With the mid-term elections still months away, I am bracing myself for another round of attacks on women, whether they are deliberate attempts to restrict access to contraception, or gaffes about "legitimate rape." Across the country, conservatives are generating momentum to establish fetal "personhood," create convoluted restrictions on abortion providers, and interfere with insurance coverage for contraception and abortion. The proponents of these policies now include pro-business groups like the Club for Growth who cynically channel millions into these efforts to restrict women's reproductive freedom.
For those of us focused on the well-being of women, that's a full plate, but it's only part of the picture.
We've become accustomed to feeling outrage and concern when women's reproductive rights are under attack, but shouldn't we be equally alarmed when women's economic well-being is on the line?
It's time to elevate economic justice for women as the issue of the year. That means celebrating recent advances in pay equity like President Obama's Paycheck Fairness Act, but more urgently, it means supporting an increase in the federal minimum wage. This week, the Senate is set to vote on a minimum wage increase, which conservative forces have been thus far unwilling to even debate. There is the possibility of compromise, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is sticking to his convictions; a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour is necessary to bring workers out of poverty.
Women make up half of the workforce, but are paid on average 23 cents an hour less than their male counterparts, and occupy only 14.6 percent of executive officer positions. While the top of the employment pyramid is disproportionately male, the bottom is disproportionately female.
Over two-thirds of minimum wage workers are female, and three-fourths of workers who depend on tipping are female. What's more, women of color make up 22 percent of the minimum wage workforce, while making up only 16 percent of the workforce overall. A woman working full time at minimum wage earns $4,000 less than the poverty line for a family of three.
This bears repeating: a woman working full time at minimum wage earns a salary that puts her below the poverty line. Not perilously close to the poverty line, but well below it. Women working in these low-wage jobs don't simply struggle to provide for their families, but they often experience workplace discrimination, and simply don't have the time or energy to pursue "better" opportunities while they juggle childcare, elder care, and a host of family responsibilities in addition to their jobs. We can't let another election cycle go by without holding our national and state leaders accountable for this travesty. Raising the minimum wage is the most important women's issue of 2014.
We're quick to call out politicians who demonstrate insensitivity, if not hostility, to women's reproductive health. It's time we apply the same level of intensity to those who demonstrate insensitivity to women's economic livelihood. In 2014, that means pushing to increase the minimum wage.