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Get ready: More women are coming to power

Get ready: More women are coming to power
© Greg Nash

Whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, an independent or a moderate problem-solver with no partisan agenda, there is one common denominator to this past election — women will be the major beneficiaries of change.

For centuries women have rightly argued that from wages to childcare, from harassment to access to the halls of power, our national agenda has failed to address the gaps between men and women. 

That is about to change with a new administration that is naming talented women to senior positions across government, including five deputy secretaries to be named in the next few days. And there’s a new White House Gender Policy Council created specifically to "guide and coordinate government policy that impacts women and girls."

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For one group of women hardest hit by the pandemic, working mothers, this could not come at a more critical moment.

Working mothers make up a significant part of the labor force, accounting for nearly one-third (32 percent) of all employed women.

In the most recent, comprehensive labor report, there were around 23.5 million employed women with children under the age of 18, and nearly two-thirds worked full-time, year-round, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey (ACS).

Women are doing much of the caregiving in our hospitals. Right now, women in the U.S. hold 76 percent of health care jobs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In nursing, where workers are on the front lines of patient interactions, women make up more than 85 percent of the workforce.

President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris have put forth the first truly serious proposal to address America’s women, whose contributions to the economy are key to the health and prosperity of our nation.

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Under Biden’s plan, almost all full-time and part-time workers would receive paid leave. A person can qualify for paid leave if they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, are exposed to COVID, are caring for family members sick with COVID or are caring for children and/or elderly relatives whose schools or long-term care facilities are closed.

The plan would reimburse people who earn up to $73,000 a year for their full paycheck. The money would be available during the entirety of their leave time, which could be 14 weeks or more, depending on the situation. The plan calls for expanding access to emergency paid leave for millions of Americans and paid sick and family and medical leave for parents juggling childcare responsibilities.

For mothers trying to teach kids at home, the new relief plan will, hopefully, reduce the need for virtual learning. The proposal sets aside $130 billion to help schools reopen. The funds can be used to reduce class sizes and modify spaces for social distancing, improve ventilation and provide personal protective equipment. In higher education, roughly $35 billion in funding would go to public institutions, including community colleges and historically Black colleges.

The plan also proposes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour from $7.25 and ending tipped minimum wage, which would have a direct effect on women, particularly Black and Hispanic women.

In 2019, 68 percent of minimum wage workers and 66 percent of workers earning below minimum wage were women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the long run, the increased hourly rate might also help close the gender pay gap, particularly in the lowest paying jobs.

At a time when our nation is still reeling from division and disease, 2021 offers some hope for over half the nation’s population. The Biden administration is on track to have a record number of women serving in senior positions, if confirmed. From politics to the pandemic, this could be a breakthrough year for breaking glass ceilings.

The next step is to get the COVID relief proposals approved by Congress as we begin the long and arduous road to recovery and to keep women and all Americans in our prayers.

Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.