04/08/2014 05:14 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2014

The Fight for Equal Pay Has Just Begun

My mother, Eileen Quinn, was born before women in our country had the right to vote.

It's hard to imagine such a time, but thankfully -- over the last few decades -- many barriers to equal rights for women have been knocked down.

Passage of the Federal Equal Pay Act in 1963, and Illinois' own Equal Pay Act in 2003, one of the strongest state pay equity laws in the nation, have paved the way for women to transform our workplace and economy.

But today there are too many areas where progress is lagging, and it's holding our economy back.

Today women make up half of the workforce and heads of households across the nation. Yet discrimination and a lack of training often prevent women from accessing good-paying jobs.

This is troubling on several fronts. For one, it's not fair.

The average woman in Illinois earns just 79 cents of every dollar earned by men--a gap of 21 percent. Men earn an average income of $51,260, while women earn an average income of $40,300. Over the course of their lifetime, the average woman will earn between $700,000 and $1 million less than the average man.

Two, this "gender gap" hampers our economic potential. 70 percent of our economy is based on consumer demand. When women earn less, they spend less, driving less local growth in communities. This hurts their ability to provide financial security for their families and it hurts our ability to build the middle class.

The fact that a disproportionate majority of workers who are earning the least in our nation are women is also a troubling statistic. Nearly seven out of ten minimum or below-minimum wage workers are women.

Many women who make minimum wage are working full-time while raising children. Can't we all agree that nobody should work 40 hours a week and be relegated to raising their family in poverty?

If we are serious about building an economy that works for everyone with more jobs and opportunities than ever before, we must be serious about addressing all barriers that prevent women from reaching their full economic potential.

As women take on more financial responsibility, particularly in these tough economic times, making sure they have access to job training and professional support they need is crucial.

That's in part why I'm pushing a proposal to provide tax cuts to businesses that provide job training. And that's also why I'm pushing to raise the minimum wage in Illinois. Everyone should have a fair chance to support themselves and their families.

While we're making progress, there's much more work to do.

Illinois ranked 5th in the number of women-owned businesses in 2013 - we should be number one.

As my mother has seen throughout the years, anything is possible. Today, on Equal Pay Day in Illinois, let's redouble our efforts for the common good - equal pay for equal work.

When women succeed, our economy succeeds.