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A Stronger California: Securing Economic Opportunity for All Women

Women play a pivotal role in spurring economic growth in California. Women comprise almost half the workforce our state and are primary income earners in many households. They influence the economy as decision-makers for their families, as consumers and as workers. In fact, California’s recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2008 was due to growth in four industry sectors, and the majority of workers in those sectors are women. 

While the contributions of female workers have brought California back from the recession, the jobs that have been created since then are holding back women’s full labor potential. More women are working part time than they were before the economic downturn. One in 5 women is working part time because she cannot find full-time work, which is a substantial increase in involuntary part-time work compared to pre-Recession numbers.

Women are being held back in other ways as well. The lack of affordable, quality child care and affordable housing makes it hard for women to provide safe and secure environments for their families. Women’s earnings still are far too low compared to men’s in California, and women are disproportionately employed by jobs that pay minimum wage. Women are also disproportionately disadvantaged by the stresses of poverty and the constraints of the social services system.

Women are critical to a strong and vibrant California economy. Ensuring the economic security of all California women and their families will benefit all communities, including men, children and families who count on public policies to meet their basic needs, earn a decent living and care for their families. This will require a comprehensive approach that addresses the various obstacles faced by most, if not all, women in California at one time or another in their lives. Among the needs are child care, job training, public benefits during difficult times, equal pay for equal work, wages that enable women to support themselves and loved ones, and policies that support working families. That is why advocates, legislators, and other community members from across California have come together to promote an economic security agenda in 2015 that will:

  • Build economic security by addressing poverty and helping women build assets to sustain them throughout their lives
  • Improve access to affordable and quality early childhood care and education
  • Ensure fair pay and job opportunities
  • Support family friendly workplaces

This paper describes A Stronger California, a multi-year campaign that will advocate for this coordinated and comprehensive set of policies, all of which are necessary to offer the promise of strengthened economic opportunity and success for California’s women, families, and communities. 

Why Women?

Women are more likely to be the primary caregivers in a family. Increasingly, they are primary income earners as well. Women are half the American workforce, and families depend on women’s income more than ever before. Mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 40 percent of American families. This share, the highest on record, has quadrupled since 1960. Single mothers head almost a quarter of households in California with children under the age of 18 and 73 percent of single-parent households overall, a group that is more likely to live in poverty, experience unemployment and have less access to traditional banking services, putting their savings and assets at risk.

Meanwhile, women have surpassed men in gaining advanced college degrees as well as bachelor degrees, part of a trend that is helping redefine who works and who stays at home to care for children. As women increasingly work outside the home, women with college degrees will soon outnumber men with college degrees in the workforce.

Yet across the nation, women typically are paid less than their male counterparts, are more likely to work in minimum-wage and low-wage jobs, are more likely to live in poverty, and have fewer opportunities to advance in their careers. The challenges of unequal pay and low wages that many women face – especially women of color – are compounded by the additional responsibilities many mothers bear, particularly single mothers.

Why California?

California is an important place to address women’s economic needs for several reasons. First, it is home to 12 percent of the country’s women – more than any other state. How we treat women in California sends an important message across the country.

Second, California has incredible wealth, while thousands of women live in poverty. California’s economy is the eighth largest in the world, and yet the state has the highest poverty rate in the nation: Nearly one-fourth (23.8 percent) of California’s population lives below the poverty line when taking into account tax credits and government benefits and expenses for items like child care and out-of-pocket medical expenses. The poverty rate is especially pronounced among women of color and single women living with children. Women in retirement are significantly more likely to live in poverty than are retired men.

Unlike several other states, California has not invested in important components of its infrastructure that affect women the most. For example, child care access is lower in California than in many other states. California ranks 27th in the nation in access to early learning programs for 4-year-olds. Workforce development programs have not kept up with the need for job training in burgeoning fields. And the state has not acted on a number of other issues to protect its women and value their economic input. As a result, California women are vulnerable: They are not protected from discriminatory pay practices; they may be subject to unfair scheduling practices at their jobs; and they are less able to build up assets to create a safety net for themselves and their families.

Why Now?

The challenges to economic security faced by California women and families present an opportunity. The data tells a clear story about the importance of increasing wages in reversing the trend of the ever-widening wealth gap and building an economy based on high-quality jobs. And public momentum is building: Seventy percent of Americans believe that women’s contributions are essential to our economy.Ninety percent of voters favor policies that help women achieve equal pay for equal work and raise wages for women and families. Policymakers across the country are responding to this call to action. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a federal women’s economic policy agenda called When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families. States including Minnesota and Pennsylvania have demonstrated how lawmakers, advocates, businesses and individuals can come together to address and advance women’s economic security as a critical component to a vibrant state. The agenda President Barack Obama outlined in his State of the Union address further demonstrates the momentum behind policies that support working women.

California is poised to push this momentum further. The state has long been an influential leader in policy efforts across the country. It has an impressive history of progressive policy efforts (including pregnancy accommodation, marriage equality and paid family leave), which have had a domino effect on other states and Washington, D.C. As a forward-looking influencer, California is in a strong position to test new policy initiatives in the Legislature, unearth obstacles to enforcement, and report back on their impact on female workers and business alike.

Finally, the state is now in a financial position to invest in the economic success of women who have been central to California’s extraordinary financial recovery since the Great Recession. Coming from the brink of economic collapse, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office has projected a $5.6 billion surplus for fiscal year 2014-2015. The state can now be thoughtful about the future and build its capital by investing in smart policies that improve the economic future of the state, protect and build the economic strength of women and families, and increase the fairness and quality of their lives.


The Stronger Calif♀rnia Advocates Network is a historic collaboration of advocate coalitions with deep experience working with communities affected by the four pillars of the Stronger Calif♀rnia Agenda. The Network capitalizes on the strengths of our members to advance the economic security of women in California. We seek to promote policy reform in order to meet basic needs and provide better income support, achieve fair pay and working conditions, support workforce development, encourage asset building, and ensure work- family flexibility and access to quality child care.

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