Families in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the United States need policies that promote economic security for women and families. Working families need higher livable wages, women need and deserve equal pay for equal work, and parents need to be able to maintain good jobs and raise their children simultaneously. Strong economic security policies will enable Virginia women and families to get ahead—not just get by.
Family structure is shifting significantly. For most Virginians, the days of the full-time, stay-at-home mom are long in the past: Mothers are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners in 61.9 percent of Virginia families. To promote the economic security of women and their families, Virginia’s policies should address the needs of working mothers and reflect the roles that women are playing to provide for their families. Here are seven policy areas in which policymakers and advocates can help women bolster their families’ economic security.
Provide access to paid sick days
Everyone gets sick, but not everyone is afforded the time to get better. Many women go to work sick or leave their sick children at home alone because they fear that they will be fired for missing work. Allowing employees to earn paid sick days helps keep families, communities, and the economy healthy.
- About 40 million U.S. employees, or 40 percent of the nation’s private-sector workforce, do not have access to paid sick days. In Virginia, the rate is higher: More than 41 percent of private-sector workers—1.1 million people—do not have paid sick days.
- If employees must stay home from work because they or their children are ill, the loss of pay can take a serious toll—particularly on low-income workers, who are the least likely to have access to this benefit.
Expand paid family and medical leave
Access to paid family and medical leave could allow workers to be with their newborn children during the crucial first stages of a child’s life, to care for an aging parent or spouse, or to recover from their own illness.
- The United States is the only developed country without guaranteed access to paid maternity leave and one of only three developed countries that do not offer broader family and medical leave insurance. Only 12 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers.
- The National Partnership for Women & Families gave Virginia a “D”—the second-lowest grade—on policies that help parents of newborn children because, with the exception of state workers, Virginia does not offer adequate protections to new parents beyond the unpaid leave available to workers under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Ensure equal pay
Although federal law prohibits unequal pay for equal work, there is more to do to ensure that both women and men enjoy the fullest protections against discrimination across Virginia.
- Women are the primary, sole, or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of U.S. families, but they continue to earn less than their male counterparts. Latinas and African American women experience the sharpest pay disparities.
- Virginia women earn 79 cents for every dollar that Virginia men earn; if the wage gap continues to close at its current rate, women will not receive equal pay until 2073. The wage gap is even larger for black and Latina women in Virginia, who earn 60 cents and 52 cents respectively for every dollar that white men earn.
Expand quality, affordable child care
Families need child care to be able to work, but many families lack access to high-quality child care options. Parents want and need child care that supports young children’s development and adequately prepares them for school.
- 65 percent of Virginia children younger than age 6 have all available, resident parents in the workforce, which makes access to affordable, high-quality child care a necessity.
- For a Virginia family with one infant and one 4-year-old, child care costs an average of $17,724 per year, or just less than one-quarter of the median income for a Virginia family with children.
Increase the minimum wage
Women make up a disproportionate share of low-wage workers, and raising the minimum wage would help hardworking women across Virginia better support their families.
- Women make up nearly two-thirds of all minimum-wage workers in the United States.
- Increasing the minimum wage to $12 per hour would boost wages for 515,000 women in Virginia and nearly 16 million women nationally.
Guarantee access to quality health care
Women need comprehensive reproductive health services—including access to abortion care—in order to thrive as breadwinners, caregivers, and employees.
- Virginia should expand its Medicaid coverage, which would help the 128,000 Virginia women who cannot afford to purchase a plan through the state health exchange under the Affordable Care Act and do not qualify for Medicaid coverage. While 29 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid coverage, more than 3 million women across the United States fall in the coverage gap.
- In 2012, nearly half a million Virginia women were in need of publicly funded family planning services and supplies. Because federal Title X funding—which covers contraception, pregnancy testing, and cancer screenings—has not kept up with inflation and often faces the threat of cuts at the federal level, Virginia should step in and ensure that women have access to quality family planning resources.
Promote women’s political leadership
Across the United States, women are dramatically underrepresented in political office: Women make up 51 percent of the population but only 29 percent of elected officials.
- Virginia is among the least representative states—it is ranked 48 out of all 50 states and Washington, D.C.—when considering whether Virginia’s elected officials reflect the gender and racial makeup of the commonwealth’s population.
- Women make up 51 percent of Virginia’s population but only 29 percent of its elected officials. Likewise, women of color make up 19 percent of the commonwealth’s population but only 7 percent of its officeholders.
Ryan Erickson is the Associate Director of Economic Campaigns at the Center American Progress Action Fund. Sarah Jane Glynn is the Director of Women’s Economic Policy at the Fund. Heidi Williamson is the Senior Policy Analyst for the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Fund.