March is National Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the contributions women have made to our country and a time to rededicate ourselves to advancing women and girls in our society. I recently co-hosted a forum with the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of California and the AAUW San Jose Branch at San Jose Community College on a new economic agenda for women and their families: When Women Succeed, America Succeeds. Millions of women and their families in our country are living on the brink—fighting for fair pay, battling limited access to affordable child care, and trying to balance work with life’s curve balls. This economic agenda will help those women and their families achieve the economic security every American deserves.
To illustrate the hurdles American women contend with on a day-to-day basis, I invited two constituents to the forum who shared their personal stories. Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, the Director of the Office of Women’s Policy for Santa Clara County, is deeply familiar with the challenges that women in our region face. But her personal story as a survivor of domestic violence and how she has met economic security challenges since were especially moving. Suzanne Doty, Chair of the Santa Clara County Commission on the Status of Women, shared her story about an aspect of the women’s economic agenda that is talked about with less frequency – the need for enhanced support for women entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Esther and Suzanne’s stories are part of a common chorus among millions of other American women.
One in three people in our country live with this kind of stress, struggle, and anxiety every day. More than 100 million Americans either live near the brink of poverty or churn in and out of it, and nearly 70 percent of them are women and children.
With a record number of women in the workforce, wage discrimination hurts the majority of American families, both in terms of their economic security today and their retirement security tomorrow. American women are approximately half of all workers in our country, but the average woman continues to be paid 77 cents for every dollar the average man earns. The average African American woman earns only 64 cents and the average Latina only 55 cents compared to white men. That means fewer resources to pay the mortgage, send kids to college, or have a decent retirement. The Institute of Women’s Policy Research found that wage disparity will cost women anywhere from $400,000 to $2 million over a lifetime of lost wages.
Women are nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers in our country, and more than 70 percent of low-wage workers go without any paid sick days. And 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income.
The women’s economic agenda will enable women to achieve economic security, raise wages for women and their families, and allow working parents to support and care for their families. This includes paycheck fairness; investment in job training and educational opportunities; support for women entrepreneurs; paid sick, family and medical leave; and adequate funding and promotion of child care programs. In practical terms, this will mean families won’t have to choose between a paycheck and caring for their sick child or parent. No longer will women have to decide between food on the table and paying rent. And they won’t be thrown into crisis mode when the rent goes up or if they have to pay a parking ticket.
The women’s economic agenda is not just an idea for improving quality of life. It comes with the full force of actions being taken in Congress. I’ve teamed up with the Democratic women in the House to introduce a package of legislation that aims to accomplish the goals of the agenda. Whether it’s equal pay for equal work, enhancing work and family balance, or promoting access to affordable and high quality child care, we stand fully committed to see that the goals of this agenda become the laws of our country.
By advancing these issues as a whole, we can ensure a better future for America’s families, the growth of America’s economy, and strengthen the middle class. Women play an important role in our society. By recognizing and promoting this, we have the power to put into practice solutions that will help women and families reach the economic security every American deserves.
Anna G. Eshoo
Member of Congress