The Issues

Women’s Economic Agenda


When women succeed, America succeeds. It’s a fact whose truth reverberates throughout our history. And today, the success of women is more important than ever to the strength of America’s working families and the future of our economy.

Today, women make up almost half of all workers in America. Working mothers are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of America’s families.  But more needs to be done to address the very real challenges that still exist for women and hard-working American families.

Too many women are asked to bear the burden of outdated policies that diminish opportunities for women’s full participation in our workforce. Too many women are faced with the lack of good-paying jobs, and the daily challenge of providing for their families.  Too many women and their families are unable to buy a home, pay for college for their children, and save for a secure retirement.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

American women have made great strides throughout history.  More than 165 years ago in Seneca Falls, the first women’s rights convention addressed the status of women in social, economic, and political life, and demanded that women be granted the same rights and privileges afforded to men.

While progress has been made since that historic gathering, the fight for justice, for equal rights, for greater opportunity, is far from over.  House Democrats proudly support When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families, an agenda that builds on all that was accomplished at Seneca Falls, that was achieved by the suffragettes, and that has been advanced by activists in every generation – by answering the economic challenges facing women and families today.


 PAY

The Problems:

  • Fifty-two years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, women continue to earn less than men. Women make only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, amounting to a yearly gap of $10,876 between full-time men and women. That $10,876 lost could purchase 86 more weeks of food or more than 3,200 additional gallons of gas or 12 more months of rent.
  • For African American women and Latinas the pay gap is even larger. African American women on average earn only 64 cents and Latinas on average earn only 56 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.
  • By age 65, the typical woman will have lost $434,049 throughout a 40-year working career as a result of the gender pay gap.
  • The minimum wage is a women’s issue; nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Yet the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation over the last 47 years – with the minimum wage now, in inflation-adjusted terms, 24 percent lower than it was in 1968.
  • It is wrong to have millions of Americans working full-time and year-round and still living in poverty. Currently, a single mother with two children who works full-time and earns the minimum wage lives in poverty – with an income $5,000 below the poverty level.
  • Millions of American women remain trapped in low-wage occupations – with no ability to access educational opportunities or job training that would lead them to better-paying jobs that will help them support their families.
  • Women are seeing the erosion of critical employment rights such as protections from sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation, by 5-4 Supreme Court decisions in Wal-Mart, Vance and Nassar. Legislation is needed to address these damaging decisions.
  • Women small business owners still face special challenges. Loan approval rates for women-owned companies are 15 percent to 20 percent lower than they are for their male-owned counterparts. In addition, statistics show that, in recent years, women-owned small businesses have received only four percent of the more than $400 billion in federal government contracts awarded to small businesses.
  • Another key pay issue is that each year many pregnant women experience discrimination in the workplace. Over the past decade, the number of pregnancy discrimination charges has increased by 35 percent. Pregnant working women are being denied simple job adjustments that would keep them working and supporting their families.

The Solutions:

  • Paycheck Fairness
  • Increase Minimum Wage (Including Tipped)
  • Invest in Job Training and Education Opportunities
  • Protect and Restore Employment Rights
  • Support Women Entrepreneurs/Small Businesses
  • Pregnant Workers Fairness
  • Adequate Tools to Investigate Wage Discrimination

Learn more about challenges and solutions for pay equity in America.


WORK & FAMILY BALANCE

The Problems:

  • Workers in 145 countries around the world have earned paid sick days – but there is no policy to ensure earned paid sick days in the United States. As a result, 39 percent of private sector workers in this country do not have a single paid sick day. Even worse, more than 70 percent of low-wage workers in the private sector go without any paid sick days. Paid sick days enable workers to stay home if they are ill or if they have an ill child at home.
  • Workers without paid sick days have to either go to work sick or stay home and lose pay and risk job loss or workplace discipline. Nearly one-quarter of adults in the U.S. (23 percent) report that they have lost a job or have been threatened with job loss for taking time off due to illness or to care for a sick child or relative.
  • Workers without paid sick days are more likely to report going to work with a contagious illness like the flu or a viral infection – and risk infecting others.
  • The United States has no mandatory paid family leave policy — making it one of just three countries in the world and the only country among industrialized countries to not mandate paid maternity leave for new mothers.
  • Indeed, fully 88 percent of the U.S. workforce does not have paid family leave through their employers, and more than 60 percent of the workforce does not have paid personal medical leave through an employer-provided temporary disability program, which some new mothers use.
  • As a result, when workers develop serious health conditions, have seriously ill family members or become parents, they are stuck between what is best for them and their families on the one hand, and the income and jobs they need on the other. That is why the need for paid family and medical leave programs for America’s workers is so great.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – the nation’s only federal law designed to help working people manage their responsibilities at work and home – requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave per year:       to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child; to care for a seriously ill family member (spouse, child, parent); or to recover from a worker’s serious illness. However, FMLA guarantees only unpaid leave, which millions of Americans cannot afford to take.
  • Another key problem is that too many workers are currently not covered even by the FMLA protections, which are important in providing 12 weeks of job-protected leave. Nearly half of full-time employees are not covered by FMLA. Employers with fewer than 50 workers are exempt, and also many workers are not eligible because they are part-time or have not worked for their employer long enough. Also, FMLA coverage does not reflect the caregiving needs of many families today – with workers unable to take leave to care for grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, or in-laws.

