Updated Wednesday 11:45 p.m. | Originally published Tuesday 1 p.m.
Polling continues to show that gender equality is a growing issue among voters. Some presidential contenders (perhaps you can guess who) have made the related issues central to their campaigns, while others have remained virtually silent on the subject.
Despite Americans’ growing interest, the issue of gender equality did not surface once during the first night of this week’s Democratic presidential debates — a review of the transcript shows the word “woman” was used a grand total of four times throughout the more than 2.5-hours debate and “women” was used five times. None of the mentions were related to equality issues.
However, we did get a couple of minutes on gender equality + work in Wednesday night’s debate — whoop whoop! Sen. Kamala Harris outlined her proposal to fine firms who violate equal pay rules (more on that below) while Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand went after former Vice President Joe Biden big time for an op-ed he once wrote arguing against expanding the childcare tax credit. In it, he said doing so would lead to the “deterioration of the family,” a point on which Gillibrand — as a working mom from a family of working moms — demanded an explanation. It should be noted that the thrust of Biden’s piece seems to be an argument against giving the credit to higher-earning families.
Following is a top-line look at how the leading Democratic candidates stack up when it comes to the legislation and proposals surrounding workplace gender parity. The top-10 candidates are listed in order of polling results published July 26. While most don’t differ too terribly much when it comes to childcare and raising the minimum wage (a gender equality issue as the majority of low-wage earners are women), some of the finer points regarding the how of fixing the pay gap are worth reviewing, and maybe make a note of the candidates that have no-actual-plan plans. Unfamiliar with some of the legislation mentioned below? Click here for a glossary.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN
Fair pay: Biden has not released a specific plan on fair pay, and his campaign did not respond to an email seeking information. He has publicly stated his support for raising the federal minimum wage to $15.
Family leave: Back in 2016, Biden supported New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to mandate three months of paid family leave in the state. That seems to be all he wrote, for the moment.
Childcare: Biden recently proposed an $8,000 tax credit for parents who need childcare but did not provide details of how the plan would work; this stance differs from his position in the early 1980s, when he opposed expanding the child care credit.
Related quote: The former VP called for equal pay for the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team via Twitter during the World Cup, saying, “In 2019, it’s past time we close the pay gap and ensure women get paid as much as men.”
VERMONT SEN. BERNIE SANDERS
Fair pay: Sanders voted yes on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate in 2019. His campaign has not set forth any details proposals regarding the gender pay gap. Sanders is in favor of setting a $15 floor for the minimum wage, but has been under attack recently for paying some of his campaign staffers less than that.
Family leave: The senator co-sponsored the 2019 Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act in the Senate.
Childcare: Sanders supports universal childcare.
Related quote: “Equal pay for equal work is an issue of basic justice,” Sanders tweeted on Equal Pay Day this year.
MASSACHUSETTS SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN
Fair pay: Warren co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate in 2019. She proposes denying federal contracts to companies with poor track records on diversity and equal pay, as well as to those that use forced arbitration as a means to avoid the court system. Earlier this year, she was one of the senators that introduced the Women’s Retirement Protection Act of 2019, which aims to make up for lost wages due to the gender pay gap. Warren supports a $15 minimum wage.
Family leave: The senator signed on as co-sponsor of the 2019 Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act in the Senate.
Childcare: Warren has made universal childcare a centerpiece of her campaign. To make it happen, she would create a federally funded network of affordable, locally run childcare centers using proceeds from her proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax.
Related quote: “Women should be paid the same as men for doing the same work — full stop. If we want to make Equal Pay Day obsolete, we have to start making real changes everywhere, including in the halls of Congress,” she told Refinery29.
CALIFORNIA SEN. KAMALA HARRIS
Fair pay: Harris co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate in 2019. Her fair pay proposal would require companies to obtain an “Equal Pay Certification” to prove they’re not paying women less than men; those without certification would be fined, and the funds would be put towards paid family and medical leave. She supports a $15 minimum wage.
Family leave: Harris signed on as a co-sponsor of the 2019 Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act in the Senate.
Childcare: The senator was a co-sponsor of the Child Care for Working Families Act, which is very similar to the universal childcare plan Warren proposes but builds on an existing program.
Related quote: “When you lift up the economic status of women, you lift up their families, their neighborhoods, and all of society…And it’s an issue that’s been around for far too long without much progress at all,” she told voters ahead of announcing her plans to close the pay gap.
SOUTH BEND MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG
Fair pay: Buttigieg says he supports the Paycheck Fairness Act as well as mandating that companies disclose pay gap data, but his campaign has not outlined specifics and did not return requests for comment. Buttigieg is in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15.
Family leave: Mayor Pete supports passing paid medical and family leave, according to his campaign website. As South Bend mayor he pushed for six-week fully paid parental leave for city employees.
