Women and the Economy
By Pam Monetti, Co-President, Illinois Democratic Women
Democratic strategist James Carville famously said, “It’s the economy stupid.” No one knows more than women the importance of a strong economy. For most women, the economy has always been front and center of any issue that affect us and our families. Equal pay and minimum wage are two fundamental elements of any discussion regarding the economy.
With the primary fast approaching and we begin to knock on doors, committeemen and women will be asked about these issues. I would like to give you some pointers on how to respond.
According to the Department of Labor, women are paid 79% less than men doing the same job. Opponents will argue there is no need for more laws to be passed. We respectfully disagree.
Issue #1: Women leave the labor market to start a family while men are able to increase job longevity leading to a higher salary. This position is the most offensive to women. Usually women do not leave the labor market. They take their six weeks maternity leave (if they are fortunate to work for a company that provides it) and return to work immediately afterwards. If our country is going to support family values, then both parties need to support women as they continue to be the main child care provider.
Issue #2: There are already two laws on the books so why do we need to pass the Fair Paycheck Act (FPA)? The major point is that the FPA will protect employees from retaliation if they act on unfair pay practices after learning of disproportionate pay among fellow workers. Right now, companies discourage employees from discussing their salary.
Issue #3: If women want better paying jobs, then why don’t they go to where the good paying jobs are? Again, this is offensive to women. How many of us can pick up and move to another location? We are the caregivers of our society. Sometimes even taking care of our parents in addition to our children.
I do not want to take away from any men who are supporting their significant others by contributing to the caregiving of their family. However, we all can agree that the majority of women are responsible for caring for their family and until that changes, it will limit the choices women face in their employment.
In 2014, a minimum wage advisory question was on the Illinois ballot passing with an overwhelming 64% to 26%. Whenever minimum wage is on the ballot, it tends to lead to an increase of Democrat voters. According to the National Women’s Law Center, half or more of minimum wage workers in every state were women—and in 22 states, women accounted for more than six in ten minimum wage workers. In 2014, more than half of Illinois women worked at minimum wage jobs.
Myth: Raising the minimum wage only benefits teenagers. False. Teenagers are not the typical minimum wage worker. Almost 90% of minimum wage workers are over the age of 20 and 56% of those are women.
Myth: Raising the minimum wage is bad for business. False. Academic studies have found that minimum wage leads to less worker turnover saving businesses from having to retrain new employees. Small businesses realize that when voters have more money in their pockets, they are more likely to spend that money on food, housing and gas. The demand for these goods stimulates the economy ultimately creating more opportunities for businesses.
Myth: The minimum wage is higher than it was under President Reagan. False. Factoring in inflation, the minimum wage would need to be over $11 to have the same buying power as during the 1980’s.
Women live longer than men. When they are paid less income either through a minimum wage or through unequal pay, they lose more money that would have went into their retirement and for social security benefits. In the long run, it is a matter of fairness. Women are an integral part of our country and should have all of the benefits that our male counterparts have enjoyed for decades. As Democrats, that is what we all strive for.