
want to know as much as you possibly can about Senator Murray.
Check this out. She not only holds the Senate`s fourth position, but
she`s the incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee. That is huge
regarding the fiscal cliff, because Senator Murray has cautioned her fellow
Democrats against taking a bad deal and instead is advocating going over
that cliff or around that curve in search of finding a better deal for the
So, Rebecca, Senator Murray has been long underestimated.
TRAISTER: Yes. For the 20 years that she`s been in the Senate, she
was underestimated. She was underestimated before she got into the Senate
when she was derisively called a mom in tennis shoes which later became her
rallying cry in the wake of the hearings in 1991. And I was reading an
article about her from 2002.
So, she`s been in the Senate for 10 years at the point this article
was written in "The Chicago Tribune". It is an article about how she`s
often underestimated but she`s really a powerful force. And this sentence
was in this article in 2002, "Affable and unimposing, she seems more suited
to dollar a dozen bake sales than multimillion dollar party fundraisers."
That was 10 years ago in the two decades set term, in an article pointing
out that she`s often underestimated.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this feels to me like, as we talk about sort of
the women`s gender or women`s issues, we consistently talk about
reproductive rights which matters. And the argument -- even the president
made, is that they are economic issues.
But there`s something as though when we have a conversation about
housing, about employment, about economics, it`s as though girls don`t do
math in those conversations.
CARMON: Right. And, of course, I would book end the comment that
Rebecca pointed to, to when Murray joined the super committee and was
chairing it, that there was Grover Norquist saying Republicans are tough on
budgets, but the lady from Washington doesn`t do budgets.
Now, obviously, Patty Murray got her start in education, activism and
on the school board. And that is somehow, you know, downgraded as a
feminine thing. But not only did she not bow to Republican pressure, to
people who have signed Grover Norquist`s pledge, she also managed to make
so that she wasn`t so alone.
She took the job -- and I love this -- she took the job that no one
else wanted, on the super committee, right now on the Budget Committee.
And also when everyone thought the Democrats were going to lose the Senate,
she stood up against defunding Planned Parenthood.
So, now, we have a historic number of women in the Senate and we have
the Democrats gaining more seats than they thought. You know, the lady
from Washington isn`t such a pushover, it turns out.
TRAISTER: She protected veterans benefits which was a very big deal
in the debt ceiling fight.
CARMON: Her father was a veteran and relied on disability.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, is this a lesson that having women in these
positions for power changes what happens in Washington?
HILL: Well, this is not just a plug for my school, but it`s a plug
for a lot of work that`s going on to help support the women who are in
these positions of power. You know, there`s amazing amount of research
that`s going on at the Heller School about women and their vulnerabilities
and the economic advancement, the wealth -- ability to accumulate wealth.
There`s an amazing amount of research to talk about women`s leadership and
the role they can play in help reaching deals that men seem to be
impossible -- find it possible to reach.
HILL: There`s so much now that is there to support the work of that
elected leaders and I think this is a wonderful opportunity to have the
year of the women. Whereas 20 years ago, there was not so much work going
on outside that could help support these women. And so I don`t want to
sound like oh, this is all bad and we`re all scary -- because there is
information out there that can help us reach better decisions.
CARMON: There`s a pipeline of women who can go through. I mean,
that`s how --
HARRIS-PERRY: It was obviously your experience before that,
following the all male Senate, you know, Judiciary Committee that was part
of what launched that initial year of the women in `93, and we did see
meaningful policy change on the back end of it. So, I mean, if we sort of
look at what we were just talking about around women`s vulnerability in the
broadest sense and then sort of the ability of women to be in leadership,
there`s a realistic connection there.
ULRICH: This is perfect though. This is what these guys don`t
understand, is that 85 percent of American household budgets are run by
women. So, who better than to run the biggest budget of all than a woman?
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, we`re going to talk on exactly this
question of what women`s leadership looks like and the discourse around
women because, of course, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations has taken a kind of public attack discursive attack and we want to
ask whether or not her womanhood has anything to do with that. More in a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMB. SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I have respect for Senator
McCain and his service to our country. I always have and I always will. I
do think that some of the statements he made about me have been unfounded
but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to
discuss this with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of women leaders, that was U.N. Ambassador
Susan Rice on Wednesday, addressing the criticism that Senator John McCain
among others directed towards her regarding her initial reaction to
Benghazi. Ambassador Rice has faced mounting scrutiny, including a letter
signed by 97 House Republicans who oppose her possible nomination for
secretary of state.
