Happy Women’s Equality Day! Today, we celebrate the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote. Since then, women in America have made much progress, but there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all women have equal access to economic security and job stability. In honor of this day, we picked a few policies to help make the lives of women easier.
Today, female breadwinners support 40% of families in the US. And in Montana, over 19,000 families rely on a woman for financial support. However, women in Montana working full time are paid (on average) 67 cents to every dollar a man is paid, regardless of the industry, occupation, or education level. While some of the wage gap is due to the fact that women are more likely to work in occupations that pay less and are more likely to take time off from work than men to care for family members, there is still a portion of the income gap that cannot be attributed to those factors. Many researchers suggest that this unexplained gap is due to employer bias.
In order to ensure same pay for same work, policies that establish equal pay are key. For example wage transparency legislation would ensure that workers could openly discuss their wages without the fear of employer retaliation. A Montana representative proposed legislation to do just that, but the legislature killed the bill in committee.
While 21st century living often demands that both parents work outside of the home to make ends meet, childcare responsibilities still largely fall to mothers. As a result, women experience greater negative repercussions to their income and future career opportunities.
Finding a quality, affordable childcare provider adds to the challenges of balancing work and home demands which can force women out of the workforce altogether. In Montana, a family can expect to spend about 13% of their yearly income (about $7,500) on childcare. For a single mother earning $26,000, that makes up almost one third of her income.
State investments in pre-kindergarten would help offset the high costs of child care for Montana families, offering a safe environment for their children, and providing an educational advantage so that children are prepared once they enter school.
The Earned Income Tax Credit
Among low-income families, especially those headed by single-females, the earned income tax credit is one of the best solutions to encourage work and increase income.
Researchers studying the EITC over several decades have found that expansion of the EITC in the early 1990s moved about half a million families headed by single mothers from public assistance programs into work. These women experienced higher wage growth later in life compared to similar women who did not benefit from the EITC expansions. Further, increased earnings over their working careers translated to higher Social Security benefits, which reduced the probability of facing poverty after retirement.
Enacting a state program based on the federal model would enhance these results and help 80,000 Montana families move out of poverty.
These are only three of many policies that could help make the lives of women easier. Others are flexible or predictable work schedules, paid family leave, child tax credits, Medicaid expansion, living wages, affordable housing, and so much more.
Women achieved the right to vote in 1920, but the road to equality has been long and is not won yet. Women still face inequality at home, in the workplace, and throughout society. Equality for women matters for obvious moral reasons, but it also matters because women have a huge impact on our economy. Half of the American workforce is now comprised of female workers and women are breadwinners in two-thirds of U.S. households. It’s time to enact fair and family-friendly policies at the state and federal level that ensure all women have equal access to work opportunities and fair pay.