Cross-posted from Huffington Post with permission from the author.
In this month, Women’s History Month, Rahm Emanuel, Mayor-elect of the City of Chicago, has the opportunity to make history, but of a sort he may not yet have contemplated, of a sort that could make all the difference to our (women’s) world, not to mention to his.
Indeed, as Rahm Emanuel digs in, in earnest, to preparing for his new job as mayor of America’s third largest city, mayor of President Obama’s hometown, and mayor of the city that will be at the epicenter of the 2012 epic presidential campaign, Rahm, like the president, has an historic, national-election significant, globally significant opportunity.
You might think Rahm would have had his biggest opportunity — these days — if he were still a Congressional leader. You would be wrong.
In fact, as Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel will have an opportunity no other public official in America has today, perhaps excepting the president.
Yes, Mayor Emanuel will have to quickly address the same ills so many other large American cities suffer from: for example, decaying infrastructure, hundreds of millions in unfunded pension liabilities, bloated bureaucracies, and public schools that have failed every test.
Yes, Mayor Emanuel must find solutions to these problems quickly, if he is to be a valuable Chicago mayor — i.e., one who makes a real difference in the lives of his city’s “ordinary” people.
But, here’s the thing: for Mayor-elect Emanuel to make history, to make change millions of Chicagoans would believe in — for themselves and for their children, for years to come — he needs to be, first and foremost, the mayor of and for Chicago’s women.
Mayor-elect Emanuel needs to put women first.
Here is why:
Chicago’s problems are poor people’s problems: think violent streets, bad neighborhood schools, too few jobs and dying neighborhoods. Who heads those poor people’s families? Well, women do.
Indeed, woman-headed Chicago families are half of all Chicago families, but they predominate among the poorest.
Here are the numbers from The Situation of Working, Lower-Income Single Working Mothers, a report issued by the Eleanor Foundation in 2009, based on census and American Community Survey data.
The total number of Chicago female heads of households is 1.025 million, and the average family income is $19,000, barely above the federal poverty line. Tens and tens of thousands of these families earn substantially less.
These families come in all kinds. So, even in this hyper-segregated city, these families live in every neighborhood. They are 49% Black, 25% White, and 24% Latina.
These women heads-of-households work full-time, constantly juggling the roles of primary caregiver and only breadwinner: 80% work 35 hours or more per week; 67% work 40 hours or more per week.
53% are “rent-distressed,” i.e., have to spend over 50% of their income in order to find safe and secure shelter.
Only 41% of these families are in the same home as two years previously. This causes disruption of all kinds, perhaps most detrimentally to children’s schooling.
As a result, basically half the children in these families fail to graduate high school. Virtually none obtain a four-year college degree. Not many more obtain a two-year degree.
In sum, if Mayor-elect Emanuel puts women first, he will solve Chicago’s problems.
He will also do way more than this. Here is why.
As I noted above, every other American urban center suffers from the very same problems as Chicago does.
Everywhere in urban America the same truth holds: that woman-headed families predominate at the bottom of the economic ladder, that woman-headed families suffer the most disproportionately in the maelstrom that is today’s American economy.
And where are these urban centers? Well, think vote-heavy, electoral college-heavy states. Think New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and California, for example.
In sum, in solving Chicago’s problems, (by putting women first), Mayor Emanuel, who some say wants to be president next, will have made the case for nation-wide federal election; forget just Congress.
In this way, it is Rahm Emanuel who will have uniquely come to America’s rescue in this time of desperate need.
In this way, it is Rahm Emanuel, and only Rahm Emanuel, because of his unique federal political experience, and, then, successful leadership of one of America’s largest cities, who will have demonstrated that he is the one who tackled successfully heretofore seemingly intractable problems.
In this way, ever so fortunately for him, at the very same time as the U.S. becomes increasingly urbanized, through the expansion of suburbia and the increasing predominance of low-income families in the suburbs, Rahm Emanuel will have made his case for the presidency.
Rahm Emanuel could be America’s first Jewish president, not just Chicago’s first Jewish mayor.
More important to millions of American women who need his help, Rahm Emanuel could make history — men’s, too — by being the first major American political leader to put women first, and, by-the-by, put America first, once again.