Senator McCain for his part may have realized just how bad the optics
are for the GOP. He softened his stance a bit on FOX News this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I`ll be glad to have the opportunity
to discuss these issues with her. She deserves the ability and the
opportunity to explain herself and her position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I see now she deserves the opportunity to explain
her position to Senator McCain.
This has been infuriating to watch. It feels to me very much like
we`re not supposed to say that this is in part about the fact that she is a
woman and particularly an African-American woman. But I just can`t miss
that seems to be what`s happening.
HILL: We have to acknowledge reality. We have to acknowledge the
fact that -- as people say -- this is the intersection of race and gender
that makes her so vulnerable and so susceptible to these attacks that are
I think it`s a political, you know, calculation about whether or not
where she`s going to have her support. I think as it was 20 years ago,
they will say, well, African-American men who are powerful are not going to
support her and white women who have the numbers and have the power are not
going to support her. So, we can -- you know, we can make her the
political scapegoat for President Obama.
HARRIS-PERRY: I will say that one of the most beautiful things I
have seen was the women on the -- from the House and the Senate coming
together to support her. And so, I just want to listen quickly to Marcia
Fudge, who was the new head of the Congressional Black Caucus, you`ll see
there a whole group of women legislators who are standing up and saying,
wait a minute, what`s happening is not OK. Let`s listen to them for a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARCIA FUDGE (D), OHIO: How do you say a person who has served
this country with the distinction she has is not qualified? I am confused.
I really am, because none of it makes any sense. To just throw out things
-- I mean, Susan Rice`s comments didn`t send us to Iraq and Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Let the church say amen. Right? I mean, like that
difference between the Benghazi situation and what we saw the Bush
administration do around Iraq, is just -- that distance is huge.
HILL: But it`s also a difference between having people who are able
and there and available to stand up and call it for what it is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, thank goodness.
CARMON: Sorry. Go ahead.
TRAISTER: The nexus of the assumed lack of power and support that is
historical assumption based on the fact that white men used to have
exclusive power and you assume that people who are female and people who
are of color do not have that power, that is changing. Women and people of
color just elected the president.
TRAISTER: They just elected the senators. I mean --
HARRIS-PERRY: They`re the majority of the Democratic Party in
TRAISTER: You have Marcia Fudge. You have the women who yelled at
Luke Russert a few weeks ago behind Nancy Pelosi when there was a comment
made about age. This -- there is now a more visible, more audible kind of
power to point out that this kind of attack is baseless and not --
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet it remains the most difficult coalition to
keep together, right? Because the other thing we`re going to see is a
Supreme Court of the United States is going to make a decision about
affirmative action. And it is going to make that decision when there is a
white woman plaintiff and affirmative action defined as racial.
So, in the one hand, there`s a failure to see it but also a very long
history of this kind of coalition shattering.
CARMON: I think that that`s intentional. There`s a dynamic of
people intentionally playing that coalition against each other and
exploiting racial and gender divisions in order to sort of keep the status
quo. But I would also say that there`s also a great intergenerational
aspect to Susan Rice`s story. She was mentored by Madeleine Albright.
CARMON: She came up with Obama generationally and they really have
the sort of similar outlook and he defended her. And so, what`s
fascinating to me is that it`s often said that women are the vengeful
But I was interested to learn that part of John McCain`s animus
against Susan Rice stems from the fact that she was a major surrogate in
the 2008 Obama campaign and she questioned his national security
credentials. By the way, part of the team that sure led us into Iraq have
a situation where all of a sudden, she`s questioning who is this young
uppity frankly woman --
ULRICH: The other side loves they have somebody else, a woman of
color to move things over to and to focus on and say, OK, now look at you.
Yes you`re unqualified.
It`s very easy pour them to say that. As a minority woman myself in
a very Anglo male dominated field in finance, I can tell you that
primarily, the assumption is -- I don`t know what I`m talking about.
ULRICH: And they can say that and they can feel it`s OK to say that
even though there`s no reason to say that.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it`s interesting because I think we have to keep
sort of pushing on this a bit, because -- you know, I think the easy
counter is, are you kidding us? Have you looked at the last secretary of
state from the Republican Party? Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. We
don`t have any problem with black bodies or women`s bodies in this role.
