Originally published in The News Tribune here.
As legislators reconvene in Olympia Monday for what is sure to be a challenging session, it’s tempting to throw up our hands and say let’s just focus on the bare minimum to get through the session rather than tackling some of the big economic issues we face.
Instead, we should redouble our efforts to restore fairness and opportunity to our state, and to rebuild the middle class. If we want to make real progress in 2016, we need more than resolutions and rhetoric. We need a plan.
What’s more, we need a plan that targets economic and social inequality where we know we can have the greatest impact: the economic equality of women in our state.
Now for the men who have kept with me so far, please keep reading. These are issues that impact all of us, and the bottom line is that when we elevate the working woman to the same economic standing as the working man, we elevate our entire economy.
Women today make up half of all voters and half the workforce. More and more Washington families are headed by single women working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Yet women in Washington state continue to make 78 cents to the male dollar, a gap that is even wider for black and Latina women.
Moreover, women pay a financial penalty when they take time off from work to care for children or aging relatives. About 20 percent of all women will provide at least part-time care to an elderly or disabled relative, family member or friend, often at great cost to their own earning potential. In fact, the average female caregiver loses $40,000 more in lost wages and Social Security benefits than the average male caregiver.
Although the economy has changed tremendously because of increased participation from women, our workplace policies and legislative priorities have not kept up. Too many employers and politicians battle to prevent women from accessing cost-effective birth control to prevent pregnancies, but then open the other side of their mouths and stand in the way of better workplace policies for pregnant women.
Pregnant women in Washington state deserve the right to basic accommodations like bathroom breaks from their employers as well as paid family leave. Women who don’t wish to become pregnant deserve access to birth control without asking a pharmacist’s permission every month.
Women and men across the state deserve a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave and paid family to care for new babies and ailing family members.
This session, I urge my colleagues to stand with women, rather than standing in the way. Protecting women and families should not be a partisan issue.
Together, we can increase equity for women by passing a statewide minimum wage, protecting reproductive health care, advancing equal pay for equal work, passing paid safe and sick leave, paid leave and child-care policies that enable women to take care of their families.