Public Service Inspired by
My Parents — The Legacy of Labor
Growing up in a union household, I saw my parents fight side-by-side with their co-workers to make sure that their workplace was safe and that they were paid fair wages. Through their actions, my parents taught me to be proud of a day’s hard work. The sacrifices they made for our family shaped me in many ways. My father worked long hours, sacrificing his body at a battery recycling plant. My mother raised seven children, working at a toy assembly plant to make ends meet while always making sure my siblings and I were taken care of.
Their sacrifices inspired me to dedicate myself to public service and to improve opportunities for hard-working families eager to realize the American Dream. During my time in the California State Senate, I led the battle to increase the state's minimum wage to $5.75 an hour from $4.25, and I authored a record 17 state laws aimed at combating domestic violence. In Congress, my priorities included expanding access to affordable health care, protecting the environment, and improving the lives of women and working families.
A product of the labor movement, the feminist movement, and the civil rights movement, I have been embroiled in some of the most hotly debated issues facing the nation, among them, ensuring that women, communities of color, youth, and people with disabilities have equal opportunities to advance in the workplace, have access to job-training, and participate in the “greening” of our economy. Now as secretary of labor, I am dedicated to providing good jobs for all Americans.
Many of us have faced multiple barriers in our professional lives. Women especially face issues of sexism, discrimination, and pay inequity. As we overcome these barriers, my belief in democracy, equal protection under our Constitution, and liberty for all is reinforced. It gives me great hope to see women of all races and backgrounds, not only breaking the glass ceiling, but shattering it. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are examples of the great barriers women are overcoming.
Yet there remains so much more work to be done. Today’s labor market is challenging, with fewer job openings and many more workers finding themselves unemployed for longer periods of time. What’s more, for the first time in American history, women may soon outnumber men in the workforce. This is bittersweet because on average, women contribute more than 35 percent to their families’ incomes. About 67 percent of married mothers and 69 percent of mothers without a spouse today are employed outside the home. More women become the primary breadwinners for their families, yet they still earn less than their male counterparts. About 67 percent of workers paid at or below the minimum wage are women. African-American women working full time earned about 70 percent (69.6 percent) as much as men (as a whole), and Latinas 62.7 percent as much as all men.
At the top end of the work pyramid, only 23.4 percent of women in the workforce are executives. Yet without women’s voices in leadership positions, businesses will continue to fail to recognize women as our country’s most under-utilized resource. Women have been a driving force of our country’s growth over the past several decades. By recognizing that more women are not only part of today’s workforce, but are active and valuable contributors to the economy, and by raising the standards for the role of women in the economic recovery, we can simultaneously raise the standards for future generations of women.