And so, I think --
HILL: That`s cover.
HILL: It`s cover. So you can go out and make this a scapegoat
effort. And in reality, what it is, I think, is this pushback on what we
saw in the election with a powerful coalition of people of color, of women,
you know, led by single women, of course.
But, in fact, it`s a coalition that is shifting the political
landscape. And, frankly, people like John McCain will who have really
benefited from what the landscape was like before are sort of on the outs
and on the fringe. This is really kind of fringe talk.
CARMON: -- from someone who is losing.
TRAISTER: The death throes --
TRAISTER: -- makes it sound benign. But in fact, with things like
affirmative action, they can do lasting damage.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. As they go down, they can take the last one.
TRAISTER: And let`s acknowledge the specificity of the language
that`s been used around Susan Rice.
TRAISTER: Because it is -- John McCain called her not very bright.
She`s a Rhodes Scholar, OK?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes.
TRAISTER: In the letter signed by the 97 members of the House, she
was questioned -- the word "incompetent" was used.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, yes.
TRAISTER: OK. There`s also been a lot of discourse that`s not
considered as fringy around her temperament. That was also talked about
when Sonia Sotomayor was --
TRAISTER: These are code words used against women, women of color,
very specifically and because they have no relationship to reality,
certainly in the case of the not very bright and the questioning of her
competence, because they have no relationship to reality, I think it`s
important for us to focus on how and why they`re being deployed.
HARRIS-PERRY: She`s just a dumb, angry black woman.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so we certainly wouldn`t want some incompetent,
dumb angry black woman as secretary of state.
And that, you know, again, part of the sort of Democratic narrative
is and those are things that are framed particularly against women of color
on the left, because the whole notion is, if you`re a woman of color on the
right, then somehow you`ve overcome your lack of intelligence --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- the Republican Party.
Carmen, thank you so much for joining us.
HARRIS-PERRY: The rest are staying around for a bit more, because
we`re going to talk about the "Turnaway Study". It`s the first scientific
study of its kind and it shows us how reproductive rights are part of an
economic imperative. We`re going below the line, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Whatever argument that anti-choice advocates want to
make about whether or not life begins at conception, this much is
indisputable: for women who have to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term,
their life does not end at delivery. In fact, according to the recently
released results of an innovative study, life for women who continue an
unwanted pregnancy becomes more difficult. The "Turnaway Study" -- a five-
year investigation that started in 2008 looked into the lives of women who
sought to terminate their pregnancies, but were turned away and denied
abortions because their pregnancies were already too advanced, usually by
only a matter of days.
So, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco
reproductive health think tank recruited nearly 1,000 women across the
country who tried to get an abortion. Of that group, 182 of them were
turned away. Two years into the study, the long-term consequences for that
group of women were largely economic.
Compared to the women who received abortions, the women who were
unable to end their pregnancies became more likely to be on public
assistance, more likely to be living below the poverty line and less likely
to have full-time employment.
I want to bring in from San Francisco, one of the people behind the
study. Diane Greene Foster, director of research at advancing new
standards in reproductive health, and associate professor at the University
of California-San Francisco.
Nice to have you, Diana.
DIANA GREENE FOSTER, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-SAN FRANCISCO: Thank
you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So start with a little nerdiness here. Explain to me
the methodology and why this methodology is valid for understanding the
economic consequences of being denied reproductive rights privileges.
There`s a small but very poor literature on what happens to women
when they have abortions. And, often, these studies are done with attempt
to show that abortion hurts women. And that narrative that abortion hurts
women has, you know -- is present in our policy debates on billboards and
had our courts and used as a rationale to restrict access to abortion. And
many of these studies compare women who have abortions, women with wanted
pregnancies or even women who have never been pregnant.
So, this study is designed to just look at women who wanted an
abortion, those who received it and those who didn`t receive it. So, we
recruited women from 30 facilities across the country where if you`re too
far along, there`s no one within 150 miles who will do abortion later in
pregnancy. So, we compared women just over the gestational limit and women
just over the gestational limit and follow both groups through time and
talked to them about their mental health, their physical health and their
So we found that these two groups were very similar at the onset.
They had a difference of three weeks on average. But at baseline, they
were very similar in characteristics.
