To Fight Inequality, Support Women’s Work

Women in the labor force have slowed the growth of income inequality by 50%.

Women In The Labor Force Have Slowed The Growth Of Income Inequality By 50%

Income inequality is a huge problem in the United States, which has one of the largest income gaps among industrialized nations. However, a new report and accompanying analysis from the Center for American Progress might have found a way to help combat it: supporting women in the workforce. This analysis suggests income inequality in the United States would have grown 50% faster since 1963 if women’s earnings had not increased. And the positive effect of women in the workforce could have been even larger if American women’s labor force participation rate growth had kept pace with other industrialized nations.

Women in the workforce serve as an income equalizer among households. Women’s earnings have played a key role in growing the U.S. economy for decades: the White House Council of Economic Advisers found that nearly all of the rise in U.S. family income between 1970 and 2013 was due to women’s increased earnings. If women’s labor force participation had remained the same since 1970, the CEA estimates median family income would be about $13,000 lower.

The statistics prove that if we want to reduce income inequality and grow the economy, we need some of the following policies to support women in the workforce:

  • Improving access to affordable child care. Research shows that single mothers of young children were 40 percent more likely to still be employed after two years if they received financial assistance in paying for child care.
  • Implementing universal paid family and medical leave. The United States is the only industrial nation without universal, guaranteed maternity leave. Women who were able to take paid leave and return to work were 39 percent less likely to receive public assistance and 40 percent less likely to receive food stamps in the year after a child’s birth than were those who were not able to take paid leave.
  • Implementing universal earned paid sick days. More than 40 million workers in the United States lack access to even a single paid sick day. Workers with access to paid sick days lose or leave their jobs at least 25 percent less often than workers without paid leave – and the effect is especially acute for mothers, more than 80 percent of whom are the primary healthcare coordinators for their children.
  • Widening access to the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC, a fully refundable tax credit available to low-income working families, has been proven to encourage women’s employment because it is tied to labor force participation.
  • Implementing legislation that will help workers gain a greater degree of control over their schedules. Policies that encourage and improve flexible work arrangements and protect workers from practices such as such as “on-call” or “just in time” scheduling can help stabilize family income by increasing women’s labor force participation.

The message is clear: increasing women’s labor force participation and wages provides a “critical countervailing force against the rise of income inequality.” If we want a more equal economy, we need to do more to help women in the workforce. Policies like universal paid family and medical leave and improving access to affordable child care need to be implemented to support women, grow our economy, and combat our growing income inequality.

BOTTOM LINE: In order to fight inequality, we must support women’s ability to stay and thrive in the workforce. Family friendly policies like paid sick days, paid family leave, and affordable childcare can help and need to be implemented if we want to slow the growth of income inequality.

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