We must start somewhere. Raising our minimum wage to $13.00 an hour in the City of Chicago is that starting place. But $13.00 an hour by 2018 is truly a floor-base-minimum to ensure that our city has a viable workforce for a vibrant economy in the 21st century.
Recently, Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) hosted a roundtable meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to discuss the issues women face both in entering and maintaining their rightful place in the workforce. Gathered around the table were many of CFW's grantee organizations. These organizations are at the front lines, providing women with the stability and resources needed to take care of their families and enter the workforce.
Our mayor believes that the best social program is a job that pays a living wage. One of our goals at CFW is to help women not only find those jobs, but to keep those jobs and to thrive. Throughout our discussion with the mayor, the key word to success for women in the workforce was "stability."
What does stability look like? First and foremost, it is a wage that allows a woman to provide for the health, education and care of herself and her family. A $13.00 an hour minimum wage is an absolute bare-minimum base for that stability. More than half of all minimum wage earners in Chicago are women. Too many women in the city are at or below the poverty level.
Gender plays a definite role in women's poverty. The wage gap between women and men is 77 cents on the dollar. According to Wendy Pollack of the Sargent Shriver National Center for Poverty Law, closing that gap could cut poverty in half for women and their families. Equity in pay along with increasing the minimum wage are key first steps down the road to stability for working women. A stable workforce is the foundation of a stable economy.
Stability also requires certainty. Certainty to a woman with children is assurance that when she is at work or in school, she has dependable childcare. I applaud the Mayor's institution of universal full-day kindergarten. Apart from the school day, our grantees are working hard to provide the necessary childcare for women who work. At the Instituto del Progreso Latino (IDPL) and the Centers for New Horizons -- both CFW grantees -- working mothers are offered childcare services and counseling to help women as they navigate their journey in the workforce.
Stability breeds opportunity for women. That opportunity can take shape as a certification, a "stackable degree," or as a high paying job in the trades. CFW grantees are providing the training necessary to open doors for women in higher-paying traditionally male-dominated jobs. If a woman can get through the orientation at Kinzie Industrial Development Corporation and can attend class each Saturday for seven months, she is well-prepared to take the exam to become an emergency medical technician. With this certification, she can qualify for a $50,000 to $70,000 a year job. That is stability.
Stability is the foundation for women in the workforce. Yes, that stability starts with a bare-minimum wage of $13.00 and with equity in pay. We should also work with our politicians and grantees to ensure that comprehensive, affordable childcare is available for women who choose work and support programs that are providing "stackable" degree programs and non-traditional job training for working women. If you are a woman in the City of Chicago, and you choose to work, you should be able to look forward, not back.