A Lesson in Fairness From My Mother | Commentary

When I consider issues in Washington, I regularly call on the wisdom and advice my mother gave Carl, my sister and me over the years. She taught us of hard work and persistence, she taught us of the sacrifices that mothers make for children and for our country, and she taught us of fairness.

Our mother’s basic creed was that no one was any better than we were, and we were no better than anyone else. Equality and fairness were values she instilled in us from an early age.

And fairness is one principle that particularly informs how I look at my work in Congress — the idea that in America, everyone should get a fair shake, an equal opportunity to succeed if they work for it. We have made progress in this regard, but we still have a long way to go, especially when it comes to how our policies affect women; how they affect mothers.

Consider the disparities that exist for women in the workforce.

Too many women still struggle to get ahead because of outdated policies that limit their opportunities to participate fully in our economy. They are faced with a shortage of good-paying jobs, lack of job security and the rising costs of education and debt. And increasingly, women are the primary breadwinners for families — which means when they’re left behind, American families are left behind.

Raising the minimum wage is one way that we can help level the playing field for women. Approximately two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and these women work hard to support themselves and their families on wages that leave a family of three below the federal poverty line. Increasing the minimum wage is necessary not only to help many hard-working Americans rise out of poverty, but also to better provide for families who depend on working mothers.

Another way that we can help women and mothers is by renewing emergency unemployment benefits. Around one and a half million women in this country have been looking for work for more than six months. Without benefits, the long-term unemployed are struggling to provide even the most basic necessities for their families.

I’ve heard the heartbreaking stories of hundreds of Americans who are losing their homes, who can’t pay for food and who can no longer pay for Internet or phone service to find a new job. The Senate recently voted on a bipartisan extension of emergency unemployment benefits that would help restore this vital lifeline to these Americans, but Republicans in the House refuse to bring this bill to the floor for a vote.

Paid sick leave is another barrier to success for women in the workforce that we must break down. All workers should be able to earn paid sick leave, to care for a sick family member and to obtain preventive health care. Unfortunately, 40 percent of private-sector American workers have no access to paid sick days, which means that they cannot miss a day of work without losing a day’s pay or, sometimes, even their job. When illness or emergencies occur, too many Americans must choose between the job they need and their families’ health and well-being. There’s currently a bill in Congress, the Healthy Families Act, that would help address this problem and provide workers the ability to care for their families without losing their jobs.

This Mother’s Day, we must shine a light on creating policies that promote fairness and equality. Policies that eliminate barriers to full participation in the workplace and level the playing field for women. Indeed, when we support women, we support families, our communities and our country.

Rep. Sander M. Levin is a Democrat from Michigan. He is the ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee.