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3rd in a series
Heidi Hartmann's picture

Ensuring that a growing economy is equitable and benefits all workers is an important policy priority for all elected officials. Given that women’s earnings and economic security are central to the health and well-being of U.S. households and the overall economy, each election cycle presents an opportunity to highlight the policies that would help women have access to the jobs and benefits workers need to ensure economic security for themselves and their families.

This post is the third in a series outlining eight key policy priorities that are critical for increasing women’s economic opportunities and securing their futures. This was originally published on the IWPR website.


Between December 2007 and June 2009, the U.S. economy experienced the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the aftereffects were felt long after the official end of the Recession. In 2011, IWPR began publishing regular analyses of the trends in job gains and losses among women and men, noting that single mothers were almost twice as likely as married men to be unemployed. Job growth since the recession has been uneven with geographic areas and populations left behind.


Analysis of BLS data shows that employment and unemployment are not distributed equally either by gender or by race and certainly not by the combination of race and gender. Employment growth continues to lag for Black and Hispanic women and teenagers since the Great Recession and unemployment remains significantly higher for them than their White counterparts. The same can also be said for Black and Hispanic men compared to their White counterparts. Ensuring that all workers have access to full-time jobs (if desired) and tackling the issue of unemployment is a critical policy priority for voters and policymakers.


Women, especially women of color, make up a disproportionate share of workers earning low wages and often work in undervalued, female-dominated occupations, like home health aides or child care workers, or lower paid, middle-skilled occupations, such as first line supervisors or clerical workers. Ensuring access to high-quality jobs with fringe benefits can dramatically improve women’s lives and help put women and their families on the “wealth escalator,” securing important benefits that lead to long-term economic security.


Ensuring that women have access to high-quality jobs means women need better access to training for careers in growing, middle-skilled jobs (such as IT, advanced manufacturing, and transportation logistics). Earning a postsecondary degree is also a well-established pathway out of poverty: women with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average, more than twice the amount that women with less than a high school diploma earn. Degrees are life-changing, especially for women raising children on their own (a disproportionate share of whom are women of color): for every dollar a single mother graduate spends on an associate degree, she and her family get back $16.45 in increased earnings.


Practical actions that policymakers can take to improve the quality of low-wage occupations include:


■ Support increasing the minimum wage and eliminating the tipped minimum wage;

■ Support fair scheduling practices and policies;

■ Push policies that invest in the caregiving infrastructure to improve worker’s pay, benefits, and career opportunities;

■ Provide access to affordable and quality child care, including for parents enrolled in a training program, college, or university;

■ Make obtaining a college education or attaining a postsecondary certificate more affordable and encourage scholars at all levels and job training program to work to attract non-traditional populations to their education and training tracks.

■ Work to ensure that STEM programs attract more women and people of color.

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