Five years into the economic recovery, most Americans are still struggling to get ahead. Wages are stagnating, and prices are rising. Inequality continues to grow: those at the top are taking in a bigger and bigger share of the national income, while working- and middle-class families fight to make ends meet. In Colorado, the story is similar to that of the rest of the country. Colorado’s inflation-adjusted median household income—the clearest indicator of the middle class’s economic well-being—is now lower than it was in 1985.
In many cases, these economic challenges disproportionately burden women and their families. Nationwide, nearly two-thirds of mothers are either primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their households, making financial decisions and working hard to balance work and family. In Colorado, women lead nearly three times as many households as men. Meanwhile, women have earned an expansion of health rights and protections—especially with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA—that both improves access to health care and strengthens economic security through better insurance coverage, cost savings, and reproductive choice.
Colorado women face a pivotal choice about who they will elect to represent them in the U.S. Senate this fall. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) has policy positions that threaten Colorado women and their families. As a state legislator and U.S. representative, Gardner demonstrated that he would dismantle the rights and protections that women have gained and would oppose policies that strengthen working- and middle-class women and their families. This brief details how Rep. Gardner’s positions hurt Colorado women and their families.
Colorado women deserve elected officials who will work hard to give them quality, affordable health care and fight back against those who seek to defy the Constitution by eliminating their right to choose. At the same time, health care access and reproductive rights are fundamentally economic concerns for women. Health insurance offers financial protection even if serious health issues arise, and access to birth control allows women to start a family when it makes sense for them. These basic needs should not cost a fortune. Women know this, and the leaders they elect to represent them should too. Rep. Cory Gardner is not that leader for Colorado women, and his policies are harmful for women’s health.
Eliminates health care for thousands of Colorado women
The Affordable Care Act has given Coloradans the peace of mind and economic security that come with quality, affordable health insurance. According to a Gallup survey, the rate of those without health insurance in Colorado dropped from 17 percent in 2013 to 11 percent in mid-2014—the fifth-largest drop of any state in the country. Women have especially benefitted from the new law, which requires insurance companies to stop gender discrimination and provides women with increased protections and cost savings.
Despite these successes, Rep. Gardner has repeatedly voted to repeal, dismantle, or defund the ACA and, along with it, the benefits that Coloradans now enjoy. Repealing the Affordable Care Act would affect Colorado women in the following ways:
- Thousands of Colorado women could lose their insurance. As of September, 145,994 Coloradans had health coverage through the state marketplace. As of April, 52 percent of those in the marketplace were women. In addition, 314,436 Coloradans had signed up for health coverage through either Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, as of July. Repealing the ACA would put these people at risk of losing their coverage.
- Women could once again be charged more just because of their gender. Before the ACA, insurers were charging women as much as 150 percent more than men for the same coverage simply for being women. The ACA stopped that practice, but repealing the law would remove those protections.
- 520,000 Colorado women would pay more for preventive services. The ACA requires private insurers to cover preventative services such as mammograms, pap smears, and contraception without any co-pay from the patient. An estimated 520,000 Colorado women have received at least one of these expanded benefits since the ACA passed and would be at risk of paying more if the law were repealed. Thanks to Colorado’s expansion of the Medicaid program, an additional 5,200 Colorado women have received mammograms and 9,000 Colorado women have received pap smears in the past year.
- 696,000 Colorado women would return to facing lifetime limits on care. The ACA bans insurance companies from imposing lifetime limits on health coverage, and repealing it would eliminate this protection.
Turns the pill—and other forms of contraception—into another bill
Rep. Cory Gardner continues to do whatever he can to restrict birth control access, while simultaneously trying to run from his record on the issue. Rep. Gardner’s attitudes toward contraception go far beyond his opposition to the ACA: He has been voting to block contraceptive access since he was a first-term state legislator in 2006. Gardner also supports the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, which gives most for-profit employers the ability to deny their employees contraceptive coverage in health insurance plans on moral or religious grounds.
In recent weeks, Rep. Gardner has tried to muddy the waters on his position, releasing an ad in which he states his support for over-the-counter contraception. To be sure, efforts to expand access to birth control, including making some forms available over-the-counter, are good. But coming from a politician with Gardner’s record, it is an empty gesture that realistically amounts to another tax on women. Here’s why:
- Women saved an estimated $483 million on out-of-pocket costs for birth control in 2013 alone. This is largely due to the ACA provision that requires insurance companies to cover birth control with no co-pay. Rep. Gardner would repeal the ACA and this provision along with it.
- Before the ACA, women paid up to $600 per year on the pill. Getting rid of this ACA provision would bring the nation back to a time when women spent between $15 and $50 per month—or up to $600 per year—on oral contraception.
- Under Rep. Gardner, some of the most effective forms of birth control would be out of reach. Gardner’s proposal ignores the fact that birth control is not one size fits all; many women do not use the pill. Some of most effective contraceptive methods cannot be provided over the counter and therefore still require insurance coverage. These methods would be out of reach for many women without the ACA’s coverage promise.
