California's First Lady Maria Shriver comes from a political family with a long interest in women's issues. Her uncle -- you might remember him, President John F. Kennedy -- appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to head a commission on the status of women.
A lot has changed over the last half-century, and now Shriver is teaming with the Center for American Progress, USC and Time magazine to explore the current condition of U.S. women with a particular emphasis on the economic downturn's impact.
In the years since Roosevelt lead her examination, the U.S. has become a nation of two-income families, but there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that the current recession has been harder on traditionally male occupations -- like construction and factory work -- leaving many thousands of women as their family's sole breadwinners.
This new project aims to produce a "Shriver Report" that also will assess the status of women in government, business, faith institutions and healthcare, fields whose higher levels were all but closed to them in the Kennedy era.
Shriver's effort dovetails with an executive order recently signed by President Obama ordering a federal examination of women's status.
"Examining ways to improve the lives of women in this country is a noble cause, and I congratulate Maria Shriver and CAP on launching this new venture," White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett said in a statement. "Maria's contributions to better understanding American women today are invaluable, and we look forward to the results of this work."
In a statement, Shriver said: "The world has changed dramatically since my uncle launched his commission in 1961, and the fact is we need a new portrait of the American woman so we can better understand what she needs to be successful in this complicated world. The truth is, we are now what I like to call, 'A Woman's Nation'. "
Shriver plans to take a hands-on role in the effort, but has enlisted a couple of pretty high-powered co-editors, Center for American Progress senior economist Heather Boushey and Ann O'Leary, executive director of the Center on Health, Economic & Family Security at the UC Berkeley School of Law.
"Over the past generation, a seismic change has occurred in the family role and work life of American women," Boushey explained. "Most married-couple families now have two earners, and, compared to a generation ago, many more families today are headed by a single working parent. But our institutions and culture have not fully adapted to this reality."
Once the report is completed, Shriver and her colleagues hope it will be the basis for developing an agenda for a series of national round tables.