Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley joined working mothers and child care professionals in Eugene today to call for a series of measures to take on economic issues that impact women in the workforce and help working parents support their families. Merkley highlighted the need for key policies such as raising the minimum wage, improving equal pay laws, and ensuring child care access, which are increasingly important as the number of women serving as primary income-earners for their families is on the rise.
Today women are playing a more powerful role than ever in our nation’s workforce and economy, making up nearly 50 percent of the workforce, with 40 percent of working women being the primary sources of income for their families. Yet women still make up two-thirds of minimum-wage workers and still are paid less than men across a wide range of fields.
“The world has changed a lot since the 1950s, but our federal policies on child care, equal pay and the minimum wage have not kept up with the needs of millions of working families,” said Senator Merkley. “Working mothers and fathers are stretched increasingly thin trying to meet their workplace obligations, take care of their families and put their kids on track to a good education. We need to give them a lift and ensure all working families can give their kids a fair shot at the American Dream.”
Several working parents joined Merkley to speak about the difficulties of finding quality, affordable child care, which remains one of working families’ largest expenses. In Oregon, infant child care costs on average $13,452 per year, which is roughly 61 percent of the average single mother’s income and nearly 19 percent of a married couple’s combined income. For many Oregonians and working families nationwide, child care costs more than a college education and even a mortgage. In nearly two-thirds of the country, average child care costs were greater than yearly tuition and fees at a four-year public college. Panel speakers noted the need for more affordable options, increased investments in programs like Head Start, and easier access to such programs.
Merkley noted that more women than men drop out of the workforce because of the high cost of childcare, leaving the economy with a loss of valuable talent. Merkley highlighted several strategies that would put more money back in the pocketbooks of working families, including taking on pay discrimination and raising the federal minimum wage. Merkley has implored Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and raise the minimum wage. Merkley is leading sponsor of the Harkin-Merkley bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
Merkley also endorsed measures to improve child care, such as: investing in early Head Start and preschool programs, expanding the Child Care Tax Credit, and boosting investment in the Child Care Development Block Grant program so that more Oregon families can participate in successful programs that make high-quality child care accessible and affordable.
“As parents of two young children, my husband and I have experienced firsthand that finding accessible, affordable child care can be a huge challenge for Oregonians,” said Rebekah Whittaker, a graduate student whose husband travels frequently for work. “Working families in Oregon are squeezed on many fronts right now, and child care costs are a big part of that squeeze. I’m glad that Senator Merkley is calling for Congress to take on the big economic issues that women and working families in Oregon are facing. All families deserve a fair shot for them and their kids to get ahead.”
Senator Merkley was also joined by Kitty Piercy, the Mayor of Eugene; Bobbie Weber, OSU Faculty Researcher who has extensively studied the cost of child care and child care accessibility; Amy Ripley, the Director of Vivian Olum Child Development Center; Larry Caird and Penelope Jones-Vaughn, child care providers; and, in addition to Rebekah Whittaker, Carrie Wright and Erika Westling, parents who spoke to the challenge of finding affordable, high-quality child care.