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In the last several years, significant progress has been made to ensure women and their families have equal opportunities for economic security and prosperity. Topics such as equal pay; paid sick days and paid family leave; access to reproductive health; and affordable child care have gained traction on the local, state, and federal levels. But in the South especially, much work is still needed to promote economic security and ensure that all working families are able to get ahead—not just get by. Access to reproductive health care—including abortion, contraception, and maternal health care—is crucial to the conversation about women’s economic justice. Research has shown that women have greater earning potential and job mobility in states where reproductive health care is more readily available, compared with women in states that restrict reproductive health care access—which, unfortunately, includes many of the Southern states.1
Women and families need policies that reflect their roles as providers and caregivers; in Georgia, mothers are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners in 66.3 percent of families.2 These numbers are higher for some women of color. In Georgia, 81.3 percent of black mothers are breadwinners. The following policy recommendations can help support the economic security of women and families in Georgia.
Promote equal pay for equal work
Although federal law prohibits unequal pay for equal work, there is more that can be done to ensure that both women and men across Georgia enjoy the fullest protections against discrimination.
- Georgia women who are full-time, year-round workers earn about 82 cents for every dollar that Georgia men earn;3 if the wage gap continues to close at its current rate, women will not reach parity in the state until 2055.4 The wage gap is even larger for black women and Latinas in Georgia, who earn 63 cents and 50 cents, respectively, for every dollar that white men earn.5
- Because of the gender wage gap, over the course of a lifetime, women in Georgia will lose $337,360.6
Increase the minimum wage
Women constitute a disproportionate share of low-wage workers; raising the minimum wage would help hardworking women across Georgia better support their families.
- Women make up nearly two-thirds of all minimum wage workers in the United States.7 About 6 in 10 minimum wage workers in Georgia are women.8
- Increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 would boost wages for 941,000 women in Georgia and more than 23 million women nationally. Fifty-eight percent of the workers who would be affected by raising the minimum wage to $15 are women.9
- In Georgia, the minimum wage for workers who receive tips is $2.13. Nearly three-quarters of these workers are women.10
Guarantee access to quality health care
Women need comprehensive reproductive health services—including access to abortion and maternity care—in order to thrive as breadwinners, caregivers, and employees. At a minimum, to ensure women are able to access high-quality care, the state should invest in state-based family-planning programs; end onerous restrictions on abortion care; ensure access to unbiased and comprehensive sexuality education; and expand Medicaid.
- In 2014, 695,120 Georgia women were in need of publicly funded family planning services and supplies.11
- There are significant state restrictions on abortion in Georgia: The state requires biased counseling that discourages a woman from having the abortion; a 24-hour waiting period before she can get the procedure; and parental consent for minors.12
- Georgia has the sixth highest infant mortality rate in the United States, at 7.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. The national rate is 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.13
- Georgia has a maternal mortality rate significantly above the national average, which is already higher than any other in the developed world.14 These rates are even higher for African American mothers in Georgia.15
- Federal Title X funding—which covers contraception, pregnancy testing, and cancer screenings—has not kept up with inflation and often faces the threat of funding cuts and policy changes at the federal level.16 Georgia should ensure on a state level that women have access to the full spectrum of quality, affordable, and women-centered family planning services.
Ensure workers have access to paid sick days
Everyone gets sick, but not everyone is afforded the time to get better. Many women go to work sick 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 37 million U.S. employees, or nearly one-third of the nation’s private sector workforce, do not have access to paid sick days.17
- In Georgia, the rate is even higher: 44 percent of private sector workers, or 1.4 million people, do not have paid sick days.18 Georgia recently passed legislation, commonly referred to as a “kin care law,” that requires employers that offer paid sick leave to allow their employees to also use that time to care for family members.19
Ensure fair scheduling practices
Many low-wage and part-time workers—approximately 60 percent of whom are women20—face erratic work schedules and have little control over when they work and for how long.
