Tomorrow marks the 165th anniversary of the historic Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights gathering to be organized by women in the Western world. The event, planned by women's rights activist Lucretia Mott, was attended by fellow activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton as well as civil rights activist Frederick Douglass. This convention not only marked the beginning of the women's right movement, it was among the first discussions on the topic that involved the active participation of men.
Remarkable progress has been made in the intervening years. Yet much more progress awaits. That's why House Democrats this week announced When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families, an agenda focusing on the issues that hard working American women struggle with everyday: fair pay, paid maternity leave, and affordable day care.
Since the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, the wage gap between men and women has been closing -- but at a very slow rate. In 1963, women made 59 cents on average for every dollar that men earned. In 1999, women earned 72 cents to the dollar. Today, women's earnings hover at about 77 cents to every dollar paid to men. Women in my home state of Michigan have fared even worse, earning only 66.7 percent of what men earn in 2004. Our state has the 49th worst earnings ratio between men and women.
This is even more striking considering that today women are earning more college and graduate degrees than men. Women, on average, earn less than men in almost every occupation, including traditional female orientated jobs like nursing and teaching. Furthermore, male-dominated occupations earn higher wages than female-dominated occupations even when the occupations require the same skill levels.
Now that women make up half of the American workforce, it is vital that paid maternity leave and affordable day care be widely available. Today, the mother is the sole or primary breadwinner in four of every 10 American households with children under the age of 18. Of those households, a majority are single mothers who also bear sole responsibility for childcare. It is imperative that women have quality affordable day care available to them because without it, families suffer.
The When Women Succeed, America Succeeds economic agenda will enable women to achieve greater economic security, raise wages for women and their families, and better allow working parents to support and care for their families.
Women's rights have come a long way since the Seneca Falls Conference. However, the fight for equality still continues.