Black History Month each February is a time to recall the struggles of people of color in our country and to celebrate accomplishments that bring us all closer to the vision of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness promoted by our founders.
We are reminded today, as we daily witness economic hardship, the aftermath of gun violence, mass incarceration, and rising inequality that enriches the 1 percent at the expense of our middle class that these struggles are not just part of the past, but also shape the future.
No one is more impacted by the historical legacies of racism, sexism, classism and oppression than women of color, who continue to face persistent barriers and obstacles on every issue from fair pay and affordable health care to quality education and the wealth gap that we’ve seen historically.
In 2016, we need more than resolutions and political rhetoric to fix the economy and address inequality in our state: we need a plan. For too long, women have been left behind in economic and workplace policies even as they become more prominent in the economy, the workplace and in public life.
Women remain unequal to men when it comes to every economic indicator. Not only have women not reached parity at work in terms of pay, leadership positions, or promotions, but women face constant attacks on their reproductive options, with little acknowledgement that if, when and how many children a woman has is a primary indicator of her economic status.
In North Carolina, on average, a woman who holds a full-time job is paid $33,459 per year while a man who holds a full-time job is paid $41,950 per year. This means that women in North Carolina are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to a yearly gap of $8,491 between men and women who work full time in the state. That gap is even wider for black women and Latina women. Because of North Carolina politicians refusal to fully implement the Affordable Care Act and provide women preventive health care including birth control, women are less able to control their economic fates or to make basic decisions about their families.
Public policy can have a real impact on people’s lives. We expect our elected leaders to resolve to tackle issues that matter to families, like access to affordable child care and paid family leave.
Parents, particularly single working mothers, have few affordable child-care options. Over 65 percent of all children have both parents in the workforce, yet the cost of child care for families is more than rent in many places and a four-year education at a public university.
Since women more often have to take time off from work to care for children and for aging relatives they face additional discrimination and lower earnings as a result of lost wages. About one in five women in the United States have or will provide at least part time care to an elderly or disabled relative, family member or friend, and many will do so by sacrificing their own earning potential or retiring early. In fact, the average female caregiver loses $40,000 more in lost wages and Social Security benefits than the average male caregiver.
Attacks on women’s ability to decide when, how and if to have children is at an all time high. Politically motivated attacks on Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of family planning services in the country, erodes access to reproductive health care and endangers women’s ability to determine the size of their families as well as their economic security. These attacks do the greatest damage to poor women and women of color who often face the greatest economic barriers to getting birth control and abortion and depend most on providers like Planned Parenthood for everything from contraception to preventative health care.
This year, our state legislature must move forward on the priorities of women and families rather than spending the session turning back the clock on reproductive health care, starting with the most impacted women: low-income women of color.
By working together to stand with women and families in the legislative session, we can be on the right side of history by increasing equity for all women, particularly women of color. Together, we can build a North Carolina legacy worthy of celebration.
Gladys Ashe Robinson is a health services executive and a state senator for the 28th district (Guilford County). She is the Deputy Minority Leader in the N.C. General Assembly.