Washington, D.C— Today, Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on Expanding Economic Opportunity for Women and Families with witnesses Dr. Heather Boushey, Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and AnnMarie Duchon, Associate Director of Accommodation Services at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The hearing explored steps Congress can take to expand economic opportunity for women and their families. Chairman Murray discussed the challenges women and their families face in today’s economy and highlighted policies that would encourage broad-based growth by leveling the playing field for women and helping families gain economic security.

Key Excerpts from Chairman Murray’s Opening Statement:

“Over the last four decades the economy has seen a lot of change. American businesses and workers have had to compete on an increasingly global scale. Far too many of the middle-class jobs workers could support a family on have moved overseas. And the gap has widened between those at the very top of the income scale and everyone else. All of this has put an increasing burden on working families.”

“…in the face of these challenges, one of the most significant shifts we’ve seen in the last few decades has actually eased some of the burden. And that is the increasing participation of women in the workforce.  As working families have felt more and more strained, women’s economic contributions have made a huge difference—both to family budgets and to our broader economy.”

“As we think about ways to support growth in the 21st century, it’s absolutely clear that our country’s economic success, and that of middle class families, goes hand in hand with women’s economic success. This means we have a lot more work to do—because despite all the progress that has been made—all the glass ceilings that have been broken—women still face barriers that are holding them, their families, and the economy back.”

“We took a good step forward with the Affordable Care Act, which prevents insurance companies from charging women more than men for coverage. But we need to do more to make sure women are getting equal pay for equal work. My colleague Chairwoman Mikulski has led the way on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide women with more tools to fight pay discrimination. Giving the millions of women earning the minimum wage a raise would also go a long way towards that effort.”

“…we also need to update our tax code so that mothers returning to the workforce don’t face a marriage penalty. In addition to expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers, the 21st Century Worker Tax Cut Act I introduced would provide a 20 percent deduction on the second earner’s income for working families with young children, to help them keep more of what they earn.”

“As we get rid of discriminatory practices, we should also recognize the challenges working parents face, and put in place a set of policies that help them at work and home. A big part of this is investing in expanded access to affordable, high-quality child care. Parents deserve to know their children are safe and thriving while they are at work.”

“Acting to expand economic opportunity for women is the right thing to do. It is part of our ongoing work to uphold our country’s most fundamental values. But, as our country’s recent history shows, it’s also an economic necessity—both for families and the broader economy. And I hope that in the coming weeks and months we will be able to work together on some of these ideas, which would do so much to strengthen our country right now and in the future.”

Full Text of Chairman Murray’s Opening Statement:

“This hearing will now come to order.

“Thank you to Ranking Member Senator Sessions and all of my colleagues who have joined us.

“And thank you to our witnesses: AnnMarie Duchon, Associate Director of Accommodation Services at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Dr. Heather Boushey, Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and Sabrina Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Independent Women’s Forum.

“We’re so glad you were able to join us today to discuss ways we can help working women succeed in today’s economy, and the reasons why their success is so important to family economic security and to the economy as a whole.

“Over the last four decades the economy has seen a lot of change. American businesses and workers have had to compete on an increasingly global scale. Far too many of the middle-class jobs workers could support a family on have moved overseas. And the gap has widened between those at the very top of the income scale and everyone else.

“All of this has put an increasing burden on working families. But in the face of these challenges, one of the most significant shifts we’ve seen in the last few decades has actually eased some of the burden.

“And that is the increasing participation of women in the workforce.

“As working families have felt more and more strained, women’s economic contributions have made a huge difference—both to family budgets and to our broader economy.

“Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who attended our hearing last week, has called the increasing participation of women in the workforce ‘a major factor in sustaining growing family incomes.’

“And Dr. Boushey found in a recent study that between 1979 and 2012, the U.S. economy grew by almost 11 percent as a result of women joining the labor force.

“And of course, that kind of economic growth has important implications for our budget outlook as well.

