Father's Day may not be the conventional time for a column on women's equality, but as the father of a strong-willed 3-year-old daughter (and 6-year-old son), it's a good time to reflect on the importance of progressives' mission to support women and families. And frankly, like many parents who frequently travel for work, I can't help turning my focus to my kids this time of year and the occasional guilt that comes from many nights away from home.
Being a father has taught me the enormous importance of our daughters in making our progressive goals for women a reality. Each day I am with my daughter, I have a growing understanding and appreciation of a point my allies in the women's movement emphasize all the time: women's issues are family issues, too, and are very much in the interest of men -- however slow many of us have been to realize it.
This point was made very clear by Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards in a recent discussion with America Votes' partners and supporters. The fights for equal pay, reproductive freedom and access to women's health care directly benefit women and families -- meaning fathers, husbands, male partners and sons also benefit from pro-women policies.
Women are the sole or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of households with children under 18. That means in today's economy, gender wage discrimination is not only fundamentally unfair because women earn just 77 cents to every man's dollar for the same work, but it is putting a significant portion of American families at a financial disadvantage. Studies show closing the gender wage gap alone could reduce the number of working women and families living below the poverty level by half, and boost the economy by at least three to four percent.
Furthermore, issues like the minimum wage and paid family and sick leave -- what we often think of as part of the "economic agenda" -- are issues that particularly impact women. According to American Women, a research organization for which I proudly serve as a board member, women make up 62 percent of the minimum and sub-minimum wage population. And a two-child family with a single parent (most of whom are women) earning $10/hour or less could drop below the poverty line after missing only four days of work in a month.
The fight to advance the women's economic agenda is happening in real time and could have a huge impact on the 2014 election. According to a recent analysis by the Voter Participation Center, American Women and other organizations and foundations: 25 states are currently debating bills to address gender wage discrimination; nearly two-dozen states and cities are considering paid family and sick leave measures; and 40 states will consider raising the minimum wage through either legislation or on the ballot in November.
These proposals are overwhelming popular with voters -- both women and men. Equal pay laws are supported by 72 percent of women and 64 percent of men, according to the analysis, and there is similar support for paid sick and family leave across the gender divide.
The proposals are also extremely motivating to unmarried women voters in particular. But this traditionally reliable progressive voting bloc is also less likely to cast their vote in this year's midterm election. According to polling by Women's Voices, Women Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corps in April, only 66 percent of unmarried women indicated they are "almost certain" to vote in 2014, as compared to 72 percent of all voters.
Women are a powerful part of the electorate. The lagging turnout expected among unmarried women, who contributed enormously to progressives' margin of victory in 2008 and 2012, could have a major negative impact in November. Progressives' success or failure will largely be determined by whether unmarried women turn out in numbers roughly equal to their male counterparts.
But putting a special emphasis on the women's economic agenda will have a direct impact on closing the turnout gap. The same April poll found that 83 percent of unmarried women said they would be likely to vote in 2014 after hearing messages about progressives' support for paid leave, equal pay and healthcare, educational opportunity and raising the minimum wage.
All of this underscores the essential work of America Votes' partner organizations like EMILY's List, Planned Parenthood, NARAL and Women's Voices Women Vote. These groups are focused on connecting with women voters about what's at stake for them and families, and how their vote will have an impact on advancing the women's agenda. And that is work both women and men should support.
Thinking of my daughter 20 years from now, it is utterly implausible (and somewhat comical) to think that she would accept anything less than her full and equal share in matters of great importance to her -- be it equal pay, work benefits, or dessert. And while I hope she chooses to be an active progressive in her parents' mold, it's most important to me that she understands that casting her vote is one of the most powerful things she can do to influence the policies that impact her life.
On Father's Day, it is our duty as dads to recommit to raising our kids with an appreciation of civic participation and the essential role our collective action on Election Day plays in advancing the common good and our own wellbeing. And as progressives, we must be sure our daughters -- and our sons -- grow up with an understanding of gender inequality in today's world and how voting (or not voting) will make the difference.
And with that, Happy Father's Day everyone.
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