Gillibrand proposes strengthening economic support for women

The New York senator detailed an agenda to help women in the workplace and expand the middle class.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand spoke about strengthening women’s rights in the workplace in a policy speech at The Maxwell School on Friday.

“The key to creating a growing economy and to building a middle class that can thrive in this century are women,” Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said. “Without a doubt, given a fair shot, women will ignite our economy and lead our middle class revival.”

In front of roughly 150 people, Gillibrand laid out the main points of her proposed bill called “The American Opportunity Agenda.” For the past few months, Gillibrand has been rallying support for this initiative that aims to provide economic support for women who are struggling with low wages.

“The rules of earning the American dream have changed. The skills and tools that guaranteed our parents and our grandparents a place in the middle class just won’t cut it today,” Gillibrand said.

The agenda details five main initiatives including paid family and medical leave, increasing the minimum wage, providing universal Pre-K, affordable access to quality daycare and equal pay. According to Gillibrand’s official website, she proposes creating “an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits [like family and medical leave]. The trust would be funded by employee and employer contributions of .2 percent of wages each, creating a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget.”

Gillibrand also called for a rise in minimum wage to $10.10 as part of the Fair Minimum Wage Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkins (D-I.A.). Opponents of the bill argue it would put strain on small business owners and eliminate jobs.

“For millions of working families across America, it feels like no matter what they do or what they try, everything is working against them, which is contrary to a core American value that we reward hard work,” Gillibrand said.

In 40 percent of families, women are the primary breadwinners, according to Gillibrand, who also said that many women are single mothers trying to provide for their families off of a minimum wage paycheck that averages about $15,000 per year.

“Sen. Gillibrand has always been a champion for women’s issues. Equal pay and family leave could have positive effects on the economy as far as GDP and putting more people back to work,” said Craig Wilson, a Syracuse resident who attended the lecture.

Wilson expressed support for Gillibrand’s agenda, but said he was skeptical about the ability to get any bill through Congress.

“You have a lot of obstructionist and people who are not committed to an agenda that’s going to move the entire nation forward and are concerned with being the party of no” Wilson said.

In addition to supporting economic equality for women, Gillibrand has made efforts to reform the way the U.S. military handles sexual assault and rape, suggesting the current system is “rife with bias.” During her speech, she said many women are afraid to report sexual assault due to fear of retaliation through intimidation or even loss of a job. Gillibrand recently led a failed effort to reform the way sexual assault cases were reported and ruled on within the military.

The speech was given as part of the Maxwell School State of Democracy lecture series.

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