Last week, I had the honor to attend a ceremony hosted by the Pacific Coast Business Times honoring the top women in businesses on the Central Coast. It was a wonderful display of women leadership in the business communities of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties.

As a nation, we’ve come a long way to get this point. It wasn’t that long ago that women had limited career options outside the home, if at all. And all it takes is a viewing of Mad Men to see how hard it was for women to break through the many glass ceilings holding them back.

But while that seems long ago, it was only 16 years ago that the now-famous Lilly Ledbetter retired from Goodyear Tire after supervising a plant for nine years, a position usually held by men. Over time, for no reason but her gender, Lilly’s pay slipped in comparison to men in the same jobs doing substantially similar work. By her retirement, she was paid 15 percent less than her lowest-paid male counterpart, and nearly 30 percent less than her highest-paid counterpart. Her pay disparity not only led to inequity in her paycheck but also in her overtime pay, retirement savings, and social security.

After discovering this injustice, Lilly Ledbetter bravely stepped forward. Her long case made it all the way to the Supreme Court and to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law I was proud to support. This law was an important step forward to help women right the wrongs of past payment discrimination. Lilly helped us get there, putting the issue of pay equity on the map.

But we still have a long way to go.

Here in Santa Barbara, a woman still makes only 80 cents for every dollar her male counterpart makes for the same work.

And women are facing an uphill battle on other economic indicators as well: Women make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers and the poverty rate — 14.5 percent for women — remains the highest in two decades. Nearly 62 percent of adult Food Stamp recipients are women, and they qualify despite having a job.

Family and medical leave protections fail to cover nearly half of full-time employees, and paid sick leave is a rare occurrence, meaning women often must choose between family obligations or a sick child and keeping their job.

In 31 states, including California, day care costs on average more than college tuition.

And since almost half of all workers are women, and 40 percent of the women who work are the primary breadwinners in their families, a woman’s economic health has a ripple effect on her family and our local economies.

That is why I support the Women’s Economic Agenda, a slate of legislative proposals to support women and families in today’s economic environment. These are straightforward proposals, like the Paycheck Fairness Act and Paid Family Leave that would have an immediate benefit for women and their families. For example, by raising the national minimum wage to $10.10, we could lift almost one million people out of poverty and generate $22 billion in new economic activity. Our communities thrive, our nation prospers, and businesses benefit when women succeed.

We have made some advances. In California, the minimum wage will be raised to $9 an hour this year and again to $10 an hour by 2016. And with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a woman can no longer be discriminated against or charged higher premiums just because she is a woman.

But some are working to not only block these measures from a vote but also to roll back the existing supports that help women and families across the nation. For example, the Ryan Budget that I recently voted against would cut Food Stamps by $137 billion and parents of tens of thousands of children would be impacted by a 15 percent cut in help with child-care expenses in 2016.

This tells me that while much progress has been made, much remains to be done. We need to fight to ensure women have the same economic security and opportunities they need to succeed. But this isn’t just an effort for Congress; it is a dialogue we need to have in communities and neighborhoods across the country. That’s why I’m hosting a free community forum to discuss the Women’s Economic Agenda on Saturday, April 26 at 1:30 p.m. We have a great lineup of panelists; Dr. Lori Gaskin, the president of Santa Barbara City College, will moderate the discussion. Panelists include SBCC Department of History Chair and Professor Danielle Swionek, Orfalea Foundation Vice President Catherine Brozowski, Women’s Economic Ventures CEO Marsha Bailey, and Lois Phillips, founding director of Antioch University. I’d love for you to join us for what will surely be an important discussion. For more information on the event and to RSVP, please visit here.


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