By U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.)
We honor the contributions of women in our society throughout March during Womens History Month. Started in 1978 as a weeklong celebration coinciding with International Womens Day, it has grown over the last 30 years to spotlight the great accomplishments of women past and present, as well as the growing opportunities for young girls.
Marylands history is rich with pioneering, bold women who have made our state and our nation a better place. We are proud of daughters including Harriett Ross Tubman, Rachel Carson, Barbara Fritchie, Clara Barton, Gladys Noon Spellman, and Barbara Mikulski, among many others.
Congress has a responsibility to the women in our lives to provide real opportunities to all women who strive to break the glass ceilings that have impeded their progress over the years.
Women make up the majority of the U.S. population, the majority of voters and the majority of college students, according to the Census Bureau. They oversee 83 percent of direct consumer spending, own half of all public stock, make up more than 50 percent of the talent pool and outlive men by an average of six years.
However, the financial playing field for women is not level. Poverty disproportionately affects women. Nearly 13 million women live in households with incomes below the Federal poverty level. Women earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man when job, age, education and region are the same. African American women earn just 64 cents and Hispanic women earn just 52 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.
Nationwide, nearly one in five women ages 18-64 remain uninsured. And the disparities between White women and minority women who have health insurance are disturbing: 37.8% of Hispanic women, 35.9% of American Indian/Alaska Native women, and 22.7% of Black women do not have health coverage, compared to 16.9% of White women.
I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to find bipartisan solutions that provide women with the income they need and deserve. Among other legislative efforts I am working on to address these issues, last July I introduced the Universal Health Coverage Act, S. 1899. This legislation would make available quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans. Mothers would no longer need to choose between preventative care for themselves and their children or heating their home through a cold winter. I also am working within the Senate on measures to find a long-term fix for the current mortgage crisis and credit crunch, which would help expand the buying power of women and lift the entire economy. According to the National Womens Law Center, if women earned the same as men when hours, education, age, union membership and region were the same annual family incomes would increase about $4,000 and the poverty rate would be cut in half.
Successful women create successful and stable families that improve our economy and our communities. Women will be a driving force in reversing our nations economic slowdown but we need to provide effective tools to make that happen. This month and year-round we all need to remember the struggles and achievements of the great women in our lives and dedicate ourselves to providing real opportunities to every woman and young girl because they will shape our nations future.