Fast Facts: Economic Security for Women and Families in Pennsylvania

A mother visits the pediatrician with her two children and mother in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Women in Pennsylvania face obstacles to accessing quality health care and economic security. Lawmakers should prioritize policies that reduce barriers to reproductive health care, promote the representation of women in politics, and ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, which would allow women and their families in Pennsylvania to get ahead—not just get by.

Women need policies that reflect their roles as providers and caregivers. In Pennsylvania, mothers are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners in 65.5 percent of families, and these numbers are higher for some women of color.1 The following policy recommendations can help support the economic security of women and families in Pennsylvania.

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 Pennsylvania enjoy the fullest protections against discrimination.

  • Pennsylvania women who are full-time, year-round workers earned about 80 cents for every dollar that Pennsylvania men earned in 2017;2 if the wage gap continues to close at its current rate, women will not reach parity in the state until 2068.3 The wage gap is even larger for black women and Latinas in Pennsylvania, who earned 67.8 cents and 56.9 cents, respectively, for every dollar that white men earned in 2016.4
  • Due to the gender wage gap, each woman in Pennsylvania will lose an average of $429,320 over the course of her lifetime.5

Increase the minimum wage

Women constitute a disproportionate share of low-wage workers; raising the minimum wage would help hardworking women across Pennsylvania and enable them to better support their families.

  • Women make up nearly two-thirds of all minimum wage workers in the United States.6 More than 6 in 10 of all minimum wage workers in Pennsylvania are women.7
  • In Pennsylvania, the current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.8 The minimum wage for workers who receive tips is $2.83 per hour.9 Almost three-quarters of tipped wage workers in Pennsylvania are women.10
  • Increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 would boost wages for 1,195,000 women in Pennsylvania and more than 23 million women nationally. Fifty-nine percent of the Pennsylvania workers who would be affected by raising the minimum wage to $15 are women.11

Guarantee access to quality health care

Women need access to comprehensive health services—including abortion and maternity care—in order to thrive as breadwinners, caregivers, and employees. To ensure women are able to access high-quality care, states should, at minimum, strengthen family planning programs such as Title X; protect Medicaid; and end onerous restrictions that reduce access to abortion care and undermine the patient-provider relationship. At the state level, Pennsylvania should ensure that women have access to the full spectrum of quality, affordable, and women-centered reproductive health services.

  • In 2014, more than 745,500 women in Pennsylvania were in need of publicly funded family planning services and supplies, and 17 percent of those women were uninsured.12
  • Threats to repeal pre-existing condition protections under the Affordable Care Act would impact millions of women. More than 67 million women and girls nationally have pre-existing conditions and could be denied insurance, including about 2,595,000 women in Pennsylvania.13
  • Title X—the nation’s only federal domestic program focused solely on providing family planning and other related preventive care, such as contraception, sexually transmitted infection testing, and cancer screenings—served about 175,000 women in Pennsylvania in 2017, down from about 193,000 women in 2014.14 Title X funding has itself increased slightly, from about $13.2 million in 2014 to about $13.5 million in 2017.15
  • Pennsylvania has several restrictions on abortion care: Public funding and insurance coverage for public employees are available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest, and Pennsylvania requires biased counseling that gives women inaccurate and misleading information about abortion care. A 24-hour waiting period is required before women can undergo the procedure, and parental consent is required for young people under age 18.16
  • Pennsylvania’s infant mortality rate—6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births—is slightly higher than the national rate of 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.17 The state’s maternal mortality rate is 11.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births,18 compared with the national rate of 18 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.19

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.

  • More than 34 million U.S. employees, or 29 percent of the nation’s private sector workforce, do not have access to paid sick days.20
  • Pennsylvania does not have a statewide paid sick days law, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers in the state without a single paid sick day.21
  • Philadelphia passed a paid sick days law, which went into effect in May 2015 and provided approximately 200,000 workers formerly without paid sick leave access to paid sick days.22 Pittsburgh also passed a paid sick days law in 2015, but the law’s implementation is stayed pending appeals after an Allegheny County judge ruled the law was invalid.23

Ensure fair scheduling practices

Many low-wage and part-time workers—approximately 60 percent of whom are women24—face erratic work schedules and have little control over when they work and for how long.

  • More than 1 in 4 low-wage U.S. workers have a schedule that is nonstandard—that is, outside of the traditional 9-to-5 workweek.25 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 for sexual harassment.26

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 critical early stages of the child’s life; to care for an aging parent or spouse; to recover from their own illness; or to assist in a loved one’s recovery.

