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“The way people experience these issues isn’t necessarily in buckets," said Vicki Shabo, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families. "The same person may be paid less than her male co-worker and therefore can’t afford child care, and when her kid gets sick she can’t take leave.”
But the concern haunting such policies is that, if implemented in isolation or in neutered form, they may not accomplish their intended goal of reducing poverty and the income gap. If, for example, universal pre-K were legislated in the absence of a minimum-wage hike and other programs supporting low-income families, the benefits of early-childhood education could be undermined.
Even as President Obama directed the State of the Union at female constituents, a key base of Democratic support, he avoided the controversial areas of abortion and reproductive rights. Yet just hours before his speech, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would not only reaffirm the ban on federal funding of abortions but, according to the National Women’s Law Center, could restrict access for women facing serious health conditions, eliminate abortion coverage in the private health care market and prohibit Washington, D.C., from using local funds to pay for abortions.
The GOP response to Obama’s address indirectly dealt with reproductive choice. Speaking from a cozy living room, House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., relayed the story of her son Cole, diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome, to illustrate “the potential in every human life.” The congresswoman reframed the president’s themes of income inequality and working families in partisan terms. “The real gap we face today is one of opportunity inequality … and with this administration’s policies, that gap has become far too wide," she said. "Republicans have plans to close the gap … plans that focus on jobs first without more spending, government bailouts, and red tape.”
Neither Rodgers’ speech nor tea party remarks that followed it tackled an increase in the minimum wage, which enjoys popular support across party lines. Going back to the 1990s, said economist John Schmitt at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “when it comes to the federal minimum wage, it’s often the case that, in the middle and early stages, there’s fairly solid opposition from Republicans. But as the discussions move on, Republicans come around and end up supporting it.”
With so much attention on inequality and economic hardship — and on the struggles of working women and mothers — the GOP may face renewed pressure to raise the floor. In this regard, Obama and minimum-wage workers across the nation can only hope that history repeats itself.