Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

When women win, our economy wins: Vancouver hosts Women’s Economic Security Forum

PhotoGrid_1410477861975The Economic Opportunity Institute and Washington Work and Family Coalition are on tour across Washington state to build women’s economic security.

Last night, Vancouver joined the list of towns and cities across WA who have hosted a forum on issues facing working women and families. Local Vancouver and Clark County legislators Representative Monica Stonier and Senator Annette Cleveland co-sponsored the event, along with 10 local community organizations such as the Clark County YWCAUFCW Local 555 and Legal Voice.

Marilyn Watkins of EOI laid out the stark statistics of Clark County: even though women in the area make up more than half the workforce (even higher than the country as a whole), they earn $21,000 less per year than the average man in Clark County. This is a much bigger wage gap than around the state and country. “We still undervalue women’s work. Every single job needs to be a fair wage job.”

Representative Stonier, one of the event co-sponsors (and the youngest woman in the Washington legislature), spoke strongly in favor of policies that support working women. “Women work more hours and still make less money and have less representation in politics and the corporate world than men. Women’s right to fair pay and family leave are issues that are pressing for all families.”

“Women in our country should not have to decide between caring for their families and paying the bills,” said Senator Cleveland, who is the first woman to represent the 49th district. “14.6% of women in Washington live in poverty and what does that mean? So do their children.” Cleveland spoke in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, calling it an important step towards guaranteeing that no woman can be paid less than her male counterparts on the basis of gender. She recalled the passage of Washington’s Equal Pay Act in 1943, saying, “it’s time to break the mold and honor the original intent of this bill.”

DSC_1526Eight states around the country have already passed Paycheck Fairness legislation (most recently in New Hampshire) and notably, we saw a historic move towards Paycheck Fairness in the US Senate yesterday, just a few hours prior to the forum.

As for paid leave, in the United States, four out of ten workers in the United States don’t get a single paid sick day. But it turns out offering paid sick days isn’t the danger that nay-sayers claim. As Watkins of EOI  explained to the crowd, when Seattle passed the paid sick days legislation in 2012, critics were sure the bill would drive businesses out of Seattle and that workers would suffer. On the contrary, she said, “Seattle has continued to lead the state in both business and economic growth in the two years since the passage of the paid sick days bill.” Additionally, evaluations have shown that workers find the leave helpful and businesses have experienced smaller impacts than expected- implementation was reported either as ‘easy’ for employers or that it only caused a temporary impact.

Local Vancouver small business owner Don Orange talked about his long-standing support of policies that benefit workers. Orange says that what’s good for workers is good for business. In considering paid leave policies, he invited the audience to imagine what it was like in the 1930s when the Social Security Act was implemented. “People said it would kill us. It hasn’t killed us. This is the same thing.” Also the Chair of the Washington arm of the Main Street Alliance, a national organization of small businesses advocating for policies like paid leave and fair pay, Orange says we can’t rely on businesses, large or small, to protect workers; we need legislation to make sure our workers get what they deserve.

As Senator Cleveland so boldly put it, when women get fair pay and paid leave, “women win. Families win. Businesses win. Our economy wins.”

Also participating in the forum were MomsRising, Children’s Alliance, Main Street Alliance, Faith Action Network, Teamsters Joint Council 28, Washington CAN, and the Washington State Labor Council.

For photos, check out the Equal Pay and Working Families album on the Washington Work and Family Coalition Facebook page and read live Tweets from the event here.

Ready to join us at our next stop on the tour? We’ll see you in Bellingham on Thursday, October 2nd, where we will again partner with local legislators, community organizations, businesses and workers to move women’s economic security forward.

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