This week the Shriver Report was released, which examines financial hardship among American women. It includes contributions from luminaries like Maria Shriver, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Beyoncé, who share their perspectives on the unique economic challenges women in this country face.
Many articles emphasize the challenges that arise due to lack of flexibility in the workplace, and with good reason: Today’s working woman has to balance a number of responsibilities, including work, raising children and taking care of aging parents. Forty percent of American households have a working mother as the sole or primary breadwinner. Two-thirds of those households are led by single mothers, and a startlingly high number of single-mother households live not just on the brink, but indisputably in the grips of poverty.
At the Department of Labor, we see the effects of these challenges every day. Minimum-wage entry-level jobs (in which women outnumber men two to one) often have inflexible hours and challenging physical demands in addition to insufficient pay and limited benefits. These factors make it almost impossible for women in those professions to ascend the ladder of opportunity to more lucrative jobs.
The Shriver Report notes that the public and private sector both have a role to play in addressing these challenges. So what is the Department of Labor doing to help women push back from the brink?
First, we are advocating for a raise in the federal minimum wage. In recent years, the economy has expanded, and the stock market has soared. Yet, low-wage workers aren’t reaping the benefits. Nearly 60 percent of those who would benefit from increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour are women. That additional income, along with tax credits, would lift a full-time minimum wage worker and her family above the poverty line. Raising the minimum wage isn’t just pro-worker, it’s pro-economic growth. As Secretary Perez has said, “the best anti-poverty program is the availability of good jobs.” Putting money in the pockets of working families means they’ll spend it on goods and services, which in turn helps businesses thrive and create more jobs.
We have stepped up enforcement efforts in industries such as healthcare, restaurants and garment, which employ large numbers of workers – many of whom are women – at risk of labor violations. We also announced a new final rule that will extend the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections to most direct care workers – of which more than 92% are women – employed in private homes to provide critical services to those who need care, enabling them to remain in their homes, and to remain in their communities.
We’re also working to raise awareness about the gender pay gap, providing resources to help workers educate themselves about their pay rights, and engaging citizens that want to help promote gender pay equity, such as those that participated in our 2012 Equal Pay App Challenge.
Flexibility is another important component in this equation, which is why we were so excited to announce expansions to the Family and Medical Leave Act last year. These expansions ensure that even more workers receive greater opportunities to take leave, enabling them to care for family members without worrying about losing their jobs.
The Shriver Report notes that “[t]he most common shared story in our country today is the financial insecurity of American families,” and that this problem requires public, private and personal solutions. By working together to confront these challenges, we’re doing our part to ensure that someday, our most common shared story may be our joint efforts to restore financial security to those families.