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 Virginia 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 Virginia’s women and families to get ahead—not just get by.
For most Virginians, the days of the stay-at-home mom are history: Mothers are the primary or co-breadwinners in 61.9 percent of Virginia families. This is not surprising since most women in the state work—more than 7 in 10 of Virginia women are in the labor force. To promote women’s economic security, Virginia’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.
Provide 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. In Virginia, the rate is even higher: 41.4 percent of private-sector workers, or almost 1.2 million people, do not have paid sick days.
- 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.
Expand 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 13 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers.
- The National Partnership for Women & Families gave Virginia a “D” on policies that help parents of newborn children. Virginia law does not expand upon federal rights or protections for new or expectant 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 Virginia.
- 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.
- Virginia women earn just 77.8 cents for every dollar that Virginia men earn. The wage gap is even larger for black women and Latinas in Virginia, who respectively earn 59.7 cents and 52.9 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-seven percent of Virginia 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 Virginia family with one infant and one 4-year-old, child care costs an average of $21,476 per year, or more than one-quarter of the median income for a Virginia family with children.
- Under the Center for American Progress’ High Quality Child Care Tax Credit, families in Virginia would, on average, save $6,828 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 Virginians.
Increase the minimum wage
Women make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers, and raising the minimum wage would help hardworking women across Virginia 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 515,000 women in Virginia and nearly 20 million women nationally. Almost 59 percent of the workers in Virginia 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, 990,160 Virginia 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, Virginia 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 Virginia’s population but only 29 percent of its elected officials.
- Women of color make up 19 percent of the state’s population but only 7 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.