WASHINGTON - Although women are quickly becoming the breadwinners in a majority of families, New York's junior senator believes workplace inequality remains a critical stumbling block, both to their own economic security as well as the country's.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) spoke at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., on Friday, unveiling a comprehensive, five-point plan that addressed the biggest impediments for today's working women. It included expanding paid medical leave, increasing the minimum wage, tax credits for child care, funding preschool education and enforcing equal pay for equal work.
"Workplace policies are stuck in the past," Gillibrand said. "We have to equip more working women with the tools and the opportunities needed to achieve their best in the economy, and their best for their family."
Gillibrand's plan seeks to update the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which currently provides unpaid, job-protected leave for employees during serious health crises.
Since 50 percent of working mothers are unable to take time off for a sick child and 43 percent cannot even afford to take unpaid leave, Gillibrand hopes to create a fund within the Social Security Administration that collects employer and employee fees, and provides benefits.
"It would cost the average worker the same as a tall latte a week," Gillibrand said.
The plan also supports the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which increases the current minimum wage of $7.25 to $10.10 in three-year increments. "Sixty-four percent of minimum wage earners are women," Gillibrand said. "A mother of three earning minimum wage would be below the poverty line."
The economic benefits of a minimum wage increase, according to the senator, would include a growth of the country's gross domestic product by $33 billion over the next three years.
Gillibrand also addressed affordable child care and the universal availability of pre-kindergarten education.
"Half of middle class working moms with children under 5 rely on some form of child care," Gillibrand said.
To alleviate the burden of rising child care costs, the senator is endorsing the Right Start Child Care and Education Act which provides families a $6,000 capped tax credit per child.
Moreover, Gillibrand is sponsoring the Providing Resources Early for Kids Act, which will increase the availability of early childhood educators to lower-income families.
"Budgets are all about choices and what our priorities are," Gillibrand said. "The block you live on should not determine the chances you have in life."
Gillibrand concluded her plan by addressing unequal pay between men and women.
"Even though women are out-earning men in (college) degrees, this battle is still waging," Gillibrand said.
Giving stark statistics, the senator described how the average woman makes 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, and how closing the wage gap would increase the GDP by 4 percent. Gillibrand is pushing for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which allows women to negotiate for equal pay and ensures employers are held accountable for wage inequality.
"The middle class is at the heart of the American Dream," Gillibrand said. "We need to unleash the full potential and talents of our workforce if we want this country to move forward."