Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Apr 12 2016

On Equal Pay Day, Heitkamp Discusses How Paid Leave Policy Would Help Close Pay Gap

Senator’s FAMILY Act Would Support Working Families as 74 Percent of ND Children Live in Households where Both Parents Work, yet ND has Fifth Highest Pay Wage Gap & Almost Half of Private Sectors Workers Can’t Get Paid Sick Day

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Speaking at a forum for Equal Pay Day, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today discussed how creating a federal paid leave policy, as she is pushing to do, would help close the wage gap between men and women while supporting working North Dakota families. North Dakota currently has the nation’s fifth highest pay gap.

Heitkamp and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) participated in a panel discussion hosted by Third Way, a bipartisan think tank, entitled “Getting Her Money’s Worth: What Will It Take to Achieve Equal Pay?” Heitkamp reinforced the importance of commonsense policies like creating federal paid family leave and closing the nation’s gender pay gap that would support working families – particularly for families in North Dakota, where women make 71 percent of what men earn even though they are the leading or sole breadwinners in 40 percent of households nationwide. Highlighting the fact that almost half of North Dakota’s private-sector workforce cannot earn a single paid sick day – and that only about a third are eligible for or can afford paid leave – Heitkamp and Gillibrand emphasized the urgent need to implement their paid leave bill, which would help make sure working families have the flexibility they need to care for to care for a newborn, a sick child, or an elderly parent without risking their jobs – a risk many cannot afford to take.

“North Dakota’s working moms and dads don’t need to be told about the challenges of paid leave or fair pay. They’re living it every day as three-quarters of North Dakota children live in households where both parents work to get by, yet half of our state’s private sector workers can’t earn a single paid sick day,” said Heitkamp. “Equal Pay Day is a reminder that the closing wage gap and passing policies like the FAMILY Act to provide paid leave are family issues – and they should be treated that way. But without action, the wage gap and the burden on working families will remain. Growing up in North Dakota, I’ve always been proud of our family friendly communities and our entrepreneurial spirit – but in a world where families depend on two incomes, and where women are often the breadwinners – we need to take a hard look at how we’re keeping our state working family friendly.”

Just two weeks ago, Heitkamp and Gillibrand visited North Dakota, where they spoke with working families, small business owners, and local leaders in Fargo and Jamestown, about the challenges many North Dakotans face when small businesses lack paid leave policies. Across the country, businesses spend an average of one-fifth of an employee’s salary on replacing workers, and over a lifetime, men and women will lose a respective $284,000 and $324,000 because of the lack of paid leave policies in their workplaces. In North Dakota alone, 62,100 serve as caregivers to ailing or elderly family members, and 74 percent of children live in households where both parents work.

Heitkamp and Gillibrand underscored this apparent need in discussing the urgency of implementing their Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which – by providing working families with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take leave for their own serious health condition, including pregnancy and childbirth recovery, the serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse, and the birth or adoption of a child – would prevent North Dakotans from choosing between their families and their jobs.

The FAMILY Act would go a long way to addressing the wage gap in our country by making sure women have the flexibility they need to take time off after the birth of a baby or to care for a sick parent or kid and still return to the job they left. It enables women to maintain their seniority, their benefits, and their standing at their jobs so they won’t have to start over from scratch at a new employer. 

Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. The other countries that do not offer it are Swaziland, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea.

Heitkamp has long called on Congress to pass legislation to make sure women in North Dakota and across the country receive equal pay for equal work, voting for the Paycheck Fairness Act in September 2014, and taking to the Senate floor on multiple occasions to fight for fair wages.

Some of the statistics about the pay gap for women in North Dakota and across the country include:

  • In North Dakota, women with full-time, year-round jobs are paid an median wage of $36,087 annually, compared to $50,624 for men.

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Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov