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Kona resident represents Hawaii at White House forum

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Margaret Masunaga and Patricia Loui (Photo courtesy of Margaret Masunaga)

Special to Hawaii 24/7

On Nov. 8, Captain Cook resident Margaret Masunaga checked the “spam” folder on her computer and found an invitation from the White House.

Masunaga, the county Planning Department deputy, was intrigued and wondered how many other people from Hawaii also received this email. She mentioned it to Mayor Billy Kenoi and he said she should go.

After checking air fares to D.C., Masunaga decided $1,300 was too expensive to pay her own way for a trip to the White House.

When Masunaga received telephone calls from the White House (Hallie Schneir told she was the only Hawaii representative) and also from the U.S. Dept. Of Labor, and then heard a story on NPR while driving to work about Hillary Clinton talking about Women & the Economy, she thought she had to find a way to get to D.C.

She was able to use United mileage points to get to Washington and she wasn’t disappointed.

Schlepping five leis and macadamia nuts through the security gate (she was relieved her name was on the participant list), she was surprised to see her friend Roberta Liebenberg, former chairwoman of the American Bar Association Women in the Profession Commission.

Margaret Masunaga with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Roberta Liebenberg (Photo courtesy of Margaret Masunaga)

Masunaga reported:

Bobbi Liebenberg, from Philadelphia, was representing Vision 2020, a national project for Women with Drexel University.

We went through another check point in the building and received a White House briefing folder and name tag.

Before the forum started, I handed out small mac nut packets to everybody. I gave fresh leis to Valerie Jarrett, Hilda Solis, Dr. Rebecca Blank, Dr. Adriana Kugler, and Elmy Bermejo.

I also gave boxes of chocolate mac nuts to Roberta Gassman, Marie Johns, Jamie Smith, & Hallie Schneir. Everyone knew the Aloha State was represented in the room! At the end of the forum, Hallie told Elmy that I helped their stress with my generosity and warmth.

The first speaker was Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama.

I gave her the ABA publication, “Dear Sisters, Dear Daughters, Words of Wisdom from Multicultural Women Attorneys Who’ve Been There and Done That.”

Also on the speaker’s list was Valerie Jarrett, White House Senior Advisor to the President & Chair of the White House Council on Women & Girls (created by President Barack Obama by Executive Order on March 11, 2009).

The Council produced the first comprehensive federal report on the status of America women in almost 50 years. The Council also promotes Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

The United States has fallen behind several other countries in STEM education. Yet, these STEM jobs pay 26 percent more than non-STEM jobs. These occupations include green jobs, astronomers, researchers, and food scientists. 42 percent of STEM workers have bachelor’s degrees, 24 percent have graduate degrees.

Solis, spoke about Women, the Economy, and the American Jobs Act. Today, nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families, so it’s critical that any plan for recovery and job grown include opportunities for women.

The first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored basic protections against pay discrimination.

Hawaii has one of the lowest female unemployment at 6.1 percent (according to the 2010 Annual Averages). Hawaii received $28.5 million from the U.S. Department of Labor in discretionary, competitive grants in 2011 (not including continuation funds).

These grants include the Civic Justice Corps, Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, National Farmworker Jobs Program, Re-employment & Eligibility Assessment, and Trade Adjustment Act Community College.

Dr. Adriana Kugler, chief economist with the U.S. Department of Labor, pointed out the government sector was losing jobs, which started before Obama took office, and women were more impacted by the loss of government jobs.

Women are nearly 50 percent more likely to work in the public sector jobs.

Regarding the face of the unemployed worker, Kugler said older women are out of work longer. Extending unemployment insurance will prevent 2.6 million women from losing their benefits.

Extending the payroll tax cut will help increase the paychecks of 77.9 million women in the workforce. Cutting the payroll tax in half will go to every small business nationwide, including more than 900,000 women-owned small businesses.

Obama also strives to keep teachers in the classroom by investing $30 billion dollars to prevent up to 280,000 teacher layoffs. Women make up about 70 percent of pre-kindergarten to 12th grade teachers.

Other information from the forum included the Obama Administration promotion of workplace flexibility efforts. The President’s Council of Economic Advisors issued a report on the economic benefits of workplace flexibility, concluding it strengthens a company’s bottom line while helping workers meet the needs of their families and stay in the workforce.

To strengthen the government’s position as a model employer in this area, the President signed the Telework Enhancement Act that requires federal agencies to promote the use of telework. This is especially relevant to Hawaii, and may lead to opportunities for neighbor island workers to compete and fill jobs out of Honolulu.

Similarly, in Hawaii County, Mayor Billy Kenoi has appointed several directors and deputies who work and live in Kona, included Masunaga, Wally Lau, Bobby Command, Bob Fitzgerald, Steve Arnett, Laverne Omori, and Sharon Toriano. First Deputy Prosecutor Dale Yamada Ross also lives in West Hawaii.

Masunaga said she was honored to be part of the White House forum and Hawaii will definitely be in the loop of opportunities for women flowing from the White House and U.S. Department of Labor.

Women in STEM Labor Market Presentation


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