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Reflecting on the Economic Progress of Women on the 134th Labor Day

September 5, 2016

Labor Day is a time to reflect on the accomplishments of the labor movement and address the challenges that women across the nation still face in securing equal opportunity and pay equity in the workplace. While the United States has made significant progress in the labor force participation rate, rising from 38 percent in 1972 to nearly 50 percent today, women still only make 79 cents for every dollar made by white men – and this gap widens even further for some women of color and women with disabilities. [1]

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) has been a longstanding advocate for financial empowerment and economic justice for women. Through NNEDV’s Economic Justice Project, we promote education on the dynamics of economic abuse and facilitate financial literacy trainings for survivors of domestic violence. NNEDV helps women understand their rights in the workplace and raises awareness on the intersection of economic issues and domestic violence.

“Labor Day is intended to celebrate the rights of all workers,” says Kim Gandy, President and CEO of NNEDV. “However, the wage gap has long-term consequences for women – a loss of $700,000 to $2 million over a woman’s lifetime, compounded by smaller Social Security checks, decreased savings, and less pension income. One of the main factors contributing to domestic violence is inequality, so part of our work to end domestic violence is making sure equality in the workplace becomes a reality.”

Wage discrimination and pay inequality have a devastating impact when combined with domestic violence. Ninety-nine percent of domestic violence cases involve some form of financial abuse, and victims regularly cite financial instability as a primary reason for not leaving an abusive partner.

Although only 11 percent of the workforce are members of a unions, studies show that when women organize and unionize, they remain in their jobs longer and are more likely to secure higher wages. Unions also combat wage inequality by promoting wage transparency. [2]

NNEDV advocates for legislation that addresses these economic injustices:

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act reinforces the Equal Pay Act by making it more difficult for companies to hide pay discrimination and providing women with salary negotiation tools.
  • The SAFE Act contains provisions that help to ensure that survivors do not have to risk their safety in order to protect their economic security. The SAFE Act also guarantees many protections for survivors, including protections against being fired due to harassment by the abuser, ensuring that survivors who have been separated from employment due to abuse are eligible for unemployment insurance, and creating a national awareness campaign to foster a culture of prevention and support for survivors.

This year, we commemorate the 134th Labor Day, which reminds us all that while there has been important economic progress for women, there is still much work to be done. Indeed, greater advocacy and groundwork are still required for women to be more soundly protected by labor laws and to achieve equal pay for equally valued work. When more women participate in the labor market and earn more, across the board women become more economically independent – an important factor needed to redefine gender norms and support women’s safety. The bottom line is that when women succeed, America succeeds.