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Working Women Need Fair Employment

Amy Traub

Demos’ new briefing book, Everyone’s Economyoffers an economic agenda that will enable all of us to thrive. Women’s History Month is an opportunity to dig into the ways that a race-conscious, populist economic agenda must elevate women. Over the next 2 weeks, Demos will share a series of blog posts that explore different ways that policy can impact women’s economic opportunity and stability. Today we look at how women benefit from fair employment policies.

We all deserve an equal opportunity to be hired based on our abilities, and to carry out our work free from discrimination and harassment. Yet discriminatory hiring, firing, promotions, and pay, as well as pervasive harassment, continue to shape the U.S. labor market in ways that systematically disadvantage women, people of color, LGBTQ workers, people with disabilities, and other targeted groups. As our jobs largely determine our incomes, economic opportunities, and the livelihood of our families, unfair employment practices worsen cycles of inequality.

Types of discrimination overlap and deepen inequality: For example, in 2016, Latina women working full-time, year-round were still paid only 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Race and gender contribute to dramatic pay gaps across the spectrum, and gaps persist for workers at all levels of education and in the vast majority of occupations. By offering remedies targeted to specific vulnerable groups, civil rights laws have the potential to dramatically reduce discrimination—but too often fall short due to a lack of resources for effective enforcement.

At the same time, federal laws have significant gaps that allow other types of discrimination to flourish. On a daily basis, Americans are fired and harassed because of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Pregnant workers are pushed out of their jobs and refused minor accommodations that would enable them to continue working. Qualified job applicants are denied employment because of flawed personal credit history—a factor which predicts little or nothing about future job performance, but becomes a formidable barrier for women struggling to pay bills and pull themselves out of debt. Workers with caregiving responsibilities (particularly mothers) face discrimination based on stereotypes about how caregiving will impact their work performance.

All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to earn a living and sustain their families. Bills before Congress now would strengthen enforcement of equal pay lawsensure fairness for pregnant workers; clarify that discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is a form of unlawful sex discrimination and so is prohibited in employment and beyond; ban discrimination based on personal credit history; and ensure people with arrest or conviction records have a fair chance to work. Policymakers should also act to strengthen employment protections for workers with family care responsibilities, as a number of states have done; and increase funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and ensure it retains its focus on systemic discrimination.

For a deeper look at fair employment policy, download Demos’ full briefing book and click “Guarantee Fair Employment” in the table of contents.