“As we think about ways to support growth in the 21st century, it’s absolutely clear that our country’s economic success, and that of middle class families, goes hand in hand with women’s economic success.

"This means we have a lot more work to do—because despite all the progress that has been made—all the glass ceilings that have been broken—women still face barriers that are holding them, their families, and the economy back.

“Even though the majority of women are now full time workers, and two-thirds of mothers are either earning all or a big part of what their families depend on to make ends meet, women overall still earn 77 cents to the dollar for doing the same work as men.

“Over just one year, that adds up to $11,600 in lost wages per household. I believe AnnMarie will speak about what that kind of difference meant to her family’s budget.

“And because women are still more likely to be the primary caregiver in a family, the lack of paid leave at most jobs means they experience higher turnover and lost earnings, and are more likely to be passed over for promotions that would help them advance.

“In addition, our outdated tax code works against married women who choose to go back to work as a second earner. Because their earnings are counted on top of their spouse’s, they can actually be taxed at a higher rate.

“This can deter some mothers from choosing to re-enter the workforce, especially when you consider the high costs and lack of access to high quality child care and other costs associated with work. 

“These kinds of challenges are especially pronounced for women, in particular mothers, who are struggling to make ends meet.

“Two thirds of minimum wage earners are women. Their jobs are disproportionately unlikely to offer any flexibility when, for example, a child gets sick and needs to be picked up early from school. And their earnings are quickly swallowed by costs associated with work, like child care and transportation.

“It’s also important to note that our outdated policies disproportionately affect women when it comes to their retirement security.

“Because women, on average, earn less than men, accumulate less in savings, and receive smaller pensions, nearly three in ten women over 65 depend only on Social Security for income in their later years. 

“I think all of my colleagues and I are alarmed that the average Social Security benefit for women over 65 is just $13,100 per year –hardly enough to feel financially secure.

“The impact of these barriers is increasingly clear. Over the last decade, the share of women in the labor force has actually stalled, even as other countries have continued to see more women choosing to go to work.

“Experts believe a major reason for this is that, unlike many other countries, we simply haven’t updated our policies to reflect our 21st century workforce and help today’s two-earner families succeed.

“At a time when we need to be doing everything we can to grow the economy and strengthen our middle class, this just isn’t acceptable.

“Women have to have an equal shot at success.

“First and foremost, that means we need to end unfair practices that set women back financially.

“We took a good step forward with the Affordable Care Act, which prevents insurance companies from charging women more than men for coverage. But we need to do more to make sure women are getting equal pay for equal work.

“My colleague Chairwoman Mikulski has led the way on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide women with more tools to fight pay discrimination. Giving the millions of women earning the minimum wage a raise would also go a long way towards that effort.

“And we also need to update our tax code so that mothers returning to the workforce don’t face a marriage penalty.

“In addition to expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers, the 21st Century Worker Tax Cut Act I introduced would provide a 20 percent deduction on the second earner’s income for working families with young children, to help them keep more of what they earn.

“As we get rid of discriminatory practices, we should also recognize the challenges working parents face, and put in place a set of policies that help them at work and home.

“A big part of this is investing in expanded access to affordable, high-quality child care. Parents deserve to know their children are safe and thriving while they are at work.

“I hope our witnesses today will share some thoughts about steps Congress could take through our tax code and by building on successful programs like Head Start to give them that peace of mind.

“Finally, we need to build on and strengthen Social Security with policies that make it easier for women and their families to build a secure retirement.  

“There is of course much more we need to do in addition—but any of these changes would make a huge difference for working women and their families.

“Acting to expand economic opportunity for women is the right thing to do.

“It is part of our ongoing work to uphold our country’s most fundamental values.

“But, as our country’s recent history shows, it’s also an economic necessity—both for families and the broader economy.

“And I hope that in the coming weeks and months we will be able to work together on some of these ideas, which would do so much to strengthen our country right now and in the future.

“I would like to thank our witnesses again for joining us today, and I’ll turn it over to Ranking Member Senator Sessions for his remarks.”

###