Independent Women’s Forum

April 11, 2016 • 11:00 a.m. EDT
Press Call Transcript

Release of Working for Women Agenda


Sabrina Schaeffer • Executive Director, Independent Women's Forum
Carrie Lukas • Managing Director, Independent Women's Forum


Sabrina Schaeffer • Executive Director, Independent Women's Forum

Good Morning.

I’m Sabrina Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Independent Women's Forum.

For those of you who aren’t already familiar with IWF, we are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. 

While women in America today have more opportunities than ever before, significant challenges and hardships remain. Today, millions of American women are jobless; their labor force participation rate is at its lowest level since 1988. Many women aren’t working because they can’t find jobs that pay enough or offer the hours and flexibility that they need. Moreover, everyday living expenses – the cost of goods, services, home, and energy – have steadily increased leaving families stretching their budgets further. 

That’s why this week the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) is releasing Working for Women: A Modern Agenda for Improving Women’s Lives. The report presents an agenda of policy reforms to improve the workplace, and help more women and their families thrive without growing government.

While we know from IWF’s own research that women want and need very different things in the workplace, too often progressives sell their policy proposals as solutions to “universal” challenges. IWF understands that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges women face; still we recognize that we can do more to help women succeed, without putting jobs at risk, dampening wages, or decreasing flexibility.

Here with us to discuss some of these specific proposals in more detail is IWF’s managing director and primary author of the report Carrie Lukas.

The full report and more information about our supporters will be available tonight at

For an embargoed copy of the report please email our communications staff at [email protected]

Carrie Lukas • Managing Director, Independent Women's Forum

Thanks Sabrina.

I’m going to provide an overview of the major policy recommendations within the report.

First, I’ll discuss those that fall under the umbrella of economic opportunity.  Improving women’s economic prospects requires that we have a growing, dynamic job market so that there are jobs available for everyone who wants one.  We need to eliminate barriers to entry for people starting businesses and entering professions, and reform taxes to make work pay more. 

To that end we recommend broad based tax reform that simplifies the tax code to reduce the compliance costs for businesses and individuals.  Eliminating deductions would also allow policymakers to reduce tax rates, which would make work more rewarding and therefore more attractive. 

Specifically, we call for tax changes to make work more attractive for secondary earners.  A woman who has been out of the workforce and is considering getting back in knows that the first dollar she earns will be taxed at her partners’ highest tax rate.  That discourages some from entering the labor market, which ultimately makes these women more financially vulnerable in the event of divorce or the death of the spouse.  We call for lawmakers to adjust the tax brackets so that married couples are allowed twice the income before crossing into a higher tax bracket.  This would help eliminate the disincentive to marriage and reduce tax rates for many married women.   

We also want to make easier for people to enter the workforce and new industries.  We recommend expanding the subminimum wage to make it easier for the unemployed and those under age 25 to get a foot in the door and transition into the workplace. We urge states to evaluate existing licensing and fee practices that prevent people from entering professions and starting businesses on their own.  States should eliminate all barriers to entry that fail to advance legitimate public safety or quality concerns. 

In the arena of workplace flexibility we call for the reform of the antiquated, Depression-era Fair Labor Standards Act. Rather than going along with more stringent regulations proposed by this Department of Labor, lawmakers should roll back these unnecessary rules and classifications that hardly apply to our modern world. 

Specifically, policymakers should reject the current Department of Labor’s proposed changes to the “white collar” overtime exemption regulations, which would substantially expand the number of workers subject to overtime. As employees are reclassified to “overtime-eligible,” they lose flexibility, may find their work hours and thus earnings reduced, and lose opportunities for career advancement.  At a minimum, the Department of Labor should conduct a more in-depth economic analysis before they revise the regulations to ensure that women are not negatively affected by the regulations.

We also encourage lawmakers to give public sector employees more flexibility.  Instead of additional cash overtime pay, workers should have the option of taking compensatory time off – 1.5 hours of paid time off for every hour of overtime worked.  Lawmakers should also create alternatives to the 40 hour work week and create additional scheduling flexibility by allowing workers to instead opt for a two-week, 14 days and 80 hour, window.  Laws, regulations, and policies designed to undermine independent contracting or just-in-time scheduling practice should be rejected.

