Ward: Gender equity must encompass wages, too
Amongst a robust agenda for the upcoming legislative session —which begins Feb. 25 — is the Women’s Economic Security Act of 2014. The legislation includes several new initiatives designed to break down barriers to economic progress facing women and all Minnesotans.
Minnesota’s economy is recovering from the recession faster than the rest of the nation, but unfortunately, not everyone is sharing in these gains. Looking at the people who are struggling to stay in the middle class, you’ll see they are disproportionately women. As we work to strengthen our economy, it makes sense to ensure that all Minnesotans have the same opportunities to succeed.
The Women’s Economic Security Act was announced at the Women’s Economic Summit in late January. The summit featured a bipartisan group of legislators, advocates and community leaders who discussed the economic barriers that face women in Minnesota.
Women have undoubtedly made strides towards workplace equality over the last several decades, but it is no secret that Minnesota women still make only $0.80 to every dollar that a man makes. Also, women now make up 50 percent of Minnesota’s workforce, but make up 58 percent of workers who are paid $9.50 or less.
In addition, women now are earning more post-secondary degrees than men, but are still clustered in low-wage job sectors such as health assistance, retail, and food service. Only 4 percent of women complete two-year construction, mechanical or precision production programs.
Women are also underrepresented in the field of computer science. Only 17 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees earned in Minnesota go to women — and we know these fields pay well and are growing.
A barrier for many Minnesota women is maintaining a work-life balance, as women remain the primary caregiver for children and ailing relatives or parents. But many jobs do not provide flexibility or paid leave for these activities. Seventy-five percent of Minnesotans who provide 20-plus hours per week of regular unpaid care to a friend or family member are women.
These issues need to be improved so that women in Minnesota can prosper as our economy grows. The Women’s Economic Security Act aims to address a range of these economic barriers by closing the gender pay gap, increasing the minimum wage to $9.50, expanding access to high-quality, affordable childcare, improving family and sick leave, enhancing protections for victims of domestic violence, encouraging women to pursue high-wage jobs, and supporting growth for women-owned small businesses.
There are a lot of priorities for all Minnesotans — men and women – to juggle. As a legislator, I see my role as being there to level the playing field for all of us, to ensure that we can all succeed, and continue building a strong economic future for Minnesota.
The Women’s Economic Security Act is one way to improve our economic strength and increase prosperity for more working Minnesotans. This session we will be working on a variety of other state issues including passing a strong bonding bill to improve state infrastructure, repealing certain business to business taxes, and increasing efficiency in government as part of the “unsession.” At the center of all of this work is keeping Minnesota a great place to live, work and raise a family, and ensuring that in our state is a place where middle class families can succeed.
Please contact me with your input on any of these issues or others that you find important. I appreciate your feedback and look forward to hearing from you.
Rep. JoAnn Ward, a Woodbury Democrat, represents House District 53A in the Legislature