  • Only 17 percent of civilian workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers.27
  • Unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is inaccessible to 59 percent of working people in Pennsylvania. Workers and families in the state need paid family and medical leave for reasons other than childbirth. For example, more than 1 in 4 workers in Pennsylvania is at least 55 years old, and in fewer than 15 years, the state’s population that is ages 65 and older will grow by nearly one-third.28 Pennsylvania’s aging population means an increase in older adults with serious medical conditions who will need additional care.
  • National data show that 55 percent of employees who take unpaid leave through the FMLA use it for personal medical reasons. Twenty-one percent of workers use leave for the birth or adoption of a child, while another 18 percent use it to care for a family member.29

Expand quality, affordable child care

Families need child care to ensure they are able to work, but many lack access to affordable, high-quality child care options that support young children’s development and meet the needs of working families.

  • 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.30
  • For a Pennsylvania family with one infant and one 4-year-old, the annual price of a child care center averages $21,363 per year, or almost one-third of the median income for a Pennsylvania family with children.31
  • Pennsylvania lags behind the national average on children enrolled in public preschool, with only 23 percent of 4-year-olds enrolled.32

Protect workers against all forms of gender-based violence

Women cannot fully participate in the economy if they face the threats of violence and harassment. There are a number of steps lawmakers can take to prevent violence against women and to support survivors, including establishing greater workplace accountability; strengthening enforcement; increasing funding for survivor support services; and educating the public on sexual harassment in the workplace.33

  • In Pennsylvania, 37.4 percent of women have experienced contact sexual violence in their lifetimes,34 and 33.4 percent of women have experienced noncontact sexual harassment.35 Given that research at the national level suggests that as many as 70 percent of sexual harassment charges go unreported, these state numbers likely only scratch the surface.36
  • Thirty-seven percent of Pennsylvania women have experienced intimate partner violence, which can include physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.37 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.38

Protecting the rights of incarcerated women

The growing problem of mass incarceration in the United States hinders the economic potential of those affected and disproportionately harms communities of color.39 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.40

  • The incarceration rate in Pennsylvania is 383 per 100,000 people.41 Approximately 5.8 percent of prisoners in Pennsylvania are women.42
  • Women are the fastest-growing segment of the overall U.S. prison population, but there are fewer federal prisons for women than there are for men, contributing to overcrowding and hostile conditions for incarcerated women.43
  • 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 from and further disruption in relationships with children for whom they are primary caregivers.44

Promote women’s political leadership

Across the United States, women are underrepresented in political office: They constitute 51 percent of the population but only 29 percent of elected officials.45

  • Women make up 51 percent of Pennsylvania’s population but only 32 percent of its elected officials.46
  • Women of color constitute 11 percent of the state’s population but only 2 percent of its officeholders.47

Shilpa Phadke is the vice president of the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Diana Boesch is a research assistant of women’s economic security for the Women’s Initiative at the Center. Nora Ellmann is a research assistant for women’s health and rights for the Women’s Initiative. 


