Last week, Pew released a new study finding that 40% of U.S. mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner in their families, a new record. At first glance, this would appear to indicate significant progress for women in the workplace. After all, this number is up dramatically from 11% in 1960. But dig deeper into the numbers, and we see a more disturbing picture emerge. For example, according to Pew, 63% of the women who qualify as the sole or primary breadwinner in their families are single mothers whose median income is just $23,000, which is just over a quarter of what families with married breadwinner mothers earn.
These findings point to the growing need for the expansion of economic opportunity for women, because with more and more women serving as primary breadwinner, economic security for women means economic security for their families and would benefit the economy overall. That’s precisely why I’m such an advocate for policies such as equal pay for equal work, raising the minimum wage, paid sick leave, job protected family and medical leave, and universal pre-K, policies that will increase women’s economic security and expand their ability to pursue the opportunities that will enable them to fulfill their still largely untapped potential.
I was particularly pleased to see President Obama commit to a significant investment in early learning in his 2014 budget proposal unveiled in April. His proposal includes a federal-state partnership to fund pre-school for all 4 year-olds, as well as devoting significant resources to Early Head Start and child care programs that meet a high standard, which would expand early learning opportunities for children from birth through 3 years old.
The fact is, the first years of a child’s life are so important for their development. Kids who have a high-quality pre-K experience are more likely to do well in school and find better jobs, and less likely to commit crimes and utilize social service funding later in life. The Perry Preschool Project found the return on investment for kids who attend pre-K is around 7-10%, which is a better bet than the stock market.
And for those single parents barely getting by, no parents should be denied access to high-quality pre-kindergarten for their children because of the size of their paychecks. Universal Pre-K is an investment in our future, not only for our children, but for our families, including our single Moms struggling to make ends meet.Currently 51% of American 3 year olds are enrolled in pre-school and 69% of our 4 year olds are. We can and must do better and I’m so pleased the President is leading the way.
That’s why I’m proud to co-sponsor Senator Mazie Hirono’s Pre-K Act in the Senate. This bill would implement much of President Obama’s pre-K proposal and invest in our future by expanding access to early learning for all our children. This investment will offer families the opportunity to climb out of poverty and into the middle class and level the playing field for the children of our hardworking single Moms barely getting by. Because only when all of our families achieve their full economic potential can America achieve hers.