HARRIS-PERRY: Diana, I want to pause on that for a bit so people can
understand why folks were getting turned away, because I think you`re
right, the sort of narrative that abortion hurts women has been a standard
way for getting more folks on the anti-choice side. The other really key
one has been gestational limits. We see in public opinion data sort of
more support for or willingness to say, OK, abortion on demand at under 12
But -- so, I want you to talk a little bit about sort of what are the
gestational limits in those clinics where women were getting turned away.
In the 30 clinics that we were at, the gestational limit varied from
10 weeks to the end of the second trimester. My colleague, Dr. (INAUDIBLE)
estimates that 4,000 women across the country right now without these new
bills that would lower the gestational limits, 4,000 women a year are
turned away because they show up beyond the gestational limit of the
abortion facilities near them.
So many more no doubt are turned away because they couldn`t raise the
fund or they didn`t have transportation. But just -- and certainly
lowering the gestational limit will increase a number of women who are
unable to access abortion care.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, you know, this is so important I think because we
think of sort of Roe v. Wade as the thing that makes abortion legal and
available or not. But these sorts of policies that happen on a state by
state basis can basically make the ability to get an abortion impossible
even if there`s kind of nominal legality.
So, most of these women also, if I understand right, had children
already. These are not women who didn`t understand what pregnancy was
going forward. They already had children and felt they could not add more
children economically to their households.
So, what has been the impact on the folks in your study, not only on
the women but on the other children already in their families?
In our study, about 60 percent of the women were already mothers.
That`s completely consistent with the national literature on who gets
abortions. And when at baseline, the two groups, the women who received an
abortion and the women denied an abortion, both were quite similar. And
then their paths diverged greatly after one group had a baby and the other
one had an abortion.
And so, the biggest -- the immediate things that were observable were
physical health differences. So, it`s consistent with the medical
literature that abortion is safer than childbirth, even later abortions.
And we had more severe and more common complications among the birth cohort
than the abortion group.
And then what we were really looking for were mental health
differences, because that`s where all the dialogue is. And we used many
different measures of mental health well-being. And the only difference we
found was at baseline, one week after the women had either received or been
denied an abortion, the women who were denied an abortion had much higher
anxiety symptoms. And after that, the two groups look the same again.
FOSTER: So, there were no mental health differences over time. But
HARRIS-PERRY: The notion that there`s more anxiety at that moment is
not surprising to me.
Diana, hang on for a minute. I want you to stay with us. We`re
going to bring the panel back in after the break.
And when we come back, we`re going to focus once again on -- yes,
once again, Ohio. Just before we go to break, I want you to see because in
Ohio, you know, we love State Senator Nina Turner. This is what she has to
say about how the GOP is behaving right now in her state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For those of you in the back of the room that
can`t read this -- Senator, would you like to say what it said?
STATE SEN. NINA TURNER (D), OHIO: Yes, GOP stands for "get out of
our panties." And that`s exactly what we want the GOP to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The Ohio Right to Life group that is backing a bill
that would defund Planned Parenthood in the state has said the organization
needs to, quote, "make a choice between providing health care and providing
abortions." No, of course, it isn`t a choice at all because the bill
approved last week by Republican lawmakers in an Ohio House Committee would
restrict federal funding for Ohio Planned Parenthood. Federal dollars
already can`t be used for abortion.
The real choice is the one that will be faced by the 100,000 Ohio
women who are patient with Planned Parenthood. They continue receiving the
annual checkups, cancer screenings and prevention contraception, prenatal
services and STD testing that comprises the majority of services Planned
Parenthood provide or if the bill passes, to receive no care at all.
Back at the table, Erin Carmon, Professor Anita Hill, Rebecca
Traister, joining us again is Heather McGhee, vice president in policy and
outreach at the progressive think tank Demos. And still with us in San
Francisco, Diana Greene Foster.
I want to turn to you, Rebecca, on this.
We`re seeing Ohio learning no political lessons from the election we
just had. Ohio voted for the president. Exit polls show that a strong
majority, 56 percent of Ohioans believe abortion should be legal. But what
we see immediately an attack in the lame duck session on abortion.
TRAISTER: Well, this is all that`s been happening around the country
in state legislatures and in the House of Representatives for the past two
years. So, it is no change. It`s a lame duck session. But they`re
continuing the same attack which has not worked out for them.
