Out of touch comments from GOP lawmakers are a common occurrence, but having a woman call women who demand equal pay whiners is utterly sad and a new low. Minnesota State Rep. Andrea Kieffer made this absurd comment when she argued that the Women's Economic Agenda is "putting us backward in time."
Although salaries for women have increased over time, they are still well below salaries for men. Nationally, women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same work. The numbers are worse for women of color; African Americans earn 64 cents and Latina women earn 55 cents for every dollar a white man makes. In Minnesota, women earn 80 cents for every dollar a man earns -- still a far cry from equality.
The Women's Economic Agenda is pushing for equal pay, paid family and sick leave and affordable childcare. Those three cornerstones were included in a package of bills by Minnesota State Rep. Carly Melin that is currently moving through the state house and senate.
Why would Rep. Kieffer oppose such a package? She is an educated woman with a Bachelor of Science in Business from the University of Minnesota. She is married and has two children who presumably needed child care at some point during their upbringing. Her main occupation is a volunteer at a nonprofit, but her legislative salary -- just as all state representatives and senators in Minnesota -- is $31,140. She sits on four committees that deal with jobs and the economy.
Part of Rep. Melin's package includes raising the minimum wage in Minnesota to $9.50/hour. That would add up to less than $20,000/year, or two thirds of Kieffer's meager salary. Why would she consider asking for such an increase whining?
I urge Rep. Kieffer to spend some time speaking to her constituents who work minimum wage jobs and are trying to raise a family. If her experience will be anything similar to my experience, she will recognize that these women are not whiners; they are determined women who want to contribute to society and create opportunities for their children -- they believe in the American dream. I met a woman who told me she could no longer afford to work because she couldn't pay for her son's preschool tuition. She schooled him at home and as a result he struggled when he entered kindergarten. Another young mother of two told me she leaves her apartment at 7:00 a.m. to go to her full-time job, then takes night classes and gets home at 9:00 p.m. She can't afford child care and is fortunate to have family members take care of her kids. Otherwise, she says, she'd be forced to stay home instead of building a future for her kids and herself.
I hope Rep. Kieffer will find the compassion in her heart to recognize that women who demand equality are not whiners, but are women who want all women to succeed in order for America succeed. The Women's Economic Agenda will move us forward in time, not backward.