Why the U.S. Must Remain a “Country of Possibilities”
By Minerva Delgado | Director of Coalitions and Advocacy | Alliance to End Hunger
On the eve of the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, I shared a toast with celebrated feminist Gloria Steinem. Naturally, I wasn’t alone. I joined hundreds of women from across the country for the video event hosted by the ERA Coalition. We had lots to celebrate including the anticipated, historic inauguration of Kamala Harris, the first woman and woman of color on a winning presidential ticket.
In her own words, Vice President Harris expressed the importance of her election. “While I may be the first woman in this office,” she said in her first speech as vice president-elect in November, “I won’t be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
Celebrated in the month of March, International Women’s Day was created to promote equal rights, including the right to vote for women. For over 100 years, women in the United States have had the right to vote. Since then, numerous laws and policies have established equal opportunities.
However, reality doesn’t always live up to the lofty goals and expectations set forth in law — in this case due to pervasive gender discrimination in many areas of life. Despite the achievements of legions of women, as a group, women trail behind men in a number of areas, particularly related to employment. For example, most low-wage workers in the United States are adults working full-time. They are mostly women and disproportionately women of color. Nearly one in five employed women works in a low-paid job, as opposed to less than one in ten employed men.[i] Lower wages among women contribute to the fact that female-headed households have the highest rate of food insecurity among all household types (28.7% in 2019).[ii]
Women of color face particular challenges navigating the dual burdens of race and gender discrimination. According to Business Insider, “Black and Hispanic women are most affected by the gender wage gap, especially when compared to white men: Black women make 67% of what white men earn, and Hispanic women get 58%. Black women need to work an extra 233 days to earn what white men earn. Hispanic women, particularly Latinas, need to work 324 days.”[iii]
The pandemic has worsened employment prospects for women, particularly women of color. Marianne Cooper, a Stanford University sociologist and author of Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times, calls the economic recession, in which lower-paid workers lost the most jobs, a “she-session” because of its disproportionate effect on women.
While this month is set aside to honor women’s contributions and celebrate how far women have come, we must also recognize how much further we need to go to achieve equity for all women. When thinking about how we address these issues, the words of Gloria Steinem are instructive;
“Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.”[iv]
Our solutions need to be foundational. In addition to discrimination, employment inequalities that affect women of color are rooted in educational inequalities, housing segregation and more.
The most recent COVID relief package will provide much needed short-term relief to the families economically impacted by the pandemic. But we must also think long-term.
Having a female Vice President reminds us that it’s important to think big, and that we must continue to be a ‘country of possibilities.’
[ii] Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory, and Anita Singh. 2020. Household Food Security in the United States in 2019, ERR-275, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.