Editor’s note: President-Elect Biden’s platform for women promises to be the most ambitious presidential agenda yet addressing issues that affect women and girls in the U.S. and around the globe. This piece is the second of a multi-part series covering the agenda, in areas including: health care, economic security, work and family, violence and security and the Equal Rights Amendment, among others.
New installations of the series will be released on Wednesdays. Get caught up here.
President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to pursue an “aggressive and comprehensive plan to further women’s economic and physical security and ensure that women can fully exercise their civil rights.”
After four years of the Trump administration aggressively dismantling the federal government’s civil rights infrastructure and rolling back women’s rights, Biden has his work cut out for him.
Biden has provided details for how he will accomplish this pledge in an ambitious platform for women’s rights focused in five areas: health care, economic security, work and family, violence against women, and global women’s rights.
The economic security prong of Biden’s agenda for women includes fighting for equal pay and better wages for women, ending pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, supporting women-owned small businesses, expanding women’s access to education and training, and providing pathways for women to enter higher-paying professions.
Fighting for Equal Pay and Better Wages
The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, but 57 years later women still earn on average only 81.5 cents on the dollar earned by men for full-time work. The gap is actually even larger when fringe benefits, salaries and self-employment income are included in a more comprehensive calculation of the earnings gap, concluding women earn 57 percent of what men earn, according to a study by Stanford University. One reason the gender wage gap has persisted for so long is that the Equal Pay Act is a weak law. Joe Biden has pledged strengthen the law.
Biden strongly supports Senator Patty Murray and Congresswoman DeLauro’s Paycheck Fairness Act, which would:
- Ban the use of salary history to set wages and make hiring decisions;
- Protect workers against retaliation for discussing wages;
- Strengthen the ability of employees to challenge discriminatory pay practices and hold employers accountable;
- Make it easier for employees to join together in class action lawsuits;
- Shift the burden to employers to prove that any gender-based pay gaps exist for job-related reasons and business necessity; and
- Increase penalties against companies that discriminate.
To make sure the law is enforced, Biden has pleded to strengthen federal enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. He will increase the number of anti-discrimination investigators, litigators, and enforcement actions at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, and the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
To enable these agencies to better target their enforcement efforts, Biden will require medium and large employers to collect and disclose compensation information by race, gender, and ethnicity to the federal government, thereby increasing pay transparency.
One reason the Equal Pay Act has failed to close the wage gap is that the law only protects against wage disparity between men and women working the same job. But much of the pay gap is due to the fact that women work in different jobs—called occupational segregation—which are paid less than male-dominated jobs.
For example, women are approximately 76 percent of public school teachers, but public school teachers make 21.4 percent less than workers with similar education and experience. Child care workers, who are mostly women, earn on average less than $12 an hour and $25,000 annually. Two in three tipped wage workers are women, for whom the federal tipped minimum wage is only $2.13 an hour.
To address this disparity, Biden will expand pay and benefits for underpaid jobs that are disproportionately filled by women. Biden has pledged to:
- Make sure educators receive a competitive wage and benefits by tripling funding for Title I, the federal program funding schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families, and requiring districts to use these funds to offer educators competitive salaries;
- Support our caregivers and early childhood educators by providing increased pay and benefits and access to collective bargaining, training and education, and career ladders;
- Stop exploitation of low-wage working women by increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 across the country, indexing the minimum wage to the median hourly wage, and covering more workers, including farmworkers, domestic workers, and people with disabilities;
- Eliminate the tipped minimum wage; and
- Stop employers from denying workers overtime pay they’ve earned and ensure that domestic workers and farm workers receive overtime protections.
Biden is also pledging to make it easier for women and all workers to organize unions and bargain collectively. Women in unions earn 23 percent more than non-unionized women. Biden promises to include in the economic recovery legislation he sends to Congress a series of policies to build worker power to raise wages and secure stronger benefits, including union and bargaining rights for federal workers and public service workers, measures to end the misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and a law to hold company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts.
Biden also pledges to pass the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to grant domestic workers basic labor protections.
