Fast Facts: Economic Security for Pennsylvania Families

The right policies can go a long way toward helping all Pennsylvania women gain economic security.

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Parents and students at the Andrew Hamilton School in Philadelphia, August 20, 2016. (AP/Jeff Fusco)
Parents and students at the Andrew Hamilton School in Philadelphia, August 20, 2016. (AP/Jeff Fusco)

For a more recent version of this fact sheet, see: “State Fact Sheets: Economic Security for Women and Families” by the Women’s Initiative

In Pennsylvania and across the United States, we need policies that promote economic security for women and families. Working families need higher livable wages; women need and deserve equal pay for equal work; and parents need to be able to maintain good jobs that allow them to work and raise their children simultaneously. Strong economic security policies will enable Pennsylvania women and families to get ahead—not just get by.

For most Pennsylvanians, the days of the stay-at-home mom are history: Mothers are the primary or co- breadwinners in 65.3 percent of Pennsylvania families. This is not surprising since most women in the state work—nearly 7 in 10 Pennsylvania women are in the labor force. Significantly, the rise in women’s earnings has had a strong countervailing force on the growth of income inequality over the past 50 years. Between 1963 and 2013, income inequality among the bottom 95 percent of Pennsylvania married couples grew 33 percent. But without the rise in women’s labor force participation and earnings during those 50 years, income inequality would have grown 45 percent.

In order to promote women’s economic security, Pennsylvania’s policies should address the needs of working mothers and reflect the roles that women are playing to provide for their families. Here are seven areas in which policymakers and advocates can help women bolster their families’ economic security.

Expand access to paid sick days

Everyone gets sick, but not everyone is afforded the time to get better. Many women go to work sick or leave their sick children at home alone because they fear that they will be fired for missing work. Allowing employees to earn paid sick days helps keep families, communities, and the economy healthy.

  • About 40 million U.S. employees, or 40 percent of the nation’s private-sector workforce, do not have access to paid sick days. Two major cities in Pennsylvania—Philadelphia and Pittsburgh—have taken the lead in providing paid sick days to all employees. However, these laws should be extended state wide to ensure all workers in the state have access.
  • If employees must stay home from work because they or their children are ill, the loss of pay can take a serious toll—particularly on low-income workers, who are the least likely to have access to paid sick leave.

Provide paid family and medical leave

Access to paid family and medical leave would allow workers to be with their newborn children during the crucial first stages of a child’s life, to care for an aging parent or spouse, or to recover from their own illness.

  • The United States is the only developed country that does not guarantee access to paid maternity leave and one of only three developed countries that do not offer broader family and medical leave insurance. Only 12 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers.
  • The National Partnership for Women & Families gave Pennsylvania a “D-”on policies that help parents of newborn children. Pennsylvania law does not expand upon federal rights or protections for new and expecting parents who work in the private sector.

Ensure equal pay

Although federal law prohibits unequal pay for equal work, there is more to do to ensure that both women and men enjoy the fullest protections against discrimination across Pennsylvania.

  • Women are the primary, sole, or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of U.S. families but continue to earn less than their male counterparts. Latinas and African American women experience the sharpest pay disparities.
  • Pennsylvania women earn just 79.2 cents for every dollar that Pennsylvania men earn. The wage gap is even larger for black women and Latinas in Pennsylvania, who respectively earn 68.2 cents and 55.9 cents for every dollar that white men earn.

Expand quality, affordable child care

Families need child care to be able to work, but many families lack access to high-quality child care options. Parents want and need child care that supports young children’s development and adequately prepares them for school.

  • Sixty-eight percent of Pennsylvania children younger than age 6 have all available parents in the workforce, which makes access to affordable, high-quality child care a necessity.
  • For a Pennsylvania family with one infant and one 4-year-old, child care costs an average of $21,106 per year, or more than one-third of the median income for a Pennsylvania family with children.
  • The high cost of child care can result in workers, typically women, taking time out of the workforce to care for young children. Yet, there are hidden costs to this decision: A typical woman worker in Pennsylvania who leaves the workforce for five years to become a full-time caregiver would lose $466,571, or about a 19 percent reduction in her lifetime income, including lost retirement assets and benefits, lost wage growth, and lost wages for the years she spends out of the workforce.
  • Under the Center for American Progress’ High Quality Child Care Tax Credit, families in Pennsylvania would, on average, save $7,270 annually compared with current child care costs. CAP’s proposal would also create a financial incentive for child care providers to improve their quality, therefore expanding access to high-quality child care programs for Pennsylvanians.

Increase the minimum wage

Women make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers, and raising the minimum wage would help hardworking women across Pennsylvania better support their families.

  • Women make up nearly two-thirds of all minimum wage workers in the United States.
  • Increasing the minimum wage to $12 per hour would boost wages for 831,000 women in Pennsylvania and nearly 20 million women nationally. Almost 60 percent of the workers in Pennsylvania who would be affected by raising the minimum wage to $12 are women.

Guarantee access to quality health care

Women need comprehensive reproductive health services—including access to abortion care—in order to thrive as breadwinners, caregivers, and employees.

  • In 2013, 759,140 Pennsylvania women were in need of publicly supported family planning services and supplies.
  • Because federal Title X funding—which covers contraception, pregnancy testing, and cancer screenings—has not kept up with inflation and often faces the threat of cuts at the federal level, Pennsylvania should step in and ensure that women have access to quality family planning resources.

Promote women’s political leadership

Across the United States, women are dramatically underrepresented in political office: They make up 51 percent of the population but only 29 percent of elected officials.

  • Women make up 51 percent of Pennsylvania’s population but only 31 percent of its elected officials.
  • Women of color make up 11 percent of the state’s population but only 4 percent of its officeholders.

Ryan Erickson is the Associate Director of Economic Campaigns at the Center for American Progress. Danielle Corley is a Research Assistant for Women’s Economic Policy at the Center.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Ryan Erickson

Associate Director, Economic Campaigns

Danielle Corley

Research Associate, Women\'s Economic Policy

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