Hillary Rodham Clinton joined some of the most powerful women in Congress on Thursday to push for advances on affordable child care, paid family leave and raising the minimum wage that could create greater economic progress for women.
Clinton, fresh off her campaign-style weekend visit to Iowa and her summer-long book tour, used Thursday's panel at the Center for American Progress to focus on issues that could form part of her domestic agenda should she run for president in 2016.
Clinton noted that women hold two-thirds of the minimum wage jobs across the country and three-quarters of the jobs that depend primarily on tips — meaning that many of them are working full time but hovering at or below the poverty line.
"We talk about a glass ceiling," said Clinton, who ended her 2008 campaign by proclaiming that she and her supporters had put 18 million cracks in it. "The floor is collapsing.
"These women don't even have a secure floor under them."
The former New York senator and secretary of State noted that she had just read a Bloomberg story listing eight things in a new poverty report that "will make women mad." Although there was a slight improvement in America's poverty rate, she said, "for women there's a lot less to cheer about."
"Gender inequality in the workforce remains a reality; we ticked up from 70 cents on the dollar for women, versus men in the work force, to 78 cents; and we know that women are more likely to be impoverished even if they are working," Clinton said.
She praised her colleagues on the panel — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut — for pursuing policy changes to give women "a fair shot." (Pelosi and Clinton engaged in some good-natured sparring over whether California or New York was more progressive on women's issues, with Pelosi touting the recent 10th anniversary of paid family leave in California).
The panel was led by the center's president, Neera Tanden, who introduced Clinton by noting that Clinton's "flexibility" as a boss when Tanden worked for her had allowed Tanden to balance a demanding job and raising young children. Clinton's former congressional colleagues all spoke with frustration throughout the panel about how Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage and expand paid family leave have stalled in Congress.
Joining the panel was Shawnta Jones of Maryland, who emphasized the importance of subsidized healthcare after she became a teen mother at 17, and Rhiannon Broschat, a 25-year-old Chicago retail worker who said she lost her job at Whole Foods after she had to leave work early to pick up her son on a day when his school closed in a weather emergency.
The most animated speaker was Gillibrand, who condemned opposition to expanding paid family leave across the country.
"We are the only country in the industrialized world that doesn't have paid leave," Gillibrand said, her voice rising in indignation. "Pakistan and Afghanistan, which don't even educate their girls, have more paid leave than America. That is outrageous."
Clinton noted that the economy has not fully recovered from the 2008 crash, though she praised her onetime rival President Obama for "getting us out of the ditch we were in."
Clinton, who has said she will announce her own plans next year, issued a call to arms to women in the looming 2014 midterm elections. "Political candidates and officeholders do pay attention when people vote on issues that are of concern to them," she said. "When we can turn an issue into a political movement that demands people be responsive during the election season, it carries over.
"These issue have to be in the lifeblood of this election and any election," she said. "The more we can do that — harnessing 6 million, or however many we can ... bus tours, storming the gates.… Whatever it's going to take."