Higher wage proposed as part of Women's Economic Security agenda

Raising Minnesota’s minimum wage is a key component of a package of proposals that legislators say would help working women.

The package, collectively called the “Women’s Economic Security Act,” was outlined at a Women’s Economic Security Summit Jan. 30 in St. Paul. In addition to seeking an increase in the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, the Act calls for expanded access to affordable, high quality child care, access to paid sick leave for all workers and expansion of state pay equity and family leave laws.

Advocates say it also strengthens protections for victims of domestic violence, enhances opportunities for women to work in non-traditional jobs and start their own businesses and provides more retirement security.

“While women are finding themselves in roles and positions where they have never been before . . . there are real barriers for us to get where we want to go,” Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, told participants in the summit. “We have a growing economy in Minnesota . . . It’s the right time to act.”

House Speaker Paul Thissen said the various bills that make up the Women’s Economic Security Act will be a priority for the DFL majority in the Minnesota House when the Legislature convenes for the 2014 session on Feb. 25.

“Women are still lagging in what should be their fair share of increasing wages and prosperity,” Thissen said. “When women succeed in Minnesota, Minnesota succeeds.”

Minnesota’s minimum wage is currently $6.15 an hour, although most minimum wage workers in the state earn the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. The House passed legislation last year raising the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and is waiting on the Senate to act.

Status of Women and Girls in Minnesota, a report recently issued by the University of Minnesota Humphrey School’s Center on Women and Public Policy, in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, outlines the challenges that still exist for women in the world of work.

The pay gap between women and white men ranges from 20% for white women to 38% for African-American women and 43% for Latinas. In other words, the median pay for white women in Minnesota is 80 cents for every dollar a white man earns. The median pay for African-American women is only 62 cents and for Latinas 57 cents.

“With increasing numbers of women breadwinners, the double disadvantage of lower wages across almost all occupations and lower wages in female-dominated professions affects our families and communities,” the report notes.

In addition to the fact that many women are the main breadwinners for their families, many also have caretaking responsibilities for children or elderly family members.

Women “make up a disproportionate share of the poor, both in Minnesota and nationally,” said Erin Parrish, executive director of the Minnesota Women’s Consortium, an organization that helped convene the summit.

Raising Minnesota’s minimum wage would be a meaningful step for low-wage workers, several speakers at the summit said.

Minimum wage worker Rachel Shelton spoke from experience.

For low-wage workers, “another $50 or $100 makes a big difference in your household,” she said. “Raising the minimum wage would be good for a lot of people like me who have been on public assistance.”

Learn more about the Women’s Economic Security Act on the Minnesota House website.

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    Barb_Kucera's picture
    Barb Kucera

    I edit the Workday Minnesota news site, www.workdayminnesota.org