On International Woman's Day, March 8, women throughout the world will celebrate our achievements -- recognizing how far we've come. It's true that we've made a lot of progress. A few women like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Google CEO Marissa Mayer have shattered the glass ceiling and shot to the top -- earning their corner offices and seven-digit annual salaries, living the American Dream and then some. But Sandberg and Mayer are the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go for most women.
Any version of the American Dream is out of reach for millions of hard-working women. Women make up less than half of the workforce, but are two-thirds of minimum wage earners. These women are working hard and playing by the rules, but even working full-time, they can't make ends meet, much less be economically secure or join the middle class. The dream of building a better life for themselves and their families is just a fantasy.
Over the past year, corporate profits soared while working wages declined or stagnated, leading to a chasm of income inequality hitting women the hardest. Millions of women work just as hard as Sandberg and Mayer, but barely scrape by on wages that amount to less than $15,000 a year. These women, often invisible to the world, provide essential services in our communities -- they clean our homes and offices, cook and serve us our food, and care for our children and elderly parents.
Bridget Piggery, a single mother of four, made $2.33 an hour as a server at Applebee's. Unable to pay her rent, Piggery and her children were forced to move in with her mother. "I was a good server. I worked hard. I worked double shifts to try to make ends meet and it still wasn't enough," said Piggery, a 9to5 member. Workers shouldn't have to depend on the whims of their customers to earn a decent living. "If I served four customers with a two for $20 special, that would leave me with a 10 percent tip of $2.00. I can't even get on the bus for $2.00. Women need fair pay-- period."
Piggery may just get some of her fair pay. The Fair Minimum Wage Act, introduced by Senator Harkin and Representative Miller this week, will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from its current $7.25, and index it to inflation in the future so that low-wage workers do not continue to fall behind. The Act will also raise the $2.13 minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in more than 20 years, restoring the value to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. In essence, the Fair Minimum Wage Act will boost the full-time minimum wage to an annual salary of $21,000, lifting many families above the poverty line.
More than half (17 million) of the 30 million American workers to get a raise under the bill are women. It's a myth that teenagers represent the majority of low-wage workers. In fact, the vast majority (88 percent) are adult workers, not teenagers. These people want to support their families, join the middle class and build a brighter future for their children.
Raising the minimum wage will help women like Carolle who is in her early 60s, lives in Atlanta and serves as a cook at Waffle House. Earning $8 an hour, she has to support her husband who is on disability, two daughters, grandmother and niece. Her paycheck barely covers her mortgage, utilities, gas and food. Some months, she has to make a choice between which bills to pay. When asked what it would mean to her to earn $2.00 more per hour, she responded, "It would mean contentment for our entire family."
Raising the minimum wage will help families still reeling from the effects of the recession and provide a much-needed boost to the economy. Lower-income families will spend their extra wages on needed goods and services that other workers provide, creating 140,000 new jobs.
In these tough economic times, common sense policies like increasing the minimum wage are crucial for working women and families striving to join the middle class and build a better future. The middle class is what drives our economy. We can't prosper as a nation unless today's and tomorrow's jobs provide fair, decent wages. A fair minimum wage truly benefits everyone.