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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

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Empowering America's Women

Posted: 05/ 8/11 11:41 AM ET

As we celebrate Mother's Day today, we pay tribute to our extraordinary mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and sisters who are a beacon of strength in our families, our communities, and our nation, particularly in these difficult economic times. And that means we must pledge, now more than ever, to make sure women have the opportunities and tools to excel through the ranks of our workforce. The well being of our families depends on it and the strength of the middle class depends on it.

Recent figures show that for the first time, women are gaining more advanced college and bachelor's degrees than men. But the reality is, women are still paid less across all major industries. Today, millions of women who make up half the workforce make on average 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. For women of color, the disparity is much greater: African American women earn just 71 cents on the dollar while Latino women only earn 62 cents on the dollar. Over the course of their careers, women and their families will lose anywhere from $700,000 to upwards of more than $1 million.

We must close this chronic wage gap that shortchanges women. When women earn more, families are stronger and children have better access to quality health care and education. That's why I am once again leading the fight along with Senator Barbara Mikulski to pass The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for sharing salary information with their co-workers. The legislation would also establish training groups to help women strengthen their negotiation skills and require the Department of Labor to work with employers to eliminate wage disparities.

We can't stop there, we must do more to help women and families get back on solid economic ground. For example, today single moms and dads all across the country who receive child support are forced to pay a financial penalty. This is the wrong approach. We should not be balancing the budget on the backs of single parents.

That's why the first legislation I authored in the Senate was to eliminate the tax levied against single parents on their child support checks. My bill would immediately put extra money in the pockets of at least 170,000 New York families. I will continue to press this important issue and will re-introduce this measure in Congress next week. Ending the $25 tax on single parents is a responsible, common sense solution for hardworking women and their families.

But this isn't enough. I am deeply concerned that women only hold 17 percent of the seats in Congress, and 22% of statewide elected offices. In 2010, for the first time in 30 years, the percentage of women in Congress went backwards, and women under 40 only represent under 1 percent of Congress. We must turn this around, which is why it's my goal to get women off the sidelines and engaged in the issues that they're passionate about, whether that means voting, getting involved in a campaign, writing their elected officials, running for office themselves or simply using their own megaphones to influence the debate.

More and more, there are examples of strong working mothers rising through the ranks of public service. Just last week, my friend Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- proud mother of 3 -- was elected to the chairmanship of the DNC. Later this month, Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul -- proud mother of 2 -- will be on the ballot in the NY-26 special congressional election. And earlier this year, I was proud to endorse Sarah Anker -- proud mother of 3 -- in her successful race for Suffolk County Legislature.

The more women like Debbie, Kathy and Sarah run for office and win, the more the decisions that are made at every level of power will reflect the priorities of women. And the more women run and win, the more they will serve as inspirations to other women to do the same.

Now more than ever, we must get more women engaged at every level of public life. Because if women don't get off the sidelines, there are decisions being made every day about every aspect of our lives and they might not like what they find.

 

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