In terms of family leave benefits, rather than creating one size fits all compensation systems and rules for what benefits everyone must accept, we want to make it easier for people to save to provide for their own periods of leave. Americans are already encouraged to save pre-tax dollars for critical needs, such as health care costs and education. We urge policymakers to also create Personal Care Accounts, or PCAs so that people can save pre-tax dollars that could then be drawn upon to replace or supplement income during periods of leave that are eligible under the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

Employers should also be able to contribute to these accounts as a mechanism for providing paid leave benefits. Additionally, non-profits could be set up so that generous individuals and corporations can help fund PCAs for lower-income workers. 

We also want to expand savings for expenses related to childcare and early education. Currently, Americans are encouraged to save for their children’s college education through states’ tax-advantaged savings plans, called 529 accounts. Policymakers should seek to do more to encourage families to also save for early education and childcare by expanding 529s so that the funds in those accounts can be applied to early education expenses, tutoring, and costly school supplies like computers, as well as for college. 

We call for policymakers to consolidate existing child-centered tax credits and spending, and use those savings to provide added tax relief for parents, particularly to the parents of the youngest children.  This would accomplish numerous important policy goals by ending the current government bias against stay-at-home parents and simplifying the tax code.  Parents would be better positioned to afford whatever care arrangement they believe is preferable, whether that is paid childcare or keeping a parent at home.

Analysts have also found that day-care regulations, particularly related to child-to-staff ratios, are costly and fail to improve the quality of care received by the children. These regulations can even be counterproductive since they require day-care providers to focus on quantity of caregivers, rather than the quality of those professionals.  State policymakers should relax staff size regulations so that day-care centers can reallocate funds to other priorities, such as attracting and retaining more highly-skilled workers, and reducing prices for parents. 

We also want to make it easier for women to save for retirement. Women, on average, take more time out of the workforce to care for family members.  As a result, they tend to earn lower wages while working and often miss savings opportunities for multiple years.  Current law permits those over 50 to make larger contributions to savings vehicles in anticipation of retirement.  Policymakers should also allow catch-up contributions to IRA and 401(k) accounts for workers who miss the opportunity to save in one year (whether due to unemployment or time taken off to care for children or other family members).  This would move away from a system that penalizes caregivers and help people save more so they have their own safety net ready for retirement.

We recognize that Social Security faces significant financial challenges. Policymakers should make timely changes to make Social Security financially sound and sustainable, and ensure it accomplishes its most important goal of serving as a safety net for those who need it most. 

We recognize that equal pay for equal work has long been the law of the land.  Most employers and managers treat their workers fairly, and employees who feel they have been discriminated against can and do sue under current law.  However, policymakers can help eliminate current ambiguities in the Equal Pay Act to better protect workers and build a better understanding among businesses of their duties under the law.  Under current law, employers can justify pay differentials between men and women if they are attributable to “any factor other than sex.”  To clarify the limits of employers’ defense, the Equal Pay Act should be amended so that differences must be related to any “business-related factor other than sex.”   

Similarly, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was intended to help women continue working while pregnant.  However, ambiguities in the law fail to make clear the expectations for how employers must accommodate pregnant workers.  A simple change to the existing Pregnancy Discrimination Act can clarify that a pregnant worker must receive the same accommodations as other workers with similar abilities and limitations. 

These are our specific policy recommendations for improving women’s lives with policy reforms that encourage real workplace flexibility, job creation so that women have more and better employment options, and by returning resources and control to individuals so that they can make decisions that work for them.  More broadly, we want government to provide a targeted, strong safety net for those who need assistance, but to focus on creating an economic environment that is dynamic and gives people greater freedom and the ability to pursue their own vision of happiness.

As Sabrina mentioned… an embargoed copy of the report is available to press. Please email our communications team at [email protected]. The embargo is lifted tonight at midnight.

Thank you and we now welcome any questions.