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News from EPI EPI announces bold agenda to raise women’s wages: Women’s wages can and should be 70 percent higher

Today, the Economic Policy Institute released its Women’s Economic Agenda, a set of 12 bold yet achievable proposals that push the discussion about women’s economic security beyond closing the gender wage gap. While closing the gap between men and women’s wages is essential to bring genuine economic security to women and their families, policymakers must do more. Policies in the agenda include raising the minimum wage, ending discriminatory practices that contribute to gender inequality, providing paid family leave, and increasing access to high-quality child care.

In a companion research paper, EPI senior economist Elise Gould and research assistant Alyssa Davis lay out the case for the Women’s Economic Agenda, and explain why policymakers concerned with women’s economic security should be committed to ending overall inequality. By closing the gender wage gap and the gap between productivity and a typical workers pay, women’s wages would be 70 percent higher.

“Raising wages and boosting economic security for women is an essential part of growing and strengthening America’s middle class,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, who spoke at the agenda’s unveiling. “The proposals in EPI’s Women’s Economic Agenda would be powerful steps forward in the fight to level the playing field for women and families across the country.”

Importantly, 40 percent of the closing of the gender wage gap over the last 35 years is due to men’s declining wages. Gould and Davis argue that the right way to close the gender wage gap is not by letting men’s wages continue to fall, but through a policy agenda that raises wages across the board.

“Allowing low- and moderate-wage men to lose economic ground is not the right way to close the gender wage gap.” said Gould. “There is plenty of room in our economy to close the gender wage gap while raising both men’s and women’s wages significantly.”

Moreover, to maximize women’s economic security, we must look beyond the gender wage gap and pursue policies that intentionally tilt bargaining power back toward low- and moderate-wage workers and end discriminatory practices in the labor market.

“The gender wage gap is only one way the economy shortchanges women,” said Davis. “Only when we take a holistic approach to women’s wages and seek to eliminate both the gender wage gap and the economic inequality gap will women reach their potential in the economy.”

The full complement of policies in the Women’s Economic Agenda is:

  • Raise the minimum wage—raising the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020 would boost wages for one-fourth of the workforce, or 35 million working people—56 percent of whom are women.
  • Eliminate the tipped minimum wage—two-thirds of tipped workers are women, yet they still make less than their male counterparts. At the median, women tipped workers make $10.07 per hour, while men make $10.63 (including tips).
  • Strengthen collective bargaining rights—women in unions are more likely to be paid higher wages and have access to benefits such as paid sick days and pensions.
  • End discriminatory practices that contribute to race and gender inequalities—black women earn 65.4 percent and Hispanic women earn 56.5 percent of white men’s hourly earnings.
  • Provide paid family leave—only 12 percent of private-sector employees have access to paid family leave. Without paid family leave policies, workers (particularly women) have difficulty balancing the demands of work and family.
  • Provide paid sick leave—ensuring that working women can earn paid sick time would let them meet their responsibilities at work and at home without compromising their family’s economic security.
  • Require fair scheduling practices—over one-third of women hourly workers in their prime childrearing years receive their work schedules with advance notice of one week or less.
  • Provide accessible, affordable, high-quality child care and early childhood education—accessible child care would ensure that parents do not need to choose between leaving the labor force and affording quality child care
  • Protect and expand Social Security—the average female retiree receives over $300 less per Social Security check than her male counterpart.
  • Provide undocumented workers a path to citizenship—women are concentrated in many occupations likely to be held by undocumented workers.
  • Support strong enforcement of labor standards—women are more likely than men to be victims of wage theft, and are a majority of workers who would benefit from expanded overtime protections.
  • Prioritize wage growth and very low unemployment when making monetary policy—better wage growth is crucial to ensuring that gender and racial wage gaps close for the right reasons, with wages rising for all groups but more rapidly for groups currently disadvantaged in labor markets.