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Gillibrand touts agenda for working women

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., listens as Sen. Ted

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., listens as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to reporters during a news conference about a bill regarding military sexual assault cases on Capitol Hill in Washington. (July 16, 2013) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Friday laid out an ambitious agenda to update workplace policies to adapt to today's large number of working women.

In an address to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank here, the New York Democrat called for legislation expanding paid family leave, raising the minimum wage, providing for child care and preschool education, and ensuring women get equal pay for equal work.

"The face of the American workforce has changed significantly with the dramatic increased participation of women," Gillibrand said. "The key to a growing economy -- the key to a thriving American middle class in the 21st century -- is women."

The percentage of women in the workforce has grown from 29 percent in 1967 to 44 percent in 2009, and women's pay has risen from 61 percent of men's pay in 1967 to 77 percent in 2009, the Census Bureau said.

Gillibrand's agenda seeks to make work schedules flexible to allow women who take care of family needs, such as a child or elder parent's illness, to keep their jobs.

It also aims to raise pay for women, particularly low-wage workers and single women with children. But she said most items are gender-neutral and help women and men.

Gillibrand announced her proposals as Congress weighed whether to fund government operations beginning Oct. 1. She conceded her workplace measures face opposition by fiscal conservatives and Republicans in Congress.

"Critics will say with our debt and our deficit, this is just something we can't afford," she said about a bill to expand prekindergarten education. "But budgets are all about choices," Gillibrand said. "They're about priorities and they are about who we are as a nation."

The agenda is a mixture of new and pending bills.

Gillibrand will file new legislation next week to advance two of her proposals.

One bill would create trust funds to pay for family medical leave. The funds would be administered by the Social Security Administration, which would deduct 0.2 percent of an employee's pay from both the worker and employer. The trust fund would pay two-thirds of wages during a leave. The other bill would double the current child care tax credit up to $6,000 per child, and expand dependent care flexible spending accounts.

The agenda also includes other senators' bills: to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25, expand prekindergarten education and require employers to demonstrate that pay gaps between men and women doing the same work have a business justification.

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