While the story didn’t make headlines, this week the House proposed When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families. The agenda proposes fixes to three issues that continue to plague working women: pay, work and family balance, and child care (democraticleader.gov). What isn’t addressed is exactly how this agenda will move from words on a page to laws that will benefit women.
In addressing issues of unequal pay, the agenda proposes paycheck fairness, increased minimum wage, job training and education, protection for pregnant workers, and support for women owned small businesses (democraticleader.gov). The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed in 2009, yet in 2013 women still earn on average 77 cents for every dollar made by men (nationalpartnership.org). Clearly, legislation calling for equal pay has not worked. And while the other proposals certainly sound positive, it isn’t clear where the funding for education and training programs or support for small businesses would come from.
The proposal also calls for paid family and medical leave as well as paid sick leave. It has long been known that the US has an abysmal parental leave system, providing no paid leave for mothers or fathers upon the birth or adoption of a child: “The countries that provide the most paid maternity leave by law include: the Czech Republic – 28 weeks; Hungary – 24 weeks; Italy – 5 months; Canada – 17 weeks; Spain and Romania – 16 weeks each. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden all provide extensive paid leave which may be taken by either parent, although a portion is reserved for the mother. In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 provided a total of 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the birth of a child and the care of the newborn. FMLA applies only to workers in companies with 50 or more workers” (International Labour Organization). Yet the proposed House agenda does not state where the funding for paid leave would come from. If the government does not have the funds, and citizens do not want to see their taxes raised, it is unclear how such a program could ever be implemented.
The third issue addressed in the agenda is child care. The House agenda proposes adequate funding of child care and support for preschool and Head Start programs. The agenda also proposes increased training for child care providers, and expansion of the Child Tax Credit (democraticleader.gov). It a nation of privatized child care, where many citizens lack access to affordable daycare, it is again unclear where the funding for these fixes would come from.
According to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), “Our pro-family agenda will help strengthen the middle class, grow our economy and provide a brighter future for the next generation” (CNN). What about women of lower socio-economic status? Don’t all women deserve these benefits? Unless Congress provides funding and actually moves to implement these proposed programs, they are merely attempting to appease their constituents, perhaps looking to solidify their chances of keeping their jobs in the 2014 midterm elections.