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Opinion | Gina M. Raimondo, Mary Kay Henry: Women are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis. They have to lead our recovery plans.

Opinion | Gina M. Raimondo, Mary Kay Henry: Women are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis. They have to lead our recovery plans.

Even before the pandemic exposed deep disparities in our economy and society, the gender wage gap persisted at every level of income and education. In 2019, two-thirds of minimum-wage workers were women. Women carry two-thirds of all student debt in the United States. Black women graduate with significantly more debt than White men and take longer to pay it off, as they earn just 62 cents for every dollar earned by White men. In 2019, nearly a quarter of female-headed households lived in poverty; for households headed by Black or Latina women, the rates were closer to 30 percent.

Only if our recovery is inclusive can we emerge from this crisis stronger.

Inclusivity requires state leadership as well as a comprehensive national strategy to ensure women’s economic security, health and safety. Front-line workers in the pandemic have struggled to keep patients safe amid inadequate staffing and insufficient protective gear such as masks and gloves. Our nation needs policies that guarantee personal protective equipment for essential workers and safety standards that protect those on the front line and the public.

Nationwide, wages must be raised, the right to form a union must be secured, and access to basic benefits such as paid sick leave and affordable health care must be guaranteed and protected. That means breaking down the barriers that care providers confront when they try to organize unions. Workers in male-dominated professions such as manufacturing and construction were able to catapult themselves into the middle class by forming unions. Having that same right is key for women to raise their wages.

By working together in Rhode Island, we made sure that child-care workers could choose to join a union quickly and easily — something child-care workers in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have done in several states to win

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