Soapbox

California must address women’s economic needs

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, shown with Gov. Jerry Brown last week, is backing a women’s economic agenda announced Tuesday by members of the Legislative Women’s Caucus and advocates.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, shown with Gov. Jerry Brown last week, is backing a women’s economic agenda announced Tuesday by members of the Legislative Women’s Caucus and advocates. The Associated Press

The time has come for a bold policy agenda to ensure the economic security of California’s women and families.

The agenda, announced Tuesday by members of the Legislative Women’s Caucus and advocates, contains bills that will combat discrimination causing the gender wage gap, increase access to affordable and quality child care, and ensure that workers have more predictable work schedules.

The package also includes measures to build economic security by addressing rampant poverty. Women make up half of the American workforce, and families depend on their income more than ever. Mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of families.

Women also play a pivotal role in spurring economic growth in this state. They are the primary decision-makers for their households, as consumers and as workers. In fact, California’s recovery from the recession has been fueled by growth in four industry sectors, including health care and service, in which women predominate as workers.

While the contributions of women have helped bring California back from the recession, the jobs that have been created are holding back women’s full potential. One in 5 women is working part-time because she cannot find full-time work – more than before the downturn.

Women in California face other obstacles to enjoying economically secure lives. The lack of affordable, quality child care and affordable housing make it difficult to provide safe and secure environments for their families. Women are paid less than their male counterparts for the same work in certain jobs, and they are disproportionately employed in jobs that pay minimum wage. Unpredictable schedules and the lack of sick and family leave time is taking a toll on too many families.

Women are also disproportionately disadvantaged by the stresses of poverty and the constraints of the social services system. Despite having the eighth largest economy in the world, California’s has the nation’s highest poverty rate. The impact of poverty is especially pronounced among women of color and single women living with children.

Though the challenges that California women and families face are great, we have been presented with a rare window of opportunity – and we have to act now. The state is in a financial position to invest in the economic success of women who have been central to its extraordinary financial recovery.

Momentum is building: 70 percent of Americans believe that women’s contributions are essential to our economy, and 90 percent of voters favor policies that help women achieve equal pay for equal work and raise wages for women and families.

Ensuring the economic security of all California women with common-sense public policies will benefit everyone – men, children and families. “A Stronger California” is a comprehensive policy agenda that will do just that. The time to act is now to ensure that all Californians can thrive.

Noreen Farrell is executive director of Equal Rights Advocates and chairwoman of the Stronger California Advocates Network.

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