Childcare: He supports investing in high-quality child care, according to his campaign site, but does not offer up a definition or details and the campaign did not respond to requests for further information.
Related quote: “The next president needs to be the strongest president ever on women’s rights and equality and gender inclusion,” Buttigieg tweeted on May 18.
FORMER TEXAS REP. BETO O’ROURKE
Fair pay: “An O’Rourke administration will take action by signing into law the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that all women get paid what they deserve, and to proactively close loopholes in the 1963 Equal Pay Act to secure justice for working women in Texas and across the country,” a spokesperson for the campaign said. O’Rourke is in favor of the $15 minimum wage.
Family leave: The former rep supports the 2019 Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act and legislation like it, a spokeswoman for his campaign said.
Childcare: O’Rourke has not publicly shared his position on child care yet. (He does — sometimes — help out with his own kids, though.)
Related quote: “Women in Texas earn $0.79 for every $1.00 a man earns. Women of color in Texas earn significantly less. I stand with all women in demanding equal pay for equal work,” O’Rourke tweeted on Equal Pay Day this year.
Fair pay: Yang’s campaign site says he would work with states to implement salary disclosure laws and refuse to hire outside contractors who don’t pay their workers equally. In contrast to his fellow candidates, Yang does not support raising the federal minimum wage, but proposes a version of basic income in which every American gets a $1,000 a month.
Family leave: The tech entrepreneur supports offering parents nine months of paid leave to be split however they see fit, or six months to single parents, according to his campaign website.
Childcare: Yang supports creating a pre-kindergarten public school system for children ages 3 and up, his site shows. He also supports tax breaks for child care services.
Related quote: “America’s lack of mandated paid family leave is, quite frankly, stupid,” Yang’s campaign website reads.
MINNESOTA SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR
Fair pay: Klobuchar voted yes on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate in 2019. Like everyone on the list but Yang, she’s in favor of raising the federal minimum wage to $15.
Family leave: Klobuchar signed on as co-sponsor of the 2019 Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act in the Senate
Childcare: The senator supports investing in quality childcare, according to her First 100 Days Plan, which would include expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Care Tax Credit.
Related quote: “It’s about more than equal pay for equal work — women need equal opportunities in STEM to do work in the 1st place,” she tweeted in 2017.
NEW JERSEY SEN. CORY BOOKER
Fair pay: Booker co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate in 2019. The Jersey senator was among the members of Congress who last year called for an audit of the gender pay gap in government jobs. A spokesperson for his campaign did not return an email seeking further comment on his proposals for closing the pay gap.
Family leave: The senator co-sponsored the 2019 Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act in the Senate.
Childcare: Booker co-sponsored the Child Care for Working Families Act in the Senate in 2019.
Related quote: “We will take on the systemic challenges that disproportionately affect women and hold our entire country back. We will fight for equal pay, affordable child care, and establish national paid family and medical leave,” Booker said in his campaign kick-off speech.
FORMER HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY JULIÁN CASTRO
Fair pay: Castro supports fair pay for all staff at universities and colleges, according to his campaign website, but does not offer further details on the issue. The ex-HUD secretary supports a $15 minimum wage. A spokesperson for his campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Family leave: Castro has said that he supports paid family and medical leave but has not offered specifics.
Childcare: Castro supports universal pre-K, according to his website, but does not offer a position on child care.
Related quote: “I would do several things, starting with something we should have done a long time ago, which is to pass the Equal Rights Amendment finally in this country. And also pursue legislation so that women are paid equal pay for equal work in this country,” Castro said at the first debate.
Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009: This law increased worker protections against pay discrimination by lifting certain restrictions on the time period allowed for filing equal pay lawsuits. The law — which is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — was named for Lilly Ledbetter, who filed a lawsuit against tire-company Goodyear after finding out she made substantially less than two male co-workers in very similar positions. The legislation is aimed at helping to close the gender pay gap.
Paycheck Fairness Act: This law would require companies to prove that any differences in pay are not based on gender, and would enforce harsher penalties for equal pay violations. The legislation has been proposed in Congress several times, and most recently passed the House in March. It is very unlikely to make it through the senate.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act): This act, which was sponsored this session by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), would allow new parents and other caregivers to take up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave. Gillibrand has introduced the FAMILY Act in every session since 2013. Eligible workers could get up to 66 percent of their pay under the law, which would be funded by an increase in payroll taxes.
Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit: Working caregivers — or those looking for work — with children under 13 or other qualifying dependents can access this tax credit, which is up to $3,000 for a single child or dependent, and up to $6,000 for two or more dependents. Many candidates support expanding this credit.
Heather Grossmann contributed reporting.
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