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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: 5 Principles to Modernize the American Workplace and Revive the Middle Class

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaking at the Social Mobility Summit at Brookings, January 13, 2014. (Paul Morigi photo)

In her keynote address at today's inaugural Social Mobility Summit, sponsored by the Center on Children and Families, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) laid out five principles, an "American Opportunity Agenda," designed "to modernize the American workplace":

1. Expand paid family medical leave;

2. Raise the minimum wage to $10.10/hour;

3. Affordable child care;

4. Universal pre-K; and

5. Equal pay for equal work.

Sen. Gillibrand observed that the greatest potential for reviving the middle class in America is recognizing that today's workforce policies are "fundamentally stuck in the past." Although the American Dream hasn't changed, Sen. Gillibrand said, "the rules of earning the American Dream have changed. The skills and tools that all but guaranteed our parents and our grandparents a place in the middle class won't cut it today. The world has changed, and our economy has changed."

What's changed the most, Sen. Gillibrand, said, is the central role of women in the American workforce:

Most importantly, the American family, and the face of the American workforce, has changed significantly. And that's where I see the greatest potential for reviving a middle class. An opportunity for all those who are fighting to make it there. The new faces of our workforce over the last four decades are women. In fact, women are increasingly the new family breadwinner. Women are the primary wage earners for a growing share of homes across America. In 1960, only 11 percent of families had the ... mother being relied on for her wages to provide for the kids. Today, that's 40 percent ... of wage earners in America are mothers.

"The key to creating a growing economy," she said, "and the key to an American middle class that is built to thrive in the 21st century is women. Without a doubt, if given a fair shot, women will be the ones who will ignite this economy and lead America to a revival of the middle class."

At the end of the day, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R) delivered a second keynote address at the summit, in which he emphasized the centrality of trust and helping the poor reconnect to their communities.

Follow the conversation at #mobilitysummit.

Read the new brief, 5 Strong Starts for Boosting Social Mobility and the paper, A No-Cost Proposal to Reduce Poverty & Inequality.

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