Sen. Gillibrand On Why The 2014 Election Is Crucial For Women

Photo: Courtesy of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
It's election time! On Tuesday, November 4, Americans go to the polls to vote for everyone from comptroller to governor. The results will reset our political landscape, determining which party controls the Senate and state-level politics for the next two years. And, that means it's really important that you vote! We asked U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, to lay out what's at stake.
Here’s a quick history lesson: Just 94 years ago, if you were a woman, you would definitely not be voting on Election Day. The reason was simple: Because women did not have the right to vote.
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Think about that. This was in the 20th century — not ancient history — and our laws (like the right to vote) were being written solely by men who had no incentive to consider women’s opinions. No matter what political party or life philosophy, these politicians, their advisors — and, most importantly, their voters – had one thing in common: They were not women.
Because women couldn’t vote, lawmakers didn’t need to worry about leaving them out of the conversation. The reason? These millions of slighted women had no way of voting them out.
Today, of course, the United States is a very different place. Across the country, we have women serving as mayors, governors, members of Congress, and cabinet secretaries. Soon, I hope we will be swearing in Secretary Hillary Clinton as our first woman President.
But, despite that, predominantly male legislative bodies — which too often disregard issues that matter most to women — are still writing most of the laws in America. Some of the debates we’re having in Congress today (should women be paid as much as men?) and in state legislatures (should women be allowed to make their own medical decisions?) would be laughable if they weren’t so sad.
The answer to this problem must not be silence, which is no better than tacit acquiescence. No, the answer must be action: Women have to vote.
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To change outcomes, we need to change the players in the game. Women are a majority in this country today — everywhere, that is, except for government. Of the 535 lawmakers in the Senate and the House of Representatives, not even 100 are women. In State Legislatures across the country, women hold fewer than one out every four seats. In governor’s mansions, only six out of 50 are occupied by a woman.
I urge you to support one of the many extraordinary women candidates who will be on the ballot for federal, state, and local positions this Election Day.
Register to vote if you haven’t already. Get yourself to the polls if you weren’t planning to. Encourage a friend to vote, and bring her with you. Because when women’s voices are heard, the debate in government changes, and all of us are better off.
So, with just a day to go, here are six issues that I hope will convince you to vote on November 4:
Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
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Paid Family Medical Leave
Women are a more important part of the American workforce today than ever before, but the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t have paid family leave. This means that for too many of our working women, when a new baby is born, or a spouse gets injured, or a parent becomes ill, a devastating choice has to be made: sacrifice a paycheck to stay at home, or keep working, away from a family member in need.
No hardworking woman should ever have to face this choice — keeping a job or caring for a family member – but, many politicians are still opposed to guaranteed paid family leave. There is one clear way to make your voice heard on this issue and change the status quo: Vote!
Raising the Minimum Wage
The federal minimum wage in our country is a paltry $7.25 per hour, and it hasn’t been raised in years. It’s almost impossible to survive on this salary with a family to feed and stacks of bills to pay, yet nearly one-third of the adults earning the minimum wage or barely above it are single parents. Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women.
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It’s outrageous that any hardworking American in the 21st century is systemically stuck thousands of dollars below the poverty line, even after working a full 40 hours per week, 52 weeks each year. We are a country that is supposed to reward hard work. No American deserves this — especially not a working, single parent. Find a candidate who supports raising the minimum wage, and vote.
Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
Affordable Child Care
Women are going back to work after having a child much sooner than they used to in this country. Yet, for far too many moms and dads, child care is prohibitively expensive. This basic need costs more than $6,000 per year for many families — as much as a family’s groceries – and more than double that amount for infants.
As a result, many American families are forced to give up on child care services, leading, once again, to the same choice: keeping a job — and a paycheck — or staying home to look after the kids. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. With smart policies and new tax credits, we can make child care in America affordable for all hardworking Americans. Demand this common sense approach from your representatives, and vote.
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Universal Pre-K
Here’s a fact about kids: By the time they enter kindergarten in this country, there is already a huge achievement gap between those who had access to pre-K and those who didn’t. Each year, millions of children lose out on critically important early childhood education because their parents can’t afford it. As a result, the gap between rich and poor transforms into a gap between those who are well-educated and those who are not, and it’s passed down from generation to generation.
Universal pre-K is an investment in our country’s future that we have to make. Too many politicians oppose giving every child access to pre-K, even though with each passing year without it our country and our children fall further behind. The quickest way to change this is to line up behind one of the many candidates who support universal pre-K, and vote.
Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
Equal Pay
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The world is changing fast, and our laws desperately need to catch up. Incredibly, women in America still earn, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Gone are the days when American dads went to the office while American moms stayed home. In today’s America, eight out of every ten households have both the man and the woman working. In almost half of American households with children at home – a whopping 40% – the woman is the primary or sole breadwinner. Now, more than ever before in this country, mom's paycheck is a must, and moms are the ones making the tough decisions about what the family can afford.
One would think that the issue of “equal pay” would have been solved decades ago, but instead, we’re still stuck in the Mad Men-era, where women and men are valued unequally. If you want to change this, you have to vote.
Student Loans
Students in America are more burdened with debt than anywhere else in the world. Tuition costs have leapt up in recent years, and most families have to borrow huge amounts of money so their children can attend college and pursue the American dream.
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In my home state, New York, the average student borrower has $27,000 in student loan debt. For countless graduates, this means starting a first job so deep in debt that it will take years — even decades — to climb out. This burden on students and their families, who have to hold off on buying homes, having children, and starting their own small businesses, is holding our country back.
The problem is that graduates — unlike businesses and homeowners — are legally prohibited from refinancing their debts at today's interest rates, even as the federal government gets billions in profits from student loan interest. This is plain wrong. Find the candidates in your area who support the refinancing of interest rates on student loans — and vote!
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