A new campaign from major progressive organizations seeks to change the fight for better policy around work and families, trading the limiting “women’s issues” label for a broader approach.
“This doesn’t come from sitting in a closet and then one day saying, ‘OK we’re gonna talk about this,’” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said Wednesday at the launch of Fair Shot, a new campaign to translate the attention politicians pay to women during election season into actual policy momentum. DeLauro was one of many panelists and speakers at Center for American Progress (CAP) headquarters Wednesday to say it’s time to turn up the volume on calls for economic policy that addresses the challenges women face, and to address those calls to men and women alike.
Fair Shot is a joint effort by CAP, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, American Women, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that seeks to broaden the conversation about economic policies that have traditionally been packaged as “women’s issues,” including paid family leave, paid sick leave, and the long-stymied Paycheck Fairness Act. “Women’s voices determined the 2012 election,” the Fair Shot website notes, but “we have not seen real policy changes that improve women’s lives.”
All present on stage for the economic policy panel, one of three distinct discussions at Wednesday’s event, agreed that one key to increasing the pressure on Congress to move legislation is to recognize that so-called “women’s issues” affect men quite directly. White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz emphasized that point in describing the administration’s approach to pay equity, educational access, protections for reproductive health, and paid leave. “There’s no Agenda For The Country, and then the Agenda For Women is over here,” Muñoz said, miming two separate containers with her hands. “There is one agenda. We can’t afford not to build this into everything we’re doing if we expect to be a successful country.” In an interview later with ThinkProgress, DeLauro agreed. “When women succeed, America succeeds,” she said. “That’s what it’s about, it’s not just about women. Women are looking for a way to increase their wages, increase their opportunities, not for themselves but for a better quality of life for their families. That’s at the guts of it.”
During the panel, DeLauro stressed that Congress will only take concrete action to give women a fair economic shot once the pressure to do so from voters becomes unbearable. “This institution moves from external pressure,” DeLauro said, so progressives need to “raise the decibel level” if anything is going to get done.
None of Wednesday’s panelists were interested in shying away from contentious conversations — the word “relentless” popped up frequently — including about the economic consequences of laws that constrain women’s reproductive rights. “The ability to decide when and how we have children is critical to our economic well-being,” said Judy Lichtman of the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Speaking alongside DeLauro, Muñoz, Lichtman, and SEIU Massachusetts President Rocio Saenz, CAP Senior Fellow Jocelyn Frye said the conversation about equal economic opportunity for women must go “beyond equal pay.” The gender wage gap persists, and progress at closing it seems to have stalled over the past decade, but the playing field for policies that determine whether and how far women will advance economically is much broader. A cynic might say that the pay gap isn’t the only place women have seen their interests underserved. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for example, has been protecting workers from losing their jobs over childrearing or family illnesses for 20 years, but because those leave hours are still unpaid many workers can’t actually afford to take advantage of the law. SEIU’s Saenz shared numerous stories of working women whose FMLA rights exist more in theory than in practice. But Lichtman noted that stories of frustrated progress on such policies also give progressives a rebuttal to opponents for further reform: “We have not undone capitalism as we know it,” she said.
States like California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have passed paid leave policies that give progressives further examples to point to in the fight for federal policy changes. Seattle’s economy is booming a year after its paid sick leave law went into effect. DeLauro told ThinkProgress that those state and local stories are crucial to pressuring Congress to act. “Why should you be able to live in California and you’re able to deal with getting paid for taking time off for medical reasons and you can’t do it in Montana?” she wondered. “Where is the economic justice in any of that?” Beyond setting up questions of fairness that augur well for federal policy changes, DeLauro said the smaller-scale laws undermine opponents’ talking points. From Social Security to paid sick leave to the minimum wage, business interests always say “the economy is going to crash. No, the economy was going to crash because of the greed of the financial institutions in this nation,” she said. “What we have to do is to demonstrate that [paid leave promotes] better economic stability, which only helps to create better business and better opportunities, and help to create jobs and a stable workforce.”