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State should do more for women

For women who struggle to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families, the New Year brings to mind the many challenges that lie ahead.

Women today are half of all voters, half of the workforce and increasingly lead households as sole breadwinners for their families. Though women are a more prominent force in our economy, they are often left behind. Our state’s policies could better support the changing role of women in our economy.

Women remain unequal to men when it comes to every economic indicator. Women have not reached parity at work in terms of pay, leadership positions or promotions, and women face constant attacks on their reproductive options and face more discrimination than men as working parents.

Take preschool education, for example. Single-parent households are now a majority of families, and most of these are headed by working women who earn 78 percent of what their male counterparts do. Hispanic women earn 54 cents for every dollar earned by white men.

The fact that our Children, Youth and Families Department now pays for the child care of 8,000 fewer children than it did in 2009 means that thousands of women-headed households endure a tremendous financial burden of trying to provide an early education for their children. Our state should not create obstacles for young, working mothers to educate their young children properly.

Recently, CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson agreed to make changes that will stop survivors of domestic violence from being turned away by CYFD. By adding a check box to the agency’s application for child care assistance, women will be able to easily inform CYFD if they think seeking child support from their child’s father could lead to renewed violence. This checkbox will reduce the number of women who don’t seek child care assistance out of fear, but we need to do much more.

This New Year, we should resolve to stand with women by supporting childcare policies that enable women to take care of their families, by protecting reproductive health care, and working for equal pay and paid family and sick leave.

We need to find revenue streams that can improve the quality of early education the state provides and make access to these programs as universal as a kindergarten education. Passing the Early Learning Constitutional Amendment would be an important first step.

We should resolve to resist attacks on women’s right to decide when, how and if to have children. Politically motivated attacks on Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of family planning services in our country, erodes access to reproductive health care and endangers women’s ability to determine the size of their families.

These attacks do the greatest damage to poor women and women of color who often face the greatest economic barriers to getting birth control and abortion.

Women, particularly women of color, are most negatively impacted by almost every existing economic policy from low wages, outdated workplace policies that deny women paid leave, scheduling rules, affordable child care, fair promotions, to cuts to public services, pregnancy discrimination and access to health care.

We must update workplace standards to accommodate working parents. Over 80 percent of those women are working to support at least one child. We need workplace policies like earned sick time, paid family leave and more reliable and flexible work schedules that enable women to work and take care of their families at the same time.

We must increase the state minimum wage and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers so that all workers earn one fair wage to support their families. Two-thirds of low-wage workers are women. Most of these women have children and are the sole wage earners in the family.

Compared to just 11 percent in 1960, today over 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 are led by women who are the primary breadwinners.

As the New Year approaches, let’s resolve to enact policies that would finally enable women to support their families as they see fit.