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Debate Theme May Have Been 'Your Money, Your Vote,' But Candidates Care Little for Women's Pocketbooks

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 3/11/2015 Julie Kashen
REPUBLICAN DEBATE CNBC © ASSOCIATED PRESS REPUBLICAN DEBATE CNBC

The theme of last week's debate was "Your money; your vote." But when asked about one of the most important financial questions facing women and families -- equal pay for equal work -- the only responses were misleading statements about women in poverty and what amounted to "some of my favorite family members are single moms." There are a lot of single moms still wondering what the Republican candidates would do to make sure their paychecks match those of their male colleagues doing the same work.

Forty percent of moms are their families' sole or primary breadwinner (by the way -they are also most likely their families' sole or primary caregiver too). Another 20 percent are co-breadwinners. Clearly, women are integral to our families' economic wellbeing and to today's workplace. Yet, today, Latina women are paid 55 cents for every white man's dollar; Black women 60 cents and Asian women 83 cents. Across races, women are paid, on average, 79 cents for every dollar a man is paid. This amounts to an annual loss ranging from $9,000 to $25,000 every year. Rather than narrowing, the pay gap is actually widening, according to arecent report by the Labor Department, which found that men's earnings are increasing at double the rate of women's.

While women are taking home less, there's no "women's discount" on rent, electricity or anything else, which means it's easier to fall behind, and harder to do things like pay rent, get out of debt, and set aside money for unavoidable financial emergencies. That's why Make it Work, a national campaign I work on to amplify people's demands for policies that don't make us choose between caring for family and earning a paycheck, is raising the volume on the strong demand for equal pay.

We saw just how strong this demand is in polling we released earlier this month. A majority of voters (56 percent) said they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who champions a plan of equal pay for equal work, paid family leave, affordable childcare, paid sick days and a higher minimum wage. Of the young voters, people of color and unmarried women, who comprise the Rising American Electorate (RAE), 68 percent say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports this plan, and 64 percent said they would get involved in advocating for these policies.

Our elected officials have the power to make pay practices more fair. Six states enacted new equal pay laws in 2015. That's a great start, but we have a lot more work to do, especially on the federal level. If we want to see more equality in the workplace, then we have to make sure our elected officials hear how important this issue is to us. Ask candidates running for office what specific plans they have to ensure men and women are paid equally for equal work - in person at campaign events, through social media, or through a letter to the editor in your local newspaper.

And make sure candidates aren't just paying lip service. True support for equal pay looks like this: support publicly available pay data, end retaliation for discussing pay, close Equal Pay Act loopholes, increase the cost of discrimination for employers, make high quality child care affordable, and support workplace policies like paid family leave and paid sick days. So when you hear a candidate say "I support equal pay for equal work," or "I support women," ask them what they will do to change the status quo. And beware of politicians who talk a good game about equality, but have no intention on delivering on those promises.

Where Senator Ted Cruz fell short in making the connection to single moms and the importance of equal pay, he and the other Republican candidates, missed a big opportunity to let America know what they will do to ensure equal work for equal pay. But if they want the women's vote, they need to let us know how they're going to do right by working women and families.

Julie Kashen is Senior Policy Advisor to the Make it Work campaign and an expert on policy issues related to working families, economic mobility, labor, and poverty.

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