President Biden’s next big budget push will be his human infrastructure reconciliation bill. This is the time for President Biden to make a bold statement by showing that he’s committed to improving the economic lot of American women. For anyone with even a vague familiarity with socioeconomic statistics, the disadvantaged position women find themselves in is well known, but as of yet, no political leader has proposed legislation that would truly level the playing field for women, something Biden has the chance to do through the reconciliation process.
From an economic perspective it’s easy to make the case that women are second class citizens in their own country. Education, which is always touted as the solution to economic problems, seems to have failed American women even though women are now better educated then. As early as 2016, women had surpassed men in terms of completion of secondary and postsecondary education. In 2016, women earned 61 percent of associate degrees, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 59 percent of master’s degrees, and 53 percent of doctorates.
Proof of how our economic system is failing women of all ethnic backgrounds can be seen in every data set relating income, wealth, and economic well-being. Consider the two most frequently discussed financial statistics, income and wealth. White women earn 79 percent of white male earnings, and the percentages decline for women of color, Black women, 63 percent, native American women, 60 percent, Latina 55 percent, with Asian women earning only 52 percent. These earnings gaps explain why only 61 percent of women are home owners compared to 67 percent of men.
This gap in earning explains the gender wealth gap, on average, women’s wealth is only 32 percent of the average male’s wealth, and upon retirement why they will receive a Social Security check that the $300 smaller than their male counter parts. Earnings also filter into company pension plans because many companies integrate projected Social Security earnings into their calculations of pension benefits resulting in women receiving $6,100 per year in pension benefits then their male colleagues. This is in addition to the fact that only 29 percent of women have company pensions compared to 44 percent for men.
Unfortunately our system’s failures go beyond just income and wealth. Our unwillingness to address child care has resulted in three million women dropping out of the labor force. It’s not so much that there is an absolute lack of child care. Rather, it’s just too expensive. Finland subsidizes child care, with the cost for two children ranges from $513/month too free, with one half of Finnish women receiving free child care. In the US the average cost of child care for two children is $1,838/month. A woman in the US would have to earn $10.50 per hour to pay for one month’s child care, and in some state’s the minimum wage is still the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.
All economically advanced countries have some form of payed maternity leave, except the US. Finland grants women 164 days of paid leave. The US grants’ women zero days. Because of impact of occupational segregation, 45 percent of men have company provided health care, for women that number is 39 percent. Prior to the passage of The Affordable Care Act, women typically paid more for health insurance, and while the Affordable Care Act has made significant changes in that area, women still pay 10 – 60 percent more for short-term health insurance.
The solutions open to the Biden administration are almost endless. Since wealth disparities largely hinge on occupational and wage discrimination, the government needs beef up the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Wage differentials for women and men with equal education and experience should be outlawed, and pay levels in publically traded companies should be public knowledge.
The minimum wage needs to be increased and indexed to inflation, and we need to sever the link between Social Security checks and earned income. Social Security checks should reflect what is needed to provide for a minimally acceptable life style in retirement, and women who choose child care in their youth and elder care in later life should receive Social Security credits equal to men who do not.