Half of Tennessee families depend on a female breadwinner. Yet, over 40% of female-headed families in the state live in poverty. Moreover, women in Tennessee are paid less than men on average and are twice as likely as men to hold a low wage job.
Our new policy brief–State of Our State: Women in the Workforce, released jointly with nonpartisan think tank ThinkTennessee–highlights the systemic barriers in Tennessee that prevent women, especially women of color and mothers, from achieving economic security. The brief concludes that pro-family policies that make it easier for women to join and stay in the workforce would boost economic growth and make the state a better place to live, work, and raise a family.
Tennessee ranks 43rd out of all states in the gender labor force participation gap, which means that women in the state are far less likely than men to be employed or actively looking for work. As the brief explains, this gap is in part due to a lack of pro-family policies that support working women, including paid family and medical leave, reasonable workplace pregnancy accommodations, and affordable child care.
Policies that support working women would not only benefit Tennessee families, but would spur major economic growth in the state as well. By taking steps to increase women’s participation in the workforce, Tennessee could add up to $34 billion to its GDP by 2025.
In order to achieve the goal of bringing more women into the workforce, the brief outlines four major policy proposals that would provide critical support and protections for working women and families in Tennessee.
- Tennessee should join the twenty-five states, including Kentucky and South Carolina, that guarantee pregnant workers a clear right to reasonable accommodations when necessary to remain healthy and safe on the job.
- Tennessee should extend paid family and medical leave to all workers in the state so that no one has to choose between earning a paycheck and caring for themselves or a loved one.
- Tennessee should guarantee pay equity for all women, especially women of color and mothers, so they can achieve economic security for themselves and their families.
- Tennessee should increase its investment in early education and child care programs from birth to age five to improve quality and expand access to these vital services.
Several of Tennessee’s peer states, including South Carolina, Kentucky, and Alabama, have recently passed key pieces of legislation outlined here, often with bipartisan support and backing from the business community. Tennessee must follow suit in order to compete as an attractive place to invest, work, and do business. This policy brief serves as a guide for policymakers and advocates to transform Tennessee into a regional leader in supporting working women and families.
To learn more about the full range of issues that impact women in the workforce, please visit our Resources page.