Remarks by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro at the unveiling of EPI’s Women’s Economic Agenda

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) spoke at the unveiling of EPI’s Women’s Economic Agenda on November 18, 2015. Her remarks, as prepared for delivery, are posted below.

Good morning. Maya, thank you for that kind introduction. I have to first recognize EPI and Larry who have been a godsend in providing members of Congress great economic information that focuses on the impacts of public policies on low and middle class Americans and their families. The topics they cover are wide-ranging—from the impact of various trade agreements to the current jobs crises, where people are in jobs that don’t pay them enough to live on.

Let me also acknowledge my colleagues and the advocates who join me at the podium. Senator Warren—a woman who needs no introduction. The Boston Globe describes her as “a fierce advocate for the lot of working families.” Senator Warren has a reputation for knowing how to get things done.

Elise Gould at EPI—thank you for your tireless work on this Women’s Economic Agenda. Let me acknowledge Liz Shuler. Thank you for your leadership and advocacy at AFL-CIO. And all the advocates here today. Each of them put working families at the heart of everything they do.

Today we come together to push the policies as part of the Economic Policy Institute’s Women’s Economic Agenda to improve the lives of working women and families.

In my own view, this starts with the biggest economic challenge facing our country today, which is that too many people are simply not paid enough to live on.

There is so much talk today about income inequality. You cannot talk about it without your starting point being stagnant wages. Wages have been stagnant and in decline for 40 years. Families are struggling. They struggle to put food on the table and pay their bills. They cannot think about putting their kids through college. They cannot think about a vacation. They cannot think about retirement security.

This is a problem that particularly affects women. Fifty-two years since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women still make only 79 cents, on average, for every dollar earned by a man. Even in nursing, a study earlier this year showed that men earn $5,100 per year more than women of comparable education and experience. This is a profession that is more than 90 percent female.

Women are more likely than men to live in poverty or earn minimum wage. Female entrepreneurs find it harder than men to obtain financing. Despite living longer, women receive less in Social Security. Women are still two thirds of all caregivers, yet enjoy few support services to help them in that role.

Meanwhile, the labor force has changed completely over the last 50 years. Women are now half of all workers. Two thirds of us are main breadwinners or co-breadwinners for our families. This means that helping women increase their earnings is a benefit not just to women, but to families, and to the economy at large.

Today, it is our outdated workplace policies that are holding working families back from making work, work.

At least 43 million workers in this country have zero paid sick days. One quarter of American adults have either been fired or threatened with being fired just for taking a sick day. Less than 40 percent of American workers have access to paid personal medical leave for a serious illness. Only 13 percent have access to paid family leave to cover situations like pregnancy, childbirth, and care for a sick child. And more than one in four career workers in retail, food service, and cleaning occupations receive their schedules less than one week in advance.

To me, all this is indicative of a system that is badly broken. I do not believe the popular national view that wage stagnation in America today is the inevitable result of globalization and technology. It is the product of a conscious effort by special interests that drive public policy only to their advantage.

As Nobel winning economist Joe Stiglitz has written, “Inequality is not inevitable. It is a choice we make with the rules we create to structure our economy.” We need to stop making bad choices. We need to rewrite the rules and it is our—Members of Congress’—job to rewrite the rules.

That is why the policies outlined by the Economic Policy Institute are so important. It is high time for paycheck fairness, paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and fair schedules to become a reality for all Americans, not a lottery based on where you happen to work. That is why I am the proud author of the Healthy Families Act to allow workers access to job-protected paid sick days; the FAMILY Act which would ensure working people have paid family leave; and the Schedules That Work Act to provide relief to workers facing irregular schedules. And it is why we need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and eliminate tipped minimum wage. It is why we need to strengthen collective bargaining rights and support strong enforcement of labor standards. It is why we must provide accessible and affordable early childhood education ensuring parents do not need to choose between leaving the labor force and affording quality child care. We must protect and strengthen Social Security and pensions to address the growing retirement security crisis. And we must provide a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, which would not only lift their wages, but will also lift wages of U.S. workers in the same fields of work.

With EPI’s Women’s Economic Agenda, we are building on an effort that began more than 150 years ago when visionary women came together to stand up for women’s rights and to better the status of women. These policies are not just benefits to be bargained for, or bargained away. It is part of something bigger – part of a promise in which we all have a role – giving women the power to gain economic security for themselves and their families.

We need to keep pushing and never take no for an answer. That is how we will make sure, 167 years after we started this journey, that every woman has a chance to succeed. Let’s make it happen! Thank you.