Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Opportunity Plan: Hits and Misses

There is hope for our legislatures after all. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York has introduced a five-point plan she is working to pass into law. Noted as the Opportunity Plan, it is supposed to help women gain greater economic independence and increase their pay levels in the workforce. 

The bill is simple: genuinely support women's right to work and all this talk of a gender gap will disappear. Ms. Gillibrand wants to accomplish this by enabling the following: 

1) Make FMLA a priority. She has asked that businesses set up trust funds to pay into any required leave. The FMLA grants workers medical leave for either personal use or to care for a sick loved one. Only problem is this comes with certain conditions. First, it only applies to companies with 50 or more employees and second, it's unpaid leave for about 12 weeks of absence. While many workers are paid during this timeframe, most don't and the act excludes about 40% of those covered. Under the new plan, employers would be required to contribute a matching rate of 2% of individual pay toward FMLA leave. 

2) Enforce mandatory pre-K education. The sooner children are enrolled in school, the greater their opportunity to learn and increase their future potentials. Across the globe, millions of children forgo a qualified education, usually due to poverty. While both genders are at risk, mostly girls are forced from attending school. In the US, free public schools are available but our education system is in shambles. Many schools in poor areas across the nation are underfunded and proficiency levels are substandard. The Opportunity Plan will ensure that children get a head start by making education and funding available at the pre-K level. 

3) Increase in minimum wage. There is a bill floating in Congress somewhere to raise federal wage rate by $10.00 over the next three years and then have it adjusted for inflation afterwards. It's still in the debate stage although it has been endorsed and encouraged by many in the political realm. But alas, it has not budged much and still receiving much resistance. This even though those earning minimum wage can't afford the basics, especially single or divorced women trying to feed a family. The Opportunity Plan supports this increase in minimum wage, especially for women in need. 

4) Affordable health care. The health insurance crisis in the US is no secret. It has led to passage of the much scrutinized Obamacare, as it's fondly named by conservatives. Under the Opportunity Plan, families would be entitled to tax benefits. How this new measure compares to the new health care plan is not known, and whether it will pass with all the contention against "socialized" medical care is unclear. In fact, it will be no surprise at all if this does not fly with all this bickering over coverage. 

5) Leveling gender pay gap. Yes, women are still not paid their fair share, and something needs to be done. Demanding that women get an increase in pay alone may not be the answer, especially since they are still dropping out of the workforce to raise children. Without receiving the support needed to juggle the work-life juggling act, demanding extra pay is not the solution. Why would any employer want to pay a mother for work she can't do and hours she is unable to commit to? This final demand will never be taken seriously unless access to quality childcare services that support a mother's work hours is available. We should be getting paid as much as men, but if we're unable to put in the hours because society is not equipped to support our lifestyles, then fair pay is really impractical. 

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