Washington, D.C. — Today, at an event with Gail Collins and Anna Quindlen on the unfinished business of the women’s movement, the Center for American Progress released “A Woman’s Agenda for the 21st Century.” The analysis highlights the dramatic shift to how women—and men—navigate their workplace responsibilities, caregiving needs, and personal lives and outlines a path forward for how our policies can catch up with the reality of today’s challenges.
“Today’s public policies are not just out of step with the realities working American women face – they’re oftentimes non-existent,” said Heather Boushey, author of the analysis and CAP’s Chief Economist. “America is lagging dangerously behind other nations on too many fronts that are important to ensuring women’s economic security. This issue brief provides a comprehensive overview of policies we can, and should, adopt to support individuals so that they can be good workers and good care-givers without having to choose between the two.”
Fifty years ago unmarried women in more than half of the United States were not allowed access to contraception, and married women in some states couldn’t sit on juries, get a job without their husband’s permission, or keep control of their property and earnings. Today, that world is now a distant memory, but social and economic changes as well as the political decisions of our nation’s lawmakers have shaped 21st-century struggles for women and families. Leaders can begin to address these challenges and substantially improve women’s lives and economic security by adopting the following policies:
- Paid family and medical leave insurance: The United States is the only developed country that does not have national paid family and medical leave. This policy has been found to be a “non-event for businesses,” but significantly impacts workers and families.
- Rehire teachers and public-sector workers laid off in the Great Recession and end the sequester: This is a woman’s issue—public-sector workers were hit especially hard by the recession; 6 out of 10 state and local government employees and three out of four primary and secondary public-school teachers are women. Rehiring the teachers and other workers laid off during the recession would bring women back into solid, middle-class jobs while also helping to better educate young people.
- Promote pay equity: Even though 4 in 10 mothers are their family’s breadwinner, too many don’t earn a breadwinning wage. Women earn, on average, just 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, and this gap hasn’t budged in more than a decade.
- Ensure that women who want to join unions can do so: Increasing unionization rates among home health aides and child care workers would be especially beneficial to women’s economic security since these jobs are not only growing rapidly but are female dominated and among the lowest-paid jobs in the U.S. economy.
- Paid sick days for all workers: In the United States, unlike in every other developed country, workers do not have the right to stay home from work when they are sick. While many good employers do offer this benefit, women are less likely than men to hold the high-quality jobs that provide paid sick days.
- Provide universal child care and pre-kindergarten: The prohibitively high costs of private child care and the lack of quality, accessible public providers means that parents are often left to choose between the lesser of two evils: low-quality care or forgoing needed wages to stay at home and care for a child themselves.
- Fully implement the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicaid in the states: The Affordable Care Act addresses the problem of historical discrimination by insurance companies against women and ensures no-cost coverage for contraception and other preventive services for women. It also increases the affordability of health care coverage and will end discriminatory exclusions for the coverage of so-called pre-existing conditions such as breast cancer, domestic violence, and Cesarean sections.
- Increase workplace flexibility and predictable scheduling: Women, like men, need the ability to have some control over their schedules, or at least have schedules that they can count on. Most women, however, don’t have that. Despite the fact that women spend twice as much time providing child care, they actually outnumber men—57 percent to 43 percent—in having no access to any form of paid leave or workplace flexibility.
- Raise the minimum wage: For families to be economically secure, women need to earn a fair day’s pay. More than 60 percent of minimum-wage workers are women, yet making ends meet on today’s minimum wage is nearly impossible.
- Improve and enforce antidiscrimination laws: We may think that we have come a long way, but the reality is that discrimination still exists. In 2011 nearly one-third of the 100,000 employment-discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, involved allegations of sex discrimination.
- Ensure access to family-planning services: Having the ability to control the timing and spacing of pregnancy and childbirth is essential for women to be able to participate fully in education and paid employment.
- Strengthen Social Security and retirement plans: Social Security is key to women’s economic security in retirement, and it is especially important for widows, who rely on it for an average of eight years after their spouses have died.
The trends of the past half-century are unlikely to reverse. Women will continue to play an expanding role in our workplaces and homes, our economy, and our families. But until we craft policies aligned with this reality—policies that make it possible to be both a good mother and a good worker, policies that erase fears about whether a woman is being compensated fairly or whether she can afford basic health services—the United States will be at a competitive disadvantage. Legislation that promotes women’s economic security helps not just women but also their families and children. The policies outlined above are investments in future generations, and they are ones we cannot afford to postpone any longer.
- Lessons Learned: Reflections on 4 Decades of Fighting for Families by Judith Warner
- Investing in Our Children: A Plan to Expand Access to Preschool and Child Care by Cynthia G. Brown, Donna Cooper, Juliana Herman, Melissa Lazarín, Michael Linden, Sasha Post, and Neera Tanden
- Our Working Nation in 2013: An Updated National Agenda for Work and Family Policies by Heather Boushey, Ann O’Leary, and Sarah Jane Glynn
- Comprehensive Paid Family and Medical Leave for Today’s Families and Workplaces: Crafting a System that Builds on the Experience of Existing Federal and State Programs by Heather Boushey and Sarah Jane Glynn
To speak with CAP experts on this issue, please contact Madeline Meth at firstname.lastname@example.org.