And I think that I`m confused by the blindness and the refusal to see
that this is not going anywhere. I was wildly optimistic on election night
that sort of oh, now, we`ll be able to acknowledge that these attacks on
women`s health care, women`s reproductive rights, see, they`ve really
backfired and now, at least, they`ll be a slight backing them. But no,
there is not and it is the same group of legislatures around the country --
legislators around the country -- who are still taking these actions.
One of the things that becomes increasingly clear with a study like
this one is something we`ve been saying at this table that the president
said in the second debate. Reproductive rights are economic issues.
TRAISTER: These are not just conversations about sex. They`re not
conversation of when life begins. These are -- these are economic issues
that affect women`s abilities to control the size of their family, their
professional lives ,their economic lives, their participation in this
country and I think studies like the one we`re talking about here --
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s just remind everyone, Diana, of your study. I
want to show this graphic about the economic outcomes for those who are
turned away from abortion.
What we see is that for those who are able to receive abortions, you
have less than 50 percent, only 44 percent of them end up on public
assistance, but 76 percent on public assistance if they`ve been turned
away. More than 67 percent below the poverty line. And fewer than half,
only 48 percent of those who were in this "Turnaway Study" who were turned
away are able to hold full-time jobs.
These are economic questions, Heather.
HEATHER MCGHEE, DEMOS: Absolutely. It feels so often like for the
right wing, you know, conception may begin -- life may begin at conception.
But the care about this child ends at birth, right? Because as soon as a
child is born in this country, they are left with a safety net that fails
to support women so compared to every other industrialized nation, right?
We know that only 11 percent of workers in this country have access
to paid family leave. I mean, that`s just a basic thing. If we say we
want to value families, wouldn`t we want to allow parents to be able to
stay at home and care for the precious new life? That is -- you would
think that --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, that would be the outcome.
MCGHEE: But that rubs up against not wanting to restrict employers,
not wanting to burden employers, not wanting to pay taxes -- all those
things that are sacred and sacrosanct for the right wing.
And I think that, unfortunately, what we fail to see in this country
that I -- is such a truth, a basic truth for so many women, is that the
choice as we know, the majority of women who end up having abortions are
MCGHEE: So the idea that there is sort of these deranged monsters
that go around killing babies and then there are mothers who are some
manifestation of the Virgin Mary on this other altar is so false.
MCGHEE: I think what people have to realize is that the first choice
that women make around parenting is: can I afford this baby? Can I make
the right choice for this potential life that would have there be a safe
and welcoming and sustainable home after the womb?
HILL: Well, you know, if you want to start talking about agendas,
you`ve got to start talking about with regard to this question and so many
other questions about women`s rights. You got to talk about the courts.
HILL: We now know that there are 78 vacancies in the federal courts.
The federal courts, the district courts and the courts of appeals are where
these kinds of decisions are going to be made.
HILL: When this comes to state restrictions, whether gestational
restrictions or licensing restrictions. They`re going to be decided in the
federal court. So, they`re probably not going to reach the Supreme Court
HILL: So, filling those positions, this administration with people
who understand and value women`s rights and the reproductive rights in
particular, it`s critical at this point. President Obama has 19 nominees
in the pipeline currently, and Senator Reid needs to move those forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, here we go.
HILL: Move them forward. It`s time. It`s important for women who
are going to be impacted by these questions that are coming up. These are
not divorced from women`s lives.
CARMON: I think we should also look at the ways in which these laws
disproportionately impact low-income women. I mean, going back to the Hyde
Amendment which we`re not talking about anymore. Henry Hyde said I would
love to prevent any woman from having an abortion, but I can only affect
the women on Medicaid.
How do women get to the point where they`re turned away from a
CARMON: Oftentimes, they`re having difficulty paying for an
abortion. So, we also have a situation right now where according to the
2008 numbers, the abortion rate has declined overall except among low
CARMON: So, again, these state laws, they impact especially the ones
where there aren`t providers. The women in the study, 150 miles away from
the latest providers. These laws are also seeking to drive abortion
providers out of business so that only the affluent women can really travel
HARRIS-PERRY: Diana, in your study, you know, obviously, you`re
looking at people who are probably already in tough economic circumstances.
But, you know, what can you say with sort of some confidence about both for
them and their children, how life would have been different had they not
been turned away?
