First, I would like to say to all of you here today who represent Women Employed and the Women Employed Institute -- congratulations on 25 years of helping women to find employment and succeed in the workforce. The work you do is critically important and has an impact on so many aspects of American life.
Your efforts on behalf of women are at the forefront of a societal shift of historic proportions. Most of us here today realize that our economy is the strongest it's been in a generation. But for the first time in the history of our nation, a portion of the credit for that success is going to women, thanks to your efforts to put working women at the top of our nation's agenda.
Newsweek Magazine has coined the best word I've heard for the revolution we're living in: "Womenomics." A recent article commented, "If you work in a firm that offers flex time or work-at-home privileges, you can thank women. Thank them as well for 24-hour grocery stores, banks with longer hours, day-care centers and ATM machines." And the work of Women Employed has made these kinds of things happen.
The changes you have wrought are indeed vast. And your efforts are not just about helping women to become a part of the workforce -- they are about how women are changing the way we, as a nation, conduct business.
I am constantly struck by some of the statistics:
- almost 1 in 2 workers in America is a woman;
- women are making 80% of all consumer decisions;
- women-owned start-up businesses are outpacing all business growth in every state in the nation;
- women in the workforce add more than two trillion dollars annually to the U.S. economy;
- in more and more families, women are providing more than half the income; and,
- Women-owned businesses contribute more to our economy and employ more workers than the entire Fortune 500.
And, as the world shifts from manufacturing industries to information industries -- women are positioned to play an even larger role in shaping the U.S. -- and the world -- economy. The Information Age is one that poses no limits, if we only educate and train for it. And, as we move into the next millennium, we can continue to create an environment that responds to the reality of working families and provides the resources to meet their needs so that families can be strong and economically stable.
But to do this, we cannot rest on our laurels. Although women make up half of the work force, women still earn only 74 cents for every dollar men earn. One quarter of women who work full-time, year round, do not earn enough to move their families above the federal poverty threshold. And that inequality not only deprives working women from earning a fair living, it also denies our children adequate health care, it keeps thousands of young kids from going to college, and it impacts the quality of life of many families across our nation.
President Clinton and my husband are determined that hard-pressed, hard working women should not have to raise families in poverty. That is why they fought for and won an increase in the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15 per hour giving over 10 million Americans a pay raise. And, contrary to the views of skeptics, not a single job was lost.
Together, we must continue to find innovative ways to fight for equal pay for equal work. Earlier this spring, my husband announced the Administration's support for legislation that would improve enforcement of wage discrimination against women and strengthen the law that allows compensation for those who have been discriminated against.
The Administration has also called on the Congress to pass an additional increase in the minimum wage so that more hard working Americans can get a raise, support a family, and have their fair share of our nation's prosperity. And, in 1993, the Administration fought for and won an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit that is helping lift hundreds of thousands of working families out of poverty.
And Women Employed's Tech-Start program is another example of how we can train women from the beginning for higher-wage jobs. Tech-Start not only helps women enter higher-wage technical fields, but it also prepares them for today's high tech, information-based economy.
Education makes the critical difference. Completing high school brings the median income for women up by about one-third; an associate degree makes it rise another 25 percent. Investing in education is an investment in a better future for all families. As my grandmother told me, "your education is the one thing no one can take from you."
And we must also look at the education that young women and girls are receiving. We must help them build the skills necessary to excel in a technological society. We must also help them build leadership and entrepreneurship skills, which means providing more mentoring opportunities for young girls to learn about economic issues and financial management.
Public/private partnerships that promote effective voluntary practices to expand opportunities for women and minorities will be another important strategy for the future. Women Employed has created such a partnership which can serve as a model for the nation. The Chicago Area Partnerships, known as CAPS, includes corporations, government and advocacy organizations working together to provide leadership on workplace issues across the board. CAPS was recently recognized for its program that identifies efforts to reduce glass ceiling barriers by the U.S. Department of Labor.
One of the most difficult things that women in our society face today is the pressure of balancing the demands of work and home. Let's face the facts. Women are our country's traditional caregivers and, as such, continue to struggle with the basic questions of family and community. Many women today feel as if they are members of the sandwich generation -- squeezed between caring for young children and elder parents. Each of us here today could probably tell a personal story about the struggle to find balance in our lives between work and home.
The first step to enabling women to balance work demands with their lives outside of work is understanding that this is not just a "women's issue" -- it is an issue that impacts all working families.
President Clinton and my husband understand that and have made working families a top priority from the start. From the Family & Medical Leave Act, which President Clinton is currently seeking to expand, to the Children's Health Initiative, which features the single largest investment in children's health care since 1965, to the current child care proposals, the Clinton/Gore Administration has proposed policies that help working families improve their lives.
As we continue to educate our nation that these issues are important to all Americans, it means continuing to make sure that women are equally represented in positions of leadership in every area -- business, government, human service, education, and health care.
This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, an event which launched the women's movement. Do you imagine that those brave women of Seneca Falls knew then where their efforts would lead?
Today, I see before me women who lead large corporations and small businesses, national and grassroots organizations. I see women elected officials who help shape policy. I see the backbone of our society and the driving force behind our strong economy. I see women poised to shape our future in an unprecedented way.
Each of you is creating a legacy for our children and the men and women who will follow. You are creating a world that values the contributions of all its citizens. And, most of all, you are creating a society more sensitive to the demands of working families -- a society that holds the promise of a future where everyone can share in the effort to help families grow and prosper.