What a difference a day makes! Tuesday, Jan. 28, was filled with joyful anticipation and dread as kids and parents in North Carolina prepared for the arrival of snow. Parents planned for daycare, food and stocked up on firewood and batteries, while children dreamed of snowmen, sledding and a glorious day off from school. Delivery came in the form of several inches of fine, fluffy stuff, which while not good for making snowballs or snowmen, is perfect to play in.
Jan. 28 also delivered new possibilities for parents: the hope for a better future for their families. In his State of the Union Address that night, President Barack Obama, addressed issues at the heart of family life for millions of Americans: equal pay for women and family leave for working parents to care for a sick child or sick parent. For me, figuring out how to care for my children and continue to work has been at the forefront of every decision I’ve made for two decades. Over time, like every working parent, I’ve had to make hard choices when it came to work and home. Tuesday brought the hope that workplace policies across America could move forward into the 21st century to accommodate our new realities as working women.
As President Obama said in his speech Tuesday, “Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”
Wednesday, Jan. 29, was the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—a bill that reinstated women's ability to contest unlawful pay discrimination. Analysis from the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) finds that the poverty rate for working women would be cut in half if women were paid the same as comparable men. Nearly 60 percent of women would earn more if working women were paid the same as men of the same age with similar education and hours of work, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. The poverty rate for all working women would be cut in half, falling to 3.9 percent from 8.1 percent. The high poverty rate for working single mothers would fall by nearly half, from 28.7 percent to 15.0 percent.
Not only is the gender pay gap affecting women, but it’s hitting the economy as a whole. According to IWPR, in 2012, the U.S. economy would have produced additional income of $447.6 billion (equal to 2.9 percent of 2012 GDP) if women received equal pay.
If the president and Congress can work together to get enlightened fair policies into the workplace, the benefits will flow in so many directions. Babies still to be born will have the undivided attention of their parents when they are sick, and stress-free parents will be in a better condition to give back to their employers. Let’s see if we can keep the eyes of our representatives in Congress focused on working families.
Odile Fredericks is a mom and web editor for CarolinaParent.com.