FOSTER: Yes, that`s the nice part of the study design is that we can
look at both groups. You`re right, this group is disproportionately poor
at the onset and there`s almost no change in the abortion -- the women who
got abortions. But the women who were turned away had a significantly
three times odds of being below the poverty level compared to the women who
got the abortion. They were 25 percent more likely to say they didn`t have
enough money to meet food, housing and transportation costs. And so, there
was a sharp economic difference between the groups.
HARRIS-PERRY: Diana, I just want to say sort of thank you for the
study, in part because, you know, during the commercial, we here at the
table were saying, how is this study not something that has -- you know,
it`s been done already? And so, I so appreciate that you bring a little
data to that.
We`re going to turn away to a new topic in just a moment. But I just
want to also say this. A lot of times in the conversation around abortion,
we often talk also about adoption as that possibility. I mentioned this
yesterday on the show as well.
And I think we have to remember that adoption is not an equal option
for all people, particularly for women of color. The likelihood of your
child ending up in a long-term foster care situation if in fact you don`t -
- you know, if you have to bear a child that you -- in a pregnancy, you had
not wanted to, is really a different kind of circumstance. So, I think,
you know, there are some folks who undoubtedly would say, oh, you don`t
have to have this economic consequence. Just have the baby and give it up
for adoption, but that is not an equal option for all people.
TRAISTER: There are costs to getting pregnancy as wells as giving
birth as well. Not just economics.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. Mental, physical and all of that.
All right. I have to say on this, but, first, we`re going to have a
preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes, just give me a little time.
WITT: I know how it goes, right?
Well, anyway, in Washington today, a preview of where the parties
stand on the fiscal cliff. You`re going to hear some proclamations from
Republicans that might be hard to believe.
The second term, what`s on the president`s agenda? And how much does
he need to achieve in terms of greatness? We`re going to get some
perspective on that.
Plus, Black Friday -- one writer says it`s way overhyped. And he
provides one single chart to prove that.
And the Salvation Army kettle. It`s part of my Twitter question.
It`s all have to do with what`s happening on Tuesday. So, we`ll look ahead
to that in just about, 10 minutes or so.
Melissa, back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks, Alex. Yes, they are right outside where we
work. There`s a sort of enthusiasm around them.
WITT: Sure is. It`s good. Yes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Very nice.
My footnote is next and it`s on the passing of the civil rights
HARRIS-PERRY: Sometimes we miss a news item on a holiday weekend
when our attention turns toward food, family and retail. But I wanted to
take just a moment to acknowledge the passing of an American hero.
After a long battle with heart disease and diabetes, Lawrence Guyot
passed away on Friday at the age of 73.
Now, his name may not be familiar, but his legacy is crucial. Born
and educated in Mississippi, Guyot became one of the first volunteers in
the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC. He was a leader in
the battle to bring voting rights and economic justice to African-Americans
living the Deep South.
His activism was focused in many of the counties, and communities
deemed too explosive for the mainstream civil rights movement. Along with
activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, Guyot endured brutality and
imprisonment for his efforts to register voters in Mississippi. But the
brutality only strengthened his resolve.
Guyot served as director of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project and
coordinated the efforts of thousands of white and black American youth from
the North and South. Their work and sacrifices eventually led to the
passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Now, Guyot spent the rest of his life working to protect voting
rights and easily became one of the loudest and clearest voices advocating
for statehood for Washington, D.C. Pointing out that this majority
African-American city is governed more like a colony than as a self-
determined member of the United States.
As his health declined in the last month, Guyot made one last
political act. He voted early to ensure that he would not miss an
opportunity to be heard last time in a country that he`d love enough to
fight to improve it.
I tell you his story to remember him, but also because our common
understanding of the civil rights movement has become too flat.
As my very best friend and brilliant historian Blair Kelley reminded
us in her Twitter feed yesterday, we tend to remember only one man and only
one speech and only one tragic death when it comes to the civil rights
movement, but movements to strengthen our democracy have always relied on
multiple leaders and have always required vigilance across the decades.
It`s worth pausing in our relentlessly forward-looking news cycle to
remember our past.
And that is our show for today. Thank you to Rebecca Traister and
Heather McGhee and Irin Carmon and Anita Hill.
Also, thanks to you at home for watching. I will see you next
Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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