Bustos touring district to discuss women's economic security

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Cheri Bustos remembers what it was like to work crazy hours while trying to raise children. And she had a husband as well as a job that paid decent wages.

The U.S. Representative from the 17th District said Tuesday it is hard to imagine what single mothers who work as much as they can to put food on the table for their children go through, especially when minimum wage doesn’t meet the needs of a family and the disparity between wages for men and women remains significant.

“There are so many single parent households today, and typically they are headed by a woman, and the struggle is very real,” Bustos said while in Peoria for part of her Women’s Economic Security Tour that began Monday and continues through the week.

“I always learn something on these trips through the district and one thing I always learn is how much more there is that needs to be done,” she said after visiting Myah’s Learning Center in Peoria to accentuate the need for affordable and accessible child care for families.

During the tour of her district, which covers more than 7,000 square miles in northwest and central Illinois, including much of Peoria, Bustos is discussing her report, “Women’s Economic Security: It’s a Family Thing,” in order to show the economic disparity that still exists. “For all the glass ceilings women have shattered in recent years, many hardworking women and their families are still struggling to get by,” Bustos said in the report.

Despite the fact the 17th District is a heavy labor district where union contracts typically have no gap between the wages paid men and women, it is still a district that has a sizable gap, Bustos said. Median earning for women working full-time and year-round are currently just 73 percent of what men earn. The median for women is $31,449 a year, compare with $42,840 for men. That, she added, is worse than the national average of 78 percent.

A big reason for that, Bustos said, is that women dominate the minimum wage jobs. Also, she said, African American and Hispanic women suffer even greater disparities.

Citing a U.S. Census Bureau report that 20 percent of the women in her district live below the poverty line, she called for an increase in the minimum wage, which currently is $8.25 an hour in Illinois.

Bustos also touted the Paycheck Fairness Act that she is co-sponsoring in the U.S. House that would help guarantee equal wages for equal work and make wage information more transparent by prohibiting companies from retaliating against employees who share wage information. That bill, however, hasn’t reached the House floor as yet. “We’ll keep trying to bring it up until the House leadership finally brings it to a vote,” she said.

Regarding her visit to the childcare center, Bustos said she wanted to show that even affordable centers such as Myah’s are difficult to reach for families who don’t make livable wages. Often child care takes more than half a family’s income, she said. That’s why she supports legislation to increase the amount a family can put into pre-tax flexible spending accounts.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).