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Steps We Must Take to Improve Pay Equity

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It has been more than 50 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, yet women still don't earn equal pay for equal work.

It's time we fix this for women in Los Angeles and across the country. We need to fix this for young women entering the workforce saddled with student loan debt and for mothers responsible for caring for their young children or older parents. We need to fix this for women without college degrees and who don't have the earning power of women who had the opportunity to complete their higher education. We even need to fix this for men, many of whom rely on women as the sole or primary earners in their home.

A significant gender pay gap still persists, which is why we cannot be passive as we acknowledge Equal Pay Day. This year, Equal Pay Day is April 8th, which represents how far into 2014 women must work to earn what men did in 2013.

While it often feels like our battle for gender equality has come so far, it's startling to see that women still earn just 77 cents to the dollar that men earn. Women of color are hit especially hard: African-American and Hispanic women earn 70 percent and 61 percent, respectively, of what white men earn. Without any male income in their household, single women and lesbians may feel the pay gap effect all the more. This wage gap costs working women and their families more than $10,000 annually, and over a lifetime that cumulative effect of lower wages jeopardizes women's retirement security.

Although women in California earn more than the national average, the majority of women in the district where I'm running for California State Senate actually earn far less. In most of our district, women earn on average only 69 cents to the dollar of what men earn. That is unacceptable, and something I will work hard to change when I'm in office.

In the fight for something as important as pay equity, it's critical that our government leads by example. As a State Senator, I will call for an audit of California State employees to study how much women and men in comparable positions are paid and to analyze if women are reaching the upper echelons of State jobs, and if not, why not.

Paycheck discrimination is not the only obstacle preventing women from having the same economic stability as men. We must also level the financial playing field by expanding job protections for those who find themselves in the family caregiver role - a role that disproportionately goes to women. That is why I will introduce a bill to include additional protections in California's paid family leave policy, so those taking time off to care for their families don't need to be afraid that they'll lose their jobs.

Another way to bolster the economic situation of women is to make sure they have high-quality, affordable childcare options. The cost of childcare is a huge burden for working families, and if we want to support a stronger middle-class we need to make more of an investment in the programs that will help them the most. That is why I will be a champion for increased investment in early childhood education. Investing more in early childhood education, in addition to being a great boon for children's educational aptitude, will give parents flexibility and more opportunities to pursue their careers with adequate support. Increasing the State's investment also provides increased job opportunities for early childhood education providers, an industry primarily staffed by women.

Equal Pay Day isn't just about recognizing an unequal paycheck. It's about opening up a conversation about our collective economic future, and fighting hard for the kinds of communities we want to live in, where full equality is a reality for everyone, and everyone has the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

So to commemorate this Equal Pay Day, I will be hosting an interactive, online town hall about women at work and in elective office. It's open to everyone.

At the online town hall, you can post questions, contribute ideas, and vote on which questions I should answer. Once you're done, share with friends and family, and read what others are saying. This week, I will answer your top questions.

I look forward to this important conversation. Together, we can create the progressive change we all want to see.