Paychecks as a women’s issue in 2024

Shruthi Jayaram | Mar 21, 2024


It is no news that Americans are worried about money.  Polls repeatedly show that cash in hand each month, and the rising cost of living, are top of mind for voters.  A Pew poll last month showed that 73% of Americans thought the economy should be the country’s “top policy priority.”  More specific surveys  of historically “unlikely voters” – for example of young voters and voters in Factory Towns (small and midsized deindustrialized counties) – show similar trends.  This is notwithstanding the steady growth in real wages on an average basis since the pandemic; and could reflect the broader stagnation in household wealth since 2000.

Women voters, in particular, will be carefully watching paycheck policies in 2024.   Money matters to all voters.  Women are no exception.  Despite a growing cadre of women entering leadership positions in the public, private, and non profit sectors, overall women disproportionately work lower paying, more insecure jobs.  Women are particularly likely to be tipped workers – restaurant workers, service workers – and not subject to minimum wage laws.  Women are also particularly likely to be domestic & care workers, not covered by wage protections, in largely informal occupations, and 3x more likely to be living in poverty while working fulltime.  The gender pay gap – which persists across industries even after controlling for multiple factors – reduces women’s pay.  And as key arbiters of household spending patterns, and now the heads of half of US households, women are on the front lines of the impact of inflation on families, and on making difficult choices between paid work and unpaid care work.  All this is no accident or choice, it reflects structural segregation by gender and race in the US economy.

The impact of paychecks is not just highly salient to women for economic reasons.  It is a gateway issue for women’s rights and family well being.  Income builds agency, at home and at work.  It is a pathway to reproductive choice.  Studies show that up to 40% of American women with low incomes would use a different contraceptive method—or would start using a method—if cost were not a factor.  The Department of Labor – and other sources – have produced no shortage of reports showcasing the high and growing cost of childcare.  Greater income alone will not address these issues.  The availability of quality jobs, childcare and maternal care is precarious and patchy across much of the country, for example.  However, higher incomes can enable women to organize, vote, buy, build, and provide for themselves and their families.

There are a number of candidate platforms and ballot measures that directly seek to reform the gendered occupational segregation in the US labor market and increase monthly cash in the pocket of American women.  Anti-monopoly policies – from efforts to revive enforcement of existing laws, to reducing fiscal incentives for market consolidation, to passing new laws that support small business incentives and pro-competitive behavior – are being discussed and proposed at both the state and federal level.  These will have important implications on wages and inflation. Cash and cash equivalent investments from public dollars – such as the child tax credit, baby bonds, and guaranteed basic income schemes – are working to put more money in the hands of American women and families every month.  And living wage legislation and ballot measures – to end the sub minimum wage and get tipped workers access to livable wages – are gaining traction across the country including in swing states.                                                                                                                                      

Anyone interested in the women’s vote – or the vote of those interested in women’s rights – in 2024 should pay attention to paychecks on the ballot.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans (many of whom are “unlikely voters”) might actually turn out to ‘vote themselves a raise’ this year – with implications for important electoral races impacting all women in 2024.

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