THE BLOG
09/27/2013 11:57 am ET | Updated Nov 27, 2013

An Opportunity Plan to Empower Women in the Workplace

By now you may have heard these statistics:

• In 1950, women made up just 30 percent of the workforce. By 2010, that number had grown to 47 percent.

• In 1968, just 37 percent of mothers worked. By 2011, that number had ballooned to 65 percent.

• In 1960, only 35 percent percent of college degrees were being earned by women. Today, women are earning more than 50 percent of all college and advanced degrees.

• And, perhaps most striking of all, in 1960, only 11 percent of families with children relied on mothers as the sole or primary source of family income. Today, that number is 40 percent.

We know the American workforce is changing at a rapid pace as families rely more and more on women's income to get by. But, as the face of the American workplace has changed, the federal rules that govern it have not kept up.

For example:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, last year, women still made just 77 cents on the dollar compared to what men made. For African-American women, that drops to 69 cents, and for Latinas, it's even lower, at 58 cents.

The United States is the only high-income nation not to provide paid family leave, forcing many women -- more often than not the caretaker to newborn babies or sick loved ones -- to drop out of the workforce, costing them promotions in addition to significant loss of income, retirement and Social Security benefits.

The federal minimum wage is currently just $7.25, which translates to $15,000 a year for a full time worker, several thousand dollars below the poverty level for a family of 3. With women making up 64 percent of low wage workers, the failure of the minimum wage to keep up with cost of living disproportionally hurts the economic security of women and their families.

It's long past time for Congress to implement policies to reflect the reality of this new 21st Century economy, to give working women and mothers the tools they need to achieve their full economic potential. This is crucial not only so our families can thrive, but also to provide a much needed boost to our economy. Because with all those dual income households and female sole breadwinners in America, the key to a growing economy and middle class that is built to thrive in the 21st century, is women.

That's precisely the reason I've unveiled my Opportunity Plan: 5 Simple Solutions To Reward Work, Improve Our Economy and Empower Women. This plan is a blueprint for how we can begin to empower women in the workplace and equip them with the tools, resources and opportunities to succeed in the 21st Century economy.

1. Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance

The United States is the only high income nation without a paid family leave program. The lack of paid family leave insurance leaves some of our most highly skilled and hardest workers struggling to remain in the workforce, hampering innovation and hamstringing family budgets. We must do better. That's why I'll be introducing The FAMILY Act to create a fully self-sustaining paid family medical leave program for up to 12 weeks of paid leave that would provide financial security for our families at the moment they need it most. It works by establishing an independent trust fund supported by employee and employer contributions of .2 percent of wages. In other words, for the cost of a one cup of coffee a week, paid leave would be available to every worker in America -- no matter how big the company you work for.

2. Raise the Minimum Wage

Did you know 88 percent of minimum wage workers are over 20 years old, 86 percent work 20 hours or more and 64 percent of all minimum wage workers are women? Raising the minimum wage would disproportionally benefit women, and would help close the wage gap. It's no coincidence that of the 10 states with the lowest wage gaps, seven have set a minimum wage higher than the federal rate. That's why I support Senator Harkin's Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the wage to $10.10/hour over the next 3 years. Increasing the minimum wage will raise millions of workers out of poverty and into the middle class and put more money in their pockets to spend in our economy.

3. Universal Pre-K

For American families, Universal pre-K is an essential piece of the puzzle that not only allows their kids to get a good start, but it also allows mothers to remain on the job earning a paycheck and helping our economy grow. If we expect our children to thrive at our colleges and universities, and succeed in our economy once they graduate - first we must make quality, affordable, early childhood education accessible to all. That's why I'm proud to co-sponsor the PRE-K Act, which would establish a federal-state partnership to increase the number of high quality early childhood educators, improve the student-to-teacher ratios in preschools and increase the hours per day a family would have access to high quality early education programs.

4. Quality Affordable Child Care

With more and more women working and with rising demand and cost of child care, we must provide flexibility for different types of families to gain access to quality affordable child care. Under my proposal, families would have the option to deduct the cost of child care expenses as a business expense. My plan also includes an expanded Child and Dependent Care Credit, allowing low income families with little to no tax liability, to have access to a fully refundable tax credit to help mitigate the cost of child care. The credit would also expand incentives for employers to provide their employees with quality child care.

5. Equal Pay for Equal Work

The US Census Bureau confirmed that in 2012, women, despite making up a majority of the population, a majority of the workforce and earning a majority of graduate and post graduate degrees, still made just 77 cents on the dollar a man makes. We must close this gender wage gap and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would equip women with the tools to root out wage discrimination and take measures to combat it. If women earned the equal amount to men, America's GDP could grow by as much as 4 percent. It's not only good for women, but it's good for their families and our entire economy.

These five common sense solutions would go a long way toward ensuring working women have the tools and opportunities needed to earn economic security for their families. And, by empowering 50 percent of the workforce to achieve their full economic potential, we would boost our economy in the process.

Please join me in fighting to pass these important policies at OffTheSidelines.org. Every time a politician asks for your vote or asks for a donation, ask them where they stand on the Opportunity Plan. Will they fight for working women and their families? Will they fight for a strong middle class that can thrive in the 21st Century? Will they fight for you?

Make your voice, and your vote, heard today.