The Future of Work for Millennial Women
By Layla Zaidane, President and Chief Executive Officer, Millennial Action Project
Layla joined the Millennial Action Project team in 2016, previously serving as the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, where she advised on strategy across MAP’s teams and programs, and managed the organization’s staff and operations. A nationally recognized expert on youth engagement, Layla has been featured in outlets including Forbes, The Washington Post, New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, Refinery29, The Huffington Post, and McClatchy.
Visionary young legislators at the state level are spearheading bipartisan policies that support women and help them thrive.
The American economy is rapidly changing. Automation, the expansion of the gig economy, trade disruption, and the growth of the information economy have all put pressure on businesses and workers alike. What’s more, the emergence of COVID-19 has dramatically uncovered just how vulnerable many workers are. As policymakers grapple with how to respond to the pandemic, it’s clear that we also need long-term, fundamental policy changes to help communities adapt and thrive.
Millennial women disproportionately bear the brunt of challenges threatening America’s workforce, heightening their economic vulnerability. Women frequently bear the financial burden of child rearing—an issue exacerbated for single mothers who can face difficulties in securing comprehensive health care, adequate time off, and affordable child care. Women who are self-employed also face difficulties in accessing essential benefits.
Yet these problems can be solved. Through our work with young legislators across the country, Millennial Action Project has identified proven bipartisan approaches at the state level that can serve as a model for federal action. In fact, Congress can learn from successful state policies that enhance labor market data, improve pathways for education and training, and bolster the relationship between employers and workers.
First, Congress can support local labor market tracking capabilities, which can more accurately visualize labor data trends. Improved data means employers can better understand local labor markets, and students and workers can see what skills are in demand. What’s more, data allows state lawmakers to better anticipate the needs of working women. Virginia’s Longitudinal Data System successfully developed this model at the state level, and legislators can now visualize the role of education and workforce training as catalysts for women’s economic prosperity in their communities.
Next, Congress must close the skills gap by improving access to higher education, including career and technical education. Policymakers have spearheaded initiatives at the state level, including investments in apprenticeship programs, which offer the advantage of paying trainees for their work and providing on-the-job experience. States such as South Carolina and Massachusetts have leveraged tax credits to encourage employers to offer apprenticeship models, and through participation in these programs, women can develop their skill sets.
Finally, Congress must modernize worker benefits and protections. Self-employed or part-time female millennial workers make up the backbone of the gig economy. As a result, they often lack eligibility for benefits and savings programs, leaving many particularly vulnerable during economic downturns. Lawmakers in Washington recently passed measures updating paid leave, joining several other states. Washington’s program is a portable, state-wide insurance program funded by employers and employees with a robust anti-fraud provision to prevent abuse. This would allow the next generation of workers to enjoy the perks of traditional employment and maintain a higher standard of living while pursuing non-traditional opportunities.
California lawmakers have similarly developed policy solutions for the benefit of working families, specifically female earners, implementing a law that mandates paid family leave and paid sick days. And legislators in Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have instituted pay-related provisions in their employment discrimination laws. Wisconsin and Louisiana specifically prohibit sex-based wage discrimination.
The future of work for women depends on the ability of lawmakers to come together around these important policy solutions. As key members of the workforce, women must be at the center of any plan to ensure economic stability for all. Congress has an opportunity — and a responsibility — to learn from the innovative legislation led by young legislators in the states, and put forward a comprehensive agenda that supports the next generation of women and strengthens the economy.