Limits women’s reproductive choices
Rep. Cory Gardner has a long history of fighting for unconstitutional legislation called personhood, which would give a fertilized egg the same legal protections as an adult by defining life as beginning at fertilization. Rep. Gardner’s support of these measures dates back to 2006, when he affirmed his belief that “personhood begins at fertilization.” As a Senate candidate, Gardner has backtracked, saying he “can’t support personhood going forward.” Despite this change in his rhetoric, however, he remains a co-sponsor of federal personhood legislation, the Life at Conception Act, as a member of the U.S. House. Given his record, it is clear that Gardner is much more dedicated to restricting women’s reproductive rights than he is to expanding them. Personhood would do the following things:
- Ban abortion completely, even in cases of rape or incest. By giving fertilized eggs the same rights as an adult, personhood measures outlaw abortion at any stage and no matter the conditions surrounding the pregnancy. Abortion bans can be life threating to women, and the risk associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that of abortion.
- Outlaw some forms of birth control. The language of personhood legislation outlaws certain forms of oral contraceptives; intrauterine devices, or IUDs; and other forms of FDA-approved hormonal contraceptives. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, these have proven to be “some of the most effective and reliable” forms of birth control.
- Defy the Constitution. These laws have already been proven to be unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court and denied appeal by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Women’s economic security
When women have the opportunity to fulfill their economic potential, their communities prosper. Colorado women have felt the nation’s current economic struggles acutely: More than one-quarter of all female-headed households in the state live in poverty. Policymakers can take action right now to improve this economic outlook for Colorado women and families by generating real growth that happens from the middle out, not the top down.
Rep. Cory Gardner has opposed these common-sense policy solutions in each case, proving that he is out of touch with the women he hopes to represent in the U.S. Senate.
Refuses to give hard-working people a raise
Raising the minimum wage is a must when it comes to improving economic security for Colorado women and their families. As a state legislator, Cory Gardner opposed the state’s last minimum-wage increase in 2006 and even voted against implementation after the voters already approved it. Eight years later, Rep. Gardner remains skeptical of an increase, alleging that “hundreds of thousands of people will lose their jobs—jobs will be lost—as a result of a minimum wage increase.” In fact, multiple studies have found that the 13 states—including Colorado—that increased their minimum wages in 2014 have experienced faster job growth than the states that have not. Rep. Gardner’s position goes against the 61 percent of Colorado women voters who support a federal increase to $10.10 per hour.
Colorado’s minimum wage now sits at $8.00 per hour, just 75 cents higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would have huge benefits for Coloradans, particularly for Colorado women, who make up the majority of the state’s minimum-wage workers:
- Wages would increase for 224,000 Colorado women. Among all working women in Colorado, more than one in five would be directly or indirectly affected by a minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour.
- Women are the majority of those who would benefit from an increase. Of all Coloradans who would see their wages go up because of minimum-wage increase to $10.10, 54.9 percent are women.
- The parents of 217,000 Colorado children would get a raise. Just 15.6 percent of all minimum-wage earners in Colorado are under age 20. Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 puts more money into the pockets of those who are trying to provide for their families.
- A higher minimum wage would help lift thousands of women out of poverty. Women disproportionately live in poverty: 13 percent of all Coloradans earn below the federal poverty line, but the rate is 13.9 percent for Colorado women. A single mother with two children who works 40 hours per week lives below the poverty line at the current minimum wage but would be above it if she were earning $10.10.
- Total wages would increase more than $575 million in Colorado. More money in Coloradans’ pockets means a stronger economy for everyone. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would increase wages $578,138,000 for all affected workers—money that would circulate through local economies.
Ignores the persistent gender wage gap
Colorado women deserve equal pay for equal work. That is a common-sense, legal standard, but a wage gap persists nonetheless. Women earn less than men when they get the same education and they earn less when they have the same type of job. In some cases, women still earn less than men because of outright discrimination.
Rep. Cory Gardner’s position on paycheck fairness is in lockstep with his out-of-touch House Republican colleagues. In 2013, he voted against even considering The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would ban salary secrecy and require employers to demonstrate that pay disparities between men and women are related to job performance, not gender. But the gender wage gap in Colorado is real, and it hurts Colorado women:
- A Colorado woman earns 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. According to the latest data from the Census Bureau, the 2013 median income for women working full time, year round in Colorado was $40,671, while the 2013 median income for men was $50,950.
- Rep. Gardner’s district has the worst wage gap of any district in Colorado. Women face a particularly acute gender wage gap in Colorado’s fourth district, which Rep. Gardner represents in Congress: A women earns just 73 cents for every dollar a man earns—the worst gap in the state and less than the national average of 78 cents.
- The wage gap for Colorado women shows no signs of improvement. In 2012, the gender wage gap was the same: women only earned 80 cents for every dollar a man earned.
- For women of color, the wage gap is even more extreme. An African American woman earns just 68 cents for every dollar a typical man earns, and a Hispanic women earns just 60 cents for every dollar a man earns.
Rep. Cory Gardner’s policy positions are the wrong choice for Coloradans, and especially for Colorado women. From repeatedly opposing the affordable health care that has already helped hundreds of thousands of Colorado women to fighting to take away constitutionally protected reproductive rights, Rep. Gardner’s positions harm women and their families. In an economic climate where Colorado’s leaders should be fighting to expand the middle class, Cory Gardner’s Colorado would squeeze the budgets of working women even more.
Charles Posner is the State Research Analyst for the ThinkProgress War Room at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.