Today in America, 42 million women and 28 million children who depend on them live in poverty or on its brink. When families live paycheck to paycheck, it takes a human and economic toll on all of us. Join The Shriver Report and the Center for American Progress and learn more about the vital and timely policy issues facing families teetering on the brink.
Increasing the Minimum Wage
Too many Americans are working long hours for wages that are too low to support their families. The federal minimum wage is a poverty wage: $7.25 per hour, which is just $15,080 annually for a full-time worker and $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. Women in particular struggle to make ends meet, as two-thirds of all workers who are paid the minimum wage or less are women.
Congress is expected to consider minimum wage legislation this spring. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. This increase would help 28 million American workers, including 15 million women, get by and lift 900,000 people out of poverty. 20 states already have wages that are higher than the federal minimum wage and advocates in many states are working to achieve state-level minimum wage increases.
Offering Paid Family and Medical Leave
Nationwide, only about 12 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employers to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. Workers in poorly compensated jobs, who are disproportionately women on the financial brink, bear the greatest financial burdens and are the least likely to have paid time off of any sort.
Legislation recently introduced in Congress, and modeled on the existing state family leave programs, would enable more breadwinners to accrue paid family leave to help balance their work and care responsibilities. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, is a proposed social insurance program that would give all workers the ability to earn up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, a seriously ill family member, or the worker’s own serious illness. Research suggests that paid family leave will increase the employment of women on the brink who are caregivers, mostly by increasing the share of women who will return to the same employer after taking leave.
Providing Paid Sick Days
Working caregivers without paid sick days often have to make lose-lose choices: send a child to daycare with the flu or sacrifice a day’s wages that were going to pay for this week’s groceries? Unfortunately, nearly 40 percent of private-sector workers do not have a single paid sick day. Even worse, 71 percent of private-sector workers in low-wage jobs-which are disproportionately held by women—go without any paid sick days.
The Healthy Families Act, introduced in 2013, would enable workers to earn paid, job-protected sick days. It would ensure that workers in businesses with 15 or more employees are able to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to seven days annually. There is growing momentum for this type of change on the state level as well. Connecticut has become the first state to adopt a law allowing a substantial share of workers to earn paid sick days, and major cities like New York City, San Francisco, and others have also taken steps to allow workers to accrue paid sick leave.
Ensuring Access to Quality Preschool and Child Care
There are 7.6 million U.S. families with children under age 6 living on the financial brink. However, to work full-time, year-round, mothers of young children need child care and preschool options that they can trust and afford. We need to build on existing child care assistance and preschool programs to enable every child to attend two years of high-quality, full-day preschool. We must ensure that working mothers have affordable, quality child care options for their young children.
President Obama’s Preschool for All initiative takes a historic step in the right direction. Preschool for All would create a new federal-state partnership to substantially expand the availability of high-quality preschool. States would be able to receive federal funding to extend preschool to all 4-year olds from low and moderate income families, and they would have financial incentives to expand access to middle-class families.
Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) has also introduced the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, with House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) introducing the companion legislation in the House. This legislation would authorize funding to states to provide universal, voluntary pre-kindergarten. Local entities including districts, schools and Head Start programs that meet high quality standards would be eligible for the funding.
Finally, increasing our investment in the Child Care and Development Fund, the primary source of federal funding for child care assistance for low- and moderate income families, would help parents work their way into the middle class.
Ensuring Equal Pay
Even today, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Groundbreaking research from The Shriver Report shows that closing the wage gap would not only help women and families make ends meet, but that it would also provide important benefits to the economy. If women received pay equal to their male counterparts, the U.S. economy would produce $447.6 billion in additional income—an amount equivalent to the entire economy of the state of Virginia. Closing the gender wage gap would cut poverty for working women and their families in half. The Shriver Report poll confirms broad public support for closing the wage gap as a means to increase women’s wages.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act by requiring employers to show that disparities in pay have a business justification, banning employer retaliation against workers who share information about their wages, and building capacity of relevant enforcement agencies to prevent discrimination. Enacting the Paycheck Fairness Act would address the wage gap factors unexplained by occupation, industry, labor force experience, or education, and help ensure women can bring home the entirety of the paycheck they’ve earned.
The policy recommendations and other content in this post are derived from the public solutions chapter of The Shriver Report, written by Melissa Boteach and Shawn Fremstad.
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