While media covers the economic
bailout plan in great detail, few outlets have paid attention to
how working women and families are doing in the face of an economic
crisis. Economic issues like pay discrimination, paid family and medical
leave, and flexible work hours get little attention or lip service from
pundits. But the candidates running for president this year have very
different views on these issues. The debates have the opportunity to
highlight or hide their stances on issues important to women. In addition
to watching what they say on the debates, it’s important to see where
they stand on issues important to working women and families.
Last year the Supreme Court ruled that Lilly Ledbetter wasn’t entitled to a dime after nearly 20 years of pay discrimination because she didn’t
file her lawsuit within six-months of the first discriminatory paycheck, making it far more difficult for women
to sue for pay discrimination and signaling a huge
setback for women’s pay equality. This April, the Senate voted on the Lilly
Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, something that would essentially
reverse the Supreme Court’s decision by making each new paycheck subject
to a discrimination lawsuit. This is after decades of the pay gap remaining stagnant.
But Republican presidential candidate John McCain didn’t show up for
the vote. Instead, he said that women "need more education
and training" on the campaign trail. He also said that the legislation
would create "problems" with current lawsuits.
His running mate, Sarah Palin, said something similar in a recent interview with Katie Couric.
Even though Palin is "absolutely for equal pay for equal work,"
she also believes that the legislation, again, which simply would change
the law back to what it was for years before the Supreme Court’s decision,
"was gonna turn into a boon for trial lawyers who, I believe, could
have taken advantage of women who were many, many years ago who would
allege some kind of discrimination. Thankfully, there are laws on the
books, there have been since 1963, that no woman could be discriminated
against in the workplace in terms of anything, but especially in terms
of pay. So, thankfully we have the laws on the books and they better
But here seems to be the problem.
Pay discrimination is an incredibly difficult thing to prove, and gathering
evidence of discrimination often takes far longer than six months. Women
are often unaware that they are being discriminated against for years.
In Ledbetter’s case, she had no idea that she was making less than
her male co-workers until someone left an anonymous note in her locker.
Because other benefits figure into your salary, like Social Security
and retirement, Ledbetter is continuing to pay for a decision made years
ago. The only way to better enforce the laws, it seems, is to make sure
that discrimination can be challenged in court. By making it more difficult
to sue, as the Supreme Court ruled, they’re actually ensuring that
the laws are less likely to be enforced effectively.
Democratic presidential nominee
Barack Obama outlined an economic plan especially
for women (PDF),
and made passage of the Fair Pay Restoration Act part of the proposed
economic changes that would help women explicitly. He also co-sponsored
the bill. The plan also outlined raising the minimum wage, requiring
employers to provide seven days of paid sick leave, and expansion of the
Earned Income Tax Credit. Obama said at a speech geared toward working
women in New Mexico this June, "As the son of a single mother, I also
don’t accept an America that makes women choose between their kids and
their careers. It’s not acceptable that women are denied jobs or promotions
because they’ve got kids at home. It’s not acceptable that forty percent
of working women don’t have a single paid sick day." McCain voted
for the original Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, but his campaign
has not proposed any initiatives to expand or support paid family leave
or sick days.
Minimum wage (PDF) is important simply because so many
women earn it. Nearly 60 percent of the people that benefited from the
minimum wage increase last year were women. McCain has voted against
increasing the minimum wage 19 times until he voted in favor of the
legislation that was passed last year. At the time, he voted in favor of
legislation that sought to increase the minimum wage, but in the end
ended up voting in favor of increasing the minimum wage to $7.25 per
hour. In an interview this August, he said, "I’m for
the minimum wage increases when they are not attached to other big-spending
pork barrel." He has, however, voted in favor of increasing the minimum
wage when it is tied to war spending bills, like the legislation last
Each candidate has also proposed
a tax cut plan. An analysis by the Tax Policy Center shows that McCain’s
plan would cut taxes overall by nearly $4.2 trillion and Obama’s plan
would cut taxes overall by $2.9 trillion from 2009-2018. But the important
thing to look at is the distribution of those tax cuts. A graph produced in the report shows that
Obama’s plan would result in an increase of post-tax income based
on which income shows an increase among all but the top one percent of
taxpayers. McCain’s plan shows increases in post-tax income in all
brackets, but the increases in the lowest quintile is much small than
the increases for the top one percent.
in America is on the rise; some say the inequality is the greatest the country
has experienced since the Gilded Age following World War I. Women still
earn, on average 77 cents to every dollar a man earns, and little has
been done to help working families with more flexible schedules (especially
among hourly wage earners) in the last decade. Amid the debate over
the bailout bill and the economic crisis, not enough has been said about
ensuring that working families can maintain a quality of life and that
women can earn greater income parity in the workplace. Economic issues
are important to break down in all respects, especially those that are
important to women and families.