  1. Sarah Jane Glynn’s analysis of Miriam King and others, “Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Current Population Survey: Version 5.0. (Machine-readable database)” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2017), on file with Sarah Jane Glynn.
  2. National Partnership for Women and Families, “America’s Women and the Wage Gap” (2018), available at
  3. Status of Women in the States, “The Economic Status of Women in Pennsylvania” (2018), available at
  4. National Women’s Law Center, “The Wage Gap for Black Women State Rankings: 2016” (2018), available at; National Women’s Law Center, “The Wage Gap for Latina Women State Rankings: 2016” (2018), available at
  5. National Women’s Law Center, “Lifetime Wage Gap Losses for Women: 2016 State Rankings” (2018), available at
  6. National Women’s Law Center, “Women and the Minimum Wage, State by State” (2018), available at
  7. National Women’s Law Center, “Women and the Minimum Wage, State by State” (2018), available at
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. National Women’s Law Center and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, “Tipped Workers State by State” (2017), available at
  11. Economic Policy Institute, “State tables on $15 minimum wage impact” (2017), available at; David Cooper, “Raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 would lift wages for 41 million American workers” (Washington: Economic Policy Institute, 2017), available at
  12. Jennifer J. Frost, Lori Frohwirth, and Mia R. Zolna, “Contraceptive Needs and Services, 2014 Update,” Table 3 and Table 6 (Washington: Guttmacher Institute, 2014), available at
  13. Center for American Progress and National Partnership for Women & Families, “Moving Backward: Efforts to Undo Pre-Existing Condition Protections Put Millions of Women and Girls at Risk” (2018), available at
  14. Office of Assistant Secretary for Health, Title X Family Planning Annual Report: 2014 National Summary (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015), available at; Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, Title X Family Planning Annual Report: 2017 National Summary (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018), available at
  15. National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, “Title X in Your State,” available at (last accessed September 2018).
  16. Guttmacher Institute, “State Facts About Abortion: Pennsylvania” (2018), available at
  17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Infant Mortality Rates by State: 2016,” available at (last accessed July 2018).
  18. Pennsylvania Department of Health, “Pennsylvania Vital Statistics 2016: Deaths” (2016), available at
  19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System,” available at (last accessed September 2018).
  20. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Compensation Survey: Employee Benefits in the United States, March 2018 (U.S. Department of Labor, 2018), available at; National Partnership for Women and Families, “Paid Sick Days: Quick Facts,” available at (last accessed September 2018).
  21. Jonathan Cohn, “Pennsylvania’s Fight Over Paid Sick Days Could Be The Presidential Campaign’s Next Issue,” HuffPost, December 6, 2017, available at
  22. National Partnership for Women and Families, “Paid Sick Days – State and District Statutes,” available at (last accessed September 2018).
  23. Ibid.
  24. National Women’s Law Center, “Collateral Damage: Scheduling Challenges for Workers in Low-Wage Jobs and Their Consequences” (2017), available at; National Women’s Law Center, “Part-Time Workers Are Paid Less, Have Less Access to Benefits—and Two-Thirds Are Women” (2015), available at
  25. National Women’s Law Center, “Set Up For Success: Fair Schedules Are Critical for Working Parents and Their Children’s Well-Being” (2017), available at; María E. Enchautegui, “Nonstandard Work Schedules and the Well-Being of Low-Income Families” (Washington: Urban Institute, 2013), available at
  26. Katherine Gallagher Robbins and Shirin Arslan, “Schedules That Work for Working Families,” Center for American Progress, December 18, 2017, available at
  27. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey, “Employee Benefits Survey, Table 32. Leave benefits: Access, civilian workers, March 2018,” available at (last accessed September 2018).
  28. National Partnership for Women and Families, “Paid Leave Means a Stronger Pennsylvania” (2018), available at
  29. Jacob Alex Klerman, Kelly Daley, and Alyssa Pozniak, “Family and Medical Leave in 2012: Technical Report” (Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates Inc., 2014), available at
  30. Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT, “Children under age 6 with all available parents in the labor force,” available at,573,869,36,868/any/11472,11473 (last accessed October 2018).
  31. Child Care Aware of America, “2017 State Child Care Facts in the State of: Pennsylvania,” available at (last accessed October 2018).
  32. National Institute for Early Education Research, “Pennsylvania,” available at (last accessed October 2018).
  33. Jocelyn Frye, “From Politics to Policy: Turning the Corner on Sexual Harassment,” Center for American Progress, January 31, 2018, available at
  34. “Contact sexual violence includes rape, being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.” See Sharon G. Smith and others, “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010–2012 State Report,” Table 3.9 (Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012), available at
  35. Noncontact unwanted sexual experiences include harassment, unwanted exposure to sexual body parts or making a victim show their body parts, and/or making a victim look at or participate in sexual photos or movies. See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Sexual Violence: Definitions,” available at (last accessed October 2018).
  36. Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic, “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace” (Washington: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2016), available at
  37. Smith and others, “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey,” Table 5.7.
  38. Asha DuMonthier and Malore Dusenbery, “Intersections of Domestic Violence and Economic Security” (Washington: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2016), available at
  39. Angela Hanks, “Ban the Box and Beyond” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2017), available at
  40. Ibid.
  41. E. Ann Carson, “Prisoners in 2016,” Table 7 (U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2018), available at
  42. Ibid., Table 2.
  43. Alec Hamilton, “For Female Inmates In New York City, Prison Is A Crowded, Windowless Room,” NPR, January 16, 2017, available at
  44. Khala James, “Upholding the Dignity of Incarcerated Women,” Center for American Progress, December 22, 2017, available at
  45. Reflective Democracy Campaign, “Reflective Democracy Research Findings: Summary Report, October, 2017,” available at (last accessed October 2018).
  46. Reflective Democracy Campaign, “How Does Your State Rank in the National Representation Index?”, available at (last accessed October 2018).
  47. Ibid.