The Solutions:

  • Paid Sick Leave
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave
  • Expanded Family and Medical Leave
  • Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave
  • Schedules that Work

Learn more about the challenges and solutions for work and family balance in America.


CHILD CARE

The Problems:

  • There is a drastic lack of quality preschool for three and four-year-olds in the U.S. In most other industrialized countries, there is universal preschool for three and four-year-olds. Indeed, the U.S. ranks 28th out of 38 countries in the share of four-year-olds enrolled in preschool, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), including such countries as Chile and Argentina.
  • In addition to the lack of quality preschool for 3 and 4-year olds in the U.S., the lack of availability of affordable and high-quality child care in this country has reached crisis proportions. Nearly two-thirds of American women with pre-school age children work; yet in the U.S., families are generally left on their own for providing child care.
  • Today, child care is a necessity for most families with preschool children because households need two incomes to pay all the bills. Yet quality, affordable child care in too many communities across the country is hard to find, difficult to afford and of dubious quality. Regardless of income bracket, the high cost of child care is a struggle for most families. The average cost of full-time child care for one child in a day care center in 2014 ranged from $5,500 to $16,500 depending on the state.
  • The current child care tax credit is inadequate in helping make child care more affordable. Most families with preschool children say that child care is the second-highest household expense behind mortgage or rent payments in their budgets. Some families with more than one preschool child have to pay more than $1,500 a month in child care expenses. The maximum child care tax credit currently fails to make child care affordable for many families.
  • Although child care is very expensive for parents, child care workers are very poorly paid. The mean hourly wage for child care workers is $9.38 an hour, falling short of coatroom attendants and short-order cooks, and barely outpacing dishwashers and burger flippers. Working full-time, year-round at $9.38 an hour results in annual pay of about $19,000, which is below the poverty level for a family of three.
  • We must also ensure that the expanded Child Tax Credit of 2009, which helps low-income families with children, is made permanent. The expansion is set to expire in two years. Letting the expansion expire would push 12 million people, including 6 million children, into or deeper into poverty. Today, a single mother with two children who works full time receives a child tax credit of $1,725. If the expansion expires, she would lose her entire $1,725 tax credit.
  • Finally, inadequate access to child support is another key problem. Ensuring child support is especially important for low-income families. For low-income families who receive it, child support represents 40 percent of family incomes and reduces the poverty rate for children in these families by nearly 25 percent.

The Solutions:

  • President Obama’s Preschool and Early Head Start/Child Care Initiative
  • Promote Affordable and High Quality Child Care
  • Adequate Funding of Child Care Programs
  • Adequate Training and Pay for Child Care Workers
  • Expand Child Care Tax Credit
  • Make Child Tax Credit Permanent and Indexed
  • Increase Access to Child Support

Learn more about the challenges and solutions for child care in America.


RETIREMENT SECURITY

The Problems:

  • Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are particularly key to the retirement security of women, who live longer, usually have lower retirement savings and spend more on medical care.
  • Without Social Security, nearly half of women 65 and older would be poor.       Social Security is virtually the only source of income for 30 percent of women enrollees 65 and older. And yet the average benefit for women is only $13,500 per year. Social Security must be strengthened – not privatized, as proposed by some Republicans.
  • Women represent 56 percent of Medicare enrollees; among the oldest Medicare enrollees (age 85 and older), 70 percent are women; and 57 percent of women on Medicare live below 200 percent of the poverty level.       Medicare must be protected and strengthened – not cut, with the final GOP budget slashing Medicare by $431 billion.
  • Medicaid is the largest payer for long-term care services in the United States, with women being the primary beneficiaries. 60 percent of people living in nursing homes depend on Medicaid to help pay their bill. Medicaid must be strengthened – not cut, with the final GOP budget slashing Medicaid by $500 billion.
  • We must start putting a value on caregiving. Many women reach retirement with financial insecurity because they interrupted their work life to be unpaid caregivers for their young children or aging parents. One key proposal is to provide Social Security credits for family caregivers. Imputed earnings would be granted to a worker who leaves or reduces his/her participation in the workforce to provide care to their young children or older parents. In addition, raising wages to attract and retain paid caregivers and significantly expanding the Child and Dependent Child Tax Credit, which can be used for care for any dependent, will make it more possible for both parents to work full-time.
  • The retirement insecurity of women has many causes. For example, by age 65, the typical woman will have lost $434,049 throughout her working career as a result of the gender pay gap. Closing the pay gap, and enabling women to fully participate in the U.S. economy by ensuring paid family leave, including paid maternity leave,       ensuring paid sick days, and ensuring affordable child care would all improve women’s retirement security.
  • Only 28 percent of women age 65-74 receive pension income from an employer.   We must protect pensions and substantially improve retirement savings opportunities, particularly for women. The myRA program, begun by the Administration, that enables workers to open a retirement account with $25 and make automatic payments each pay period is a key start. We should make it permanent.   We need to also promote such automatic savings proposals as providing automatic enrollment of Americans without access to a workplace retirement plan in an IRA.
  • We must also reauthorize and strengthen the Older Americans Act, including making improvements to the core programs of the Act, such as congregate and home-delivered meals, assistance for family caregivers, and transportation and senior services; taking new steps to protect against elder abuse and strengthen long-term care ombudsman services; and strengthening the Senior Community Service Employment Program.

The Solutions:

  • Protect and Strengthen Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
  • Expand Support for Caregivers
  • Improve Retirement Savings Opportunities
  • Strengthen the Older Americans Act

Learn more about challenges and solutions for retirement security in America.

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