Shriver Report Shines Light on Women in Poverty

Jan 16, 2014

By Lauren French

Despite the fact that women have become increasingly essential to our workplaces and are outnumbering men in our institutions of higher learning, a shocking number of women are still living one illness, car breakdown, or missed paycheck away from financial disaster.

A new report co-authored by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, with contributions from over a dozen other writers, reveals the stark economic realities women in this country are facing. The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From The Brink reports that one in three women live in or on the edge of poverty.  

“These are not women who are wondering if they can ‘have it all,’” Shriver explains in the report. “These are women who are already doing it all – working hard, providing, parenting, and caregiving. They’re already doing it all, yet they and their families can’t prosper, and that’s weighing the U.S. economy down.”

Enacting public policy aimed at reducing women’s economic insecurity is not only the right thing to do – it’s the economically sensible thing to do. According to the report, ensuring that women are paid equally to men would cut the poverty rate for working women in half. Closing the gender gap would have a profound effect on the U.S. economy as well, increasing GDP by a whopping $450 billion, or 2.9 percent.

Another essential part of reducing women’s economic insecurity is to adopt public policies -- like paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, the right to request predictable schedules, and workplace flexibility -- that allow women to balance the increasingly conflicting demands of work and family. At a forum about the report hosted by The Atlantic on January 15, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand explained the need for these policies, stating, “the face of the workplace has changed and all the policies workplaces utilize are stuck in the 50’s and 60’s.” These outdated policies often force working women to sacrifice their jobs or career mobility – and their economic security - in order to care for their sick children or ailing parents.

In order to address these antiquated policies, Senator Gillibrand, along with Representative Rosa DeLauro, recently introduced the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMILY) Act. The legislation would establish a paid family and medical leave insurance program that would allow workers to care for themselves or a family member without having to sacrifice their financial security.

These policies are not only good for women and families; they are good for business as well. “Any business that has paid leave will tell you it is worth every bit of that investment,” said Senator Gillibrand. “What you’re gaining is a more loyal workforce, a happier workforce, a more efficient workforce, and one that doesn’t have to be constantly retrained.”

Patsy Doerr, global head of Diversity and Inclusion at Thomson Reuters, described how her company’s flexible workplace policies make good business sense. “You create a more engaged workplace and that leads to greater productivity at the end of the day and, generally, greater happiness among your employee population which, from a business perspective, drives better results.”

The Shriver Report is a necessary reminder about the importance of women’s economic security to the success of our economy overall. Enacting policies like paid sick days and paid family and medical leave is essential to allowing women and families to push back from the brink of poverty. 

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