The issue of economic equity for American women has finally begun to receive the attention it deserves. The Supreme Court recently decided a landmark case in the favor of greater pension equity for women. Proposed legislative remedies have been the subject of numerous Cabinet-level meetings with the President. The House Ways and Means Committee is examining proposals to provide women with a greater measure of economic security. The prospects of the 98th Congress passing , and the President signing into law, legislation to address this issue are greater than at any time in recent years.
We are now witnessing a dramatic increase in the number of career doors open to women: Sandra Day O'Connor sits on the Supreme Court. Margaret Heckler controls the third-largest budget in the world. The purview of Elizabeth Dole includes more than 800,000 miles of interstate highways and roads. Sally Ride made a historic voyage into space. Every day more women enter law and medical schools, meeting new challenges in fields traditionally closed to them.
While these achievements are significant, the prospects of economic security for many other women is more dismal. Census figures project the lifetime earnings of men as at least twice that of women. A woman with a college degree makes substantially less than a man who did not complete high school. In 1955, women earned only 64 cents for every $1 earned by a man. Incredibly, this has decreased to 59 cents to every $1 earned by men today.
The Economic Equity Act (EEA) of 1983 is designed to eliminate some primary sources of economic inequity. It proposes reforms in the area of pensions, tax policy, insurance, child care, and child-support enforcement.
It is no surprise that two groups of women, in particular, suffer the most from economic discrimination - older women and single mothers.
Older women represent the fastest-growing poverty group in the country. Their lack of income security during retirement results in part from small pensions that reflect a lifetime of depressed wages.
Passage of the act will greatly enhance the rights of spouses to claim a share of deceased workers pensions. Under current law, the widow of a man who has worked 30 years with the same company and dies two days before his 55th birthday can be denied any survivor benefits. In fact, it is estimated that 70, 000 women will be denied a share of their deceased husbands' earned benefits over the next five years unless pension law is modified. Private pension plans would be required under this legislation to pay survivor benefits if the deceased worker had at least 10 years of service under a plan.
Additionally, the act would modify private pension law to reflect the average work cycles of women. It would lower the minimum age for participation in a pension plan from 25 to 21 years of age and give partial credit for up to one year of employer-approved maternity or paternity leave.
Women who maintain families also constitute an ever-increasing proportion of poor Americans. The act will reform the tax code to permit single heads of households to use the $3,400 zero-bracket amount currently available to married persons in figuring federal income taxes. The bill also includes a tax credit to employers for hiring displaced homemakers.
Regarding child care and child-support enforcement, at the present time nearly half of the divorced mothers in this country entitled to child-support awards receive no payments. Title V of the act would make substantial changes in the child-support enforcement program, greatly increasing the power of enforcement agencies to collect delinquent child-support payments for all children, not just those who receive Aid to Families With Dependent Children. The act will also reduce the enormous burden of child care to poor families and mothers. It would increase the tax credit for those with small incomes, while changing existing law to provide a refundable credit to those whose tax liability is less than the credit due them.
The drastic need for this legislation cannot be overstated.