The economic justice work of the United Church of Christ is a way to affirm and uplift the call of God to love our neighbor and care for vulnerable communities. God envisions a world where all people live lives of wholeness, with opportunity to thrive. For us this means envisioning legislation and policies that reduce poverty, uphold and enforce workplace fairness practices and create circumstances for people to flourish.
According to census data one in eight women over 18 lived in poverty in 2017, and two thirds of the elderly poor are women. In order to establish a world where women have access to economic opportunity we need to ensure that they are paid fairly, have access to medical and family leave and receive respect and dignity in the workplace.
There are some exciting new pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the 116th Congress that could move us closer to workplace equity.
- The Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R 7/S. 270) aims to close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act; which was passed in 1963 and made it illegal to pay unequal wages to women and men doing equal work. Since passage of that landmark legislation there are still significant gender gaps in paycheck fairness for all women in every state; and it is significantly worse for women of color. This bill would help foster conditions to ensure growth to pay equality that more stringently enforces paycheck fairness standards.
- Raise the Wage Act (H.R. 582) would incrementally increase the minimum wage to $15/hour over the course of several years and then adjust the minimum wage to keep pace with growth each year after. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour and shamefully has not been increased in over a decade. Those working in low-wage jobs are disproportionally affected by wage stagnation and raising the minimum wage would particularly benefit women. According to one analysis over half of all women of color would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage.
- The Family and Medical Leave (FAMILY) Act (H.R. 1185/S.463) establishes a comprehensive national program to address the woefully inadequate family medical leave system in the United States. New parents (both mothers and fathers) do not have access to paid leave upon birth or adoption of a child and those who have serious personal or family medical issues are often left at the mercy of their employer. This legislation would ensure that individuals and families have access to a paid leave system and its enactment could cut significantly the number of families who experience poverty after taking unpaid leave to deal with a medical issue.
Ultimately all of these pieces of legislation are about recognizing the worth and dignity of everyone. These workplace fairness practices also address those institutional structures that are barriers to women being treated and addressed equitably. Our current environment is organized to allow abusive behavior toward women – which leads to increased harassment and inequitable power dynamics. When women are paid less for the same work that is a concrete and explicit way of showing that their work and personhood are valued less. As the United Church of Christ we believe that God’s vision for our world is one where all are valued, no matter their gender, race, or credo. This means we are inexorably called to relentlessly pursue the work of ensuring economic justice for everyone. The legislation named above are exciting first steps toward achieving greater workplace fairness and equality.
Katie Adams is the United Church of Christ's Policy Advocate for Domestic Issues.