President Obama let his feminist flag fly during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Citing pay disparity and paid leave policy, he argued — to loud applause — that women are still unequal in the United States, and that there are policies that can change that:
Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship — and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. Let’s work together — Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street — to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.
The President’s ‘Mad Men’-era assessment is apt. Women earn less than their male counterparts in the United States no matter their job, industry, or education. Nationally, women earn 77 cents on a man’s dollar — and that number is not getting better. It affects women right out of college and women at the tops of their fields. While the President kicked off his time in office way back in 2008 with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act, additional protections against the gender wage gap — namely the Paycheck Fairness Act — have remained in a holding pattern in Congress.
Obama is right to call out leave policy, as well, as an issue that keeps women on unequal footing in the workforce. The U.S. is one of the few developed nations without any requirement for paid maternity leave. Over 40 percent of women are forced to take unpaid leave from their jobs when they get pregnant, while about 25 percent quit or are forced out. When it comes to paid sick leave, the situation is even worse. While some states and municipalities are pushing for sick leave on their own, there is absolutely no national mandate to provide paid sick leave. Paid sick laws can be a huge help for women, particularly those responsible for child care who are forced to take unpaid leave if their kid gets sick.