- More than 1 in 4 low-wage workers have schedules that are nonstandard—that is, outside of the traditional 9-to-5 workweek.21 This can be especially difficult for parents who need to plan for child care.
- In addition to threatening the economic security of these workers and their families, unfair scheduling practices are often accompanied by reduced access to health benefits and increased potential of sexual harassment.22
Provide access to 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 the child’s life; to care for an aging parent or spouse; to recover from their own illness; or to assist a loved one’s recovery.
- Only 15 percent of civilian workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers.23
- Unpaid leave under Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is inaccessible for 60 percent of working people in Georgia. Workers and families in Georgia need paid family and medical leave for reasons other than childbirth: one in five workers is aged 55 and older, and in less than 15 years, the state’s population that is 65 and older will grow by 40 percent. 24
- While paid leave is crucial for new parents, workers need paid leave for a number of other reasons. National data show that 55 percent of employees who take unpaid leave through FMLA use it for their own medical reasons. Another 21 percent use it for the birth or adoption of a child, while 18 percent use it to care for a family member.25
Expand quality, affordable child care
Families need child care to ensure they are able to work, but many families lack access to high-quality child care options that support young children’s development and adequately prepare them for school.
- Sixty-six percent of Georgia children younger than age 6 have all available parents in the workforce, which makes access to affordable, high-quality child care a necessity.26
- For a Georgia family with one infant and one 4-year-old, the annual price of a child care center averages $12,972 per year, or about one-fifth of the median income for a Georgia family with children.27
- Georgia is a leader in public preschool, serving 60 percent of four year olds. Georgia became the first state to offer publicly funded universal preschool in 1992, but funding for the program continues to lag.28
Protect workers against all forms of gender-based violence
Women cannot fully participate in the economy if they face the threat of violence and harassment. There are a number of steps lawmakers can take to prevent violence against women and to support survivors, including creating greater workplace accountability; strengthening enforcement; increasing funding for survivor support services; and educating the public on sexual harassment in the workplace.29
- In Georgia, 32.6 percent of women have experienced contact sexual violence in their lifetime,30 and 28.1 percent of women have experienced noncontact sexual harassment.31 Given research at the national level suggesting under-reporting of sexual harassment charges as high as 70 percent, these state numbers may only scratch the surface.32
- Thirty-seven percent of Georgia women have experienced intimate partner violence, which includes physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. This is the same rate of intimate partner violence experienced by women throughout the United States.33 Experiencing intimate partner violence has been shown to hinder women’s economic potential in many ways, including loss of pay from missed days of work and housing instability.34
Protecting the rights of incarcerated women
The growing problem of mass incarceration in the United States hinders the economic potential of those affected, which are primarily communities of color. Incarceration can have a particularly destabilizing effect on families with an incarcerated mother, especially if that woman is a breadwinner. The experience of incarceration is also uniquely traumatic for women in ways that can deter long-term economic security, even after release.
- Many of the Southern states, including Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Mississippi, have incarceration rates of more than 500 per 100,000 people.35
- Nationally, women are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. prison population, but there are fewer federal prisons for women than there are for men, which contributes to overcrowding and hostile conditions for incarcerated women.36
- Incarcerated women suffer from a wide range of abuses at the hands of the prison system, including lack of access to menstrual hygiene products; lack of adequate nutrition and prenatal care; shackling during pregnancy and childbirth; and separation and further disruption from children for whom they are primary caregivers.37
Promote women’s political leadership
Across the United States, women are dramatically underrepresented in political office; they constitute 51 percent of the population but only 29 percent of elected officials.38
- Women make up 51 percent of Georgia’s population but only 30 percent of its elected officials.39
- Women of color constitute 23 percent of the state’s population but only 8 percent of its officeholders.40
- There are 17 women running for congressional and state executive offices in Georgia in the 2018 elections—15 Democrats and two Republicans.41
Shilpa Phadke is the vice president of the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Anusha Ravi is a research assistant for the Women’s Initiative at the Center. Annie McGrew is a research assistant for Economic Policy at the Center.