It's no surprise anymore that women are essential engines in our national and family economies. Women are nearly half of the workforce, breadwinners in two-thirds of households, and primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children. Women and families across the country know this reality well. But it's long past time for Congress to address the needs that have come with it.
That's why we were thrilled to join champions for women and families in Congress on the steps of the Capitol this afternoon to call for a much-needed “women’s economic agenda” — a set of policies that will go a long way toward promoting women’s economic security and the ability of all workers to meet the dual demands of job and family. It is exactly what the country, working families and our economy need.
The effort is being led by U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and longtime advocate for working families Representative Rosa DeLauro. As Leader Pelosi said today: “When women succeed, America succeeds. This agenda is about the future of America’s families and the growth of America’s economy.”
Two critical components of that agenda have long been priorities for the National Partnership: fair pay and paid leave. Both are essential to the economic security of women and their families, and they should be top priorities for Congress.
It is unacceptable and harmful to our economy and families that women still face blatant discrimination in the workplace. Despite existing legal protections, women are paid less than men, denied promotions and other opportunities for advancement, and too often refused reasonable accommodations that would allow them to continue working if they become pregnant. This discrimination costs women critical income and, too often, their jobs.
Fortunately, there are proposals before Congress that would help to curb some of this harmful discrimination and bolster families and our economy. The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and help eliminate discriminatory pay practices. And the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would prevent employers from forcing pregnant women out of the workplace. They are both sorely needed, and we are pleased to see them included in the women’s economic agenda released today.
But the challenges that hurt women and families extend beyond workplace discrimination, especially as women continue to be primary caregivers for their families. Without adequate family friendly policies, like paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, too many women are forced to choose between job and family when illness strikes or inevitable health or caregiving needs arise. Too many risk losing critical income or their jobs to protect the health and well-being of their families.
That’s because more than 40 million workers in the United States cannot earn a single paid sick day, and a mere 11 percent of the private sector workforce has paid family leave through their employers. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which guarantees unpaid leave to 40 percent of the workforce, has been working well for 20 years, but it has long needed updating to cover more workers.
Here, too, the women’s economic agenda includes concrete and common sense measures Congress can and should advance. The Healthy Families Act would allow workers to earn paid sick days to use to recover from illness, access preventive care or care for a sick family member. Proposals to expand the FMLA would ensure more workers can take job-protected leave for more reasons. And the forthcoming Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program that would enable workers to take time to address serious illnesses or to care for new babies or seriously ill family members without sacrificing their economic security.
As members of Congress made clear today, ensuring that women can provide for themselves and their families without suffering discrimination and with the fundamental workplace support they need is critical to the financial stability of women, families and our economy. We commend all of the members of Congress who attended the event today and pledged their support for the women’s economic agenda, including Leader Pelosi, Representative DeLauro, and Representatives Donna Edwards, Doris Matsui and Nydia Velazquez.
We look forward to continuing to work with these lawmakers and others to advance these critical proposals — including fair pay, a living wage, protections for pregnant workers, paid sick days, paid family and medical leave and an expansion of the FMLA. The nation urgently needs progress on these issues.