By Frances Wolf
This is a critical time for women in Pennsylvania – and across the country. Now, more than ever, women need strong leaders to stand with them as they continue to seek equality at all levels.
Yet, we see example after example of politicians in Washington, and sometimes right here in Pennsylvania, working to limit women’s healthcare choices, reproductive rights and economic opportunities. We see private companies that still refuse to pay a living wage and eliminate the gender pay gap.
In Pennsylvania today, women make just 80 cents for every dollar a man makes – a wage gap that costs women an average of $10,000 a year. And the situation is far worse for women of color with African American women making just 63 cents on the dollar of what men are paid.
And women make up nearly three-quarters of minimum wage workers in the commonwealth. A woman working full time at minimum wage earns just $14,500 annually, more than $4,500 below the official U.S. poverty line for a mother with two children.
Not only is this morally unacceptable, but it continues to hurt our competitiveness as a state.
That’s why my husband, Gov. Tom Wolf, has made advancing opportunities for women a central goal of his Administration. As the father of two adult daughters, he has seen firsthand the struggles women face as they work – sometimes twice as hard as their male counterparts – to achieve their career and personal goals.
That’s why he is working actively to increase the minimum wage and eliminate the gender wage gap in the commonwealth. In his first term as governor, he signed executive orders to both address the gender pay gap for executive branch employees in Pennsylvania state government and to increase the minimum wage for those same employees to $15 an hour by the year 2024.
He has also called repeatedly for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to enact similar policies statewide for all Pennsylvanians. These policies would result in a significant pay increase for many women in Pennsylvania – a raise that is long overdue.
And he has made creating educational opportunities for women and girls a top priority. The demand for a STEM-ready workforce continues to grow, yet girls generally make up less than a third of the public-school students taking computer science.
Building on his commitment to invest in education at all levels, Tom launched PAsmart – a strategic new workforce development and education initiative, with a specific focus on accelerated learning opportunities and exposure to STEM and computer science for girls and women across the commonwealth.
He also continues to fight to ensure that our educational institutions and workplaces are safe spaces for women to learn and grow. That’s why he worked closely with the Pennsylvania Commission for Women three years ago to implement It’s On Us PA, the first-in-the-nation statewide campaign to address sexual assault on college campuses.
Since the launch of this groundbreaking initiative, the Wolf Administration has provided nearly $2 million in grants to schools across Pennsylvania to help them establish and enhance systems to combat sexual assault.
And the governor is working with legislative leaders to enact legislative changes that will provide even more protections for students from sexual assault.
During this Women’s History Month, I am proud of the progress we have made together for women in Pennsylvania. But there is still so much more to be done.
Tom will continue to push for statewide policies to eliminate the gender wage gap, increase the minimum wage and provide sustainable protections for our students from sexual assault.
He will continue to invest in education at all levels from preschool through higher education – just as he has for the last four years. And he will continue to do everything in his power to ensure that the next generation of female leaders has access to every opportunity as do her male classmates.
Not only do we owe this to women in Pennsylvania, but our economy – and our commonwealth as a whole – will thrive when we give women opportunities to thrive.
Frances Wolf, of York County, is the First Lady of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. She writes from Harrisburg.