Ending Pregnancy Discrimination and Sexual Harassment
Pregnancy discrimination is rampant in American workplaces. In 2019 alone, pregnant workers filed over 2700 discrimination cases with the EEOC and state fair employment practice agencies and the EEOC required employers to pay women $22 million in settlements for pregnancy discrimination charges. Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) in 1978, barring pregnancy discrimination in employment, but this law does not require employers to accommodate the needs of pregnant women.
Joe Biden is pledging to end discrimination against pregnant and nursing workers by supporting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would ensure that employers provide pregnant employees with reasonable workplace accommodations when their abilities are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. (See next week’s Part 3 of this series for Biden’s proposals on parental leave and childcare.)
Biden’s platform for women’s rights also addresses sexual harassment in the workplace. Tens of millions of workers, who are disproportionately women of color, report that workplace sexual harassment has devastating consequences for their health and financial well-being. Harassment is illegal, but there are many barriers for people seeking justice. Biden supports the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination in the Workplace (BE HEARD) Act, which would prohibit nondisclosure clauses and mandatory arbitration agreements.
Investing in Women-Owned Small Businesses
Women start businesses at two times the rate of men and now represent 42 percent of the nation’s businesses, but only about 2 percent of all venture capital funds go to women-owned businesses. Biden pledges to ensure that women-owned small businesses have the capital, technical assistance, mentorship, and support they need to ensure they are able to grow by direct federal funding to women-owned businesses, including through a $400 billion investment in additional federal purchases of products made by American workers and by doubling funding for the State Small Business Credit Initiative to support small businesses.
He is also pledging to make billions of dollars in capital available to women-owned businesses and expand Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs to better serve women business owners.
Expand Access to Education and Training
Biden promises to ensure that women receive educational opportunities by aggressively enforcing Title IX protections so that women and girls receive full access to these opportunities, from admissions and financial aid, to sports and safety. Biden has pledged to rescind Betsy DeVos’s harmful sexual harassment rules and put in place new rules that hold schools accountable and require them to treat survivors with dignity and respect.
To increase access to education for women, Biden has pledged to:
- Provide two years of community college or other high-quality training available without debt, invest in community college students’ success, and tackle the barriers that prevent students from obtaining their degree or credential;
- Make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all families with incomes below $125,000;
- Support colleges and universities that play unique and vital roles in communities of color;
- Provide educational opportunities for women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers, including investing in school vocational training and investing in pre-apprenticeship programs so that women have additional pathways into high-paying, union jobs; and
- Help develop pathways for diverse workers to access training and career opportunities, including increasing funding for community-based and proven organizations that help women and people of color access high-quality training and job opportunities.
Women hold two-thirds of the nation’s student debt. Biden has pledged to alleviate student debt burdens by addressing the student debt crisis. Biden has pledged to:
- Forgive all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year public colleges and universities for debt-holders earning up to $125,000;
- Cut more than half the payments on undergraduate federal student loans by simplifying and increasing the generosity of today’s income-based repayment program. After 20 years, the remainder of the loans for people who have responsibly made payments through the program will be 100 percent forgiven;
- Fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and making it more generous by offering $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service, up to five years. After working in public service for 10 years, the remaining debt will be forgiven;
- Stop for-profit education programs and private lenders from profiteering off of students; and
- Permit the discharge of student loans in bankruptcy.
Finally, Biden pledges to promote financial literacy programs to support female entrepreneurs. Biden will promote high school programs designed to help students—particularly students of color and girls—develop proficiency with respect to financial planning, student loans, and debt management.
Biden’s ambitious platform for women’s rights will go a long way toward enhancing women’s economic security by increasing pay, ending discrimination and harassment, supporting women-owned small businesses, expanding women’s access to education and training, and providing pathways for women to enter higher-paying professions.
While many of these policies require Congressional action—unfortunately unlikely to happen if Democrats don’t gain control of the Senate, some of the policies Biden can implement within the executive branch without congressional approval.
Read the first story in this series:
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