Reproductive freedom coincides with economic freedom: women’s right to control their reproductive futures safekeeps their financial ones.
Access to reproductive health care has long coincided with advancements in economic rights for women*. For example, the birth control pill is responsible for roughly a third of women’s wage gains since the 1960s. Contraception gave women the opportunity to control their reproductive future and choose whether and when to have children, allowing them to further invest in their human capital and their careers. The pill proved to be pivotal for young women between the ages of 18 and 21, who were pursuing higher education and college. With contraception, women did not have to choose between investing in a family or investing in their education and a career.
Reproductive health care also includes abortion services. Abortion access is essential for women’s economic and financial security. According to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), abortion access has reduced teen pregnancy rates, particularly among Black women who had less access to contraception–allowing them greater opportunity to pursue an education. Abortion access has also led to increased women’s participation in the workforce. Having fewer children increases women’s ability to participate in the labor market, and delayed childbearing allows for women to pursue more education and job training, ultimately leading to higher-paying jobs and greater economic security.
The ability to choose if and when to have children is linked to women’s educational attainment, economic success and general health and well-being. Access to reproductive health care including safe and legal abortion promotes better maternal and fetal health outcomes.
When women choose to have children, raising a family in today’s economy can be unaffordable, particularly for women. According to the Brookings Institute, mothers face a “motherhood wage penalty” which entails lower wages than women who do not have children. This is largely due to the fact the United States only offers 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Childcare is also inaccessible for the majority of Americans, with the average cost being $11,000 a year.
The United States also faces a gender wage gap. Women on average make 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. Black women make 62 cents and Hispanic/Latina women make 54 cents for every dollar earned by men, respectively. Over a span of a 40 year career, women lose out on $400,000 due to the gender wage gap. This effect is greater on Black women, Hispanic women and Native American women who have less take home pay and a harder time building long-term wealth.
Despite economic advancements enabled by increased control of their reproduction, the majority of minimum wage workers are women. The current federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 per hour, and for tipped workers, the subminimum wage stands at $2.13. Women of color disproportionately make up these low-wage jobs, particularly in childcare and cashiering and women overall make up 2/3rds of all tipped workers. The minimum wage has not increased since 2009 and has failed to keep up with inflation. In fact, with the cost of living increasing at an alarming rate, those working minimum wage jobs have less money than they did more than a decade ago to support their families. For example, rent prices have increased 8.86% per year since 1980. As of 2021, the average minimum wage worker cannot afford housing anywhere in the U.S. Health care coverage is nearly impossible for low-income families to afford as insurance premiums have increased 22% in the past 5 years. The minimum wage is not liveable and families must choose between housing, health insurance or putting food on the table.
Although some states are taking it upon themselves to boost wages, such as Maine and Massachusetts where the current minimum wage stands at $12.75 and $14.25 per hour, respectively, the state of New Hampshire still follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
If Congress were to pass the Raise the Wage Act, the minimum wage would gradually increase to $15 per hour by 2025. 19 million women would benefit and 1 in 4 working women would see an increase in wages including mothers who are the primary or sole breadwinner. Under the Raise the Wage Act, the $2.13 subminimum wage for tipped workers would be phased out and be equal to $15 per hour. Raising the minimum wage is key to lifting women and their families out of poverty, however, $15 per hour is the floor not the ceiling.
Women who work minimum wage jobs have the hardest time accessing family planning services. This is due to the fact they are likely to be uninsured or because their insurance doesn’t cover the service they need. The Hyde Amendment, for example, bars low-income women who rely on Medicaid, as well as military and PeaceCorps members, from using federally funded insurance for abortion coverage. The average cost of an IUD, one of the most effective forms of birth control, is about one month’s worth of a full-time minimum wage job.
Raising the minimum wage would fuel economic growth, reduce poverty, and address longstanding gender and racial inequities. Women would be able to better plan not only for their financial futures, but better plan for their families.
*the majority of research pertaining to minimum wage and gender centers around cis-gender women. We recognize that people who do not identify as women experience similar hardships in terms of economic and reproductive freedom. Raising the minimum wage would be beneficial to all people.