Minnesota women endure a persistent pay gap and ongoing barriers to economic security that haven't been addressed, according to a sweeping set of conclusions released Tuesday by a task force convened by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
The Advisory Task Force on Expanding the Economic Security of Women outlined what his office billed as the state's first comprehensive study of how to achieve equal participation in the economy for women. The group set out to find ways to strengthen legislation passed in 2014 while championing multiple bills pending at the state Capitol this year.
"There's something in it for all of us to fix these problems, because when women have full access to economic opportunity and face no more barriers in reaching their full economic potential, everyone in Minnesota does better," Ellison said Tuesday. "Women's economic security is everyone's economic security. The report and recommendations are just the end of the beginning of turning this ideal into reality."
Of the 115 recommendations in the 62-page report, 20 aim to bolster the 2014 Women's Economic Security Act. Changes urged by the task force include expanding the law to apply to employers of all sizes and letting employees access pregnancy and parental leave accommodations regardless of how long they've been on the job.
The task force also supports paid family and medical leave and earned sick and safe leave — policy proposals that are supported by Gov. Tim Walz and DFL legislators but lack broad support from Republicans in the divided Minnesota Legislature.
Tuesday's report is the product of nearly a dozen meetings held by the task force throughout last year. Ellison identified women's economic security as a priority of the latter half of his first term. The group pulled together 15 voting members and seven ex-officio members.
Ellison debuted the report on International Women's Day, doing so shortly after a group of legislators and activists finished delivering petitions to the Minnesota Senate Building urging a referendum on adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution this fall.
"I've always been so proud of our state and our capacity to be a leader on many important issues," said Cheryl Reeve, head coach and general manager of the Minnesota Lynx WNBA team. "It would make me proud once again for Minnesota to join the 26 other states who have added an equal rights amendment to their state constitutions. It is long past time to guarantee equal rights for all in the Minnesota State Constitution."
The DFL-controlled Minnesota House is expected to hold a floor vote on Equal Rights Amendment legislation next week. But the Republican-led Senate has not held a committee hearing on the proposals.
Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment at both the state and federal levels is further supported by Ellison's task force as a tool to offer protection from gender discrimination. The group's report set out 95 recommendations for longer term solutions, including government subsidized child care, social security credit for time spent caregiving, making sure that reproductive health services are covered by insurance and codifying the right to an abortion — already protected under the Minnesota Constitution — into law.
The task force was co-chaired by Ellison's chief of staff Donna Cassutt and Erin Maye Quade, advocacy director at Gender Justice and a DFL Senate candidate.
"With the persistent wage gap, lack of paid leave, dropping workforce participation, and attacks on reproductive health, rights and justice, there has never been a more urgent time for a framework to support women's economic security in Minnesota," Maye Quade said.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan meanwhile appeared during a virtual introductory news conference to make the case that supporting women's economic security is an investment in the state's economic security more broadly.
The task force concluded its report by citing multiple areas that need closer scrutiny. It said that it ran out of time to review gender-based pricing in consumer goods and services, and it found that housing issues were complex enough to merit a separate task force study. It also concluded that the composition of the task force itself "did not reflect an ideal degree of racial, economic, and regional diversity."
Such diversity will "be actively sought in listening sessions" statewide after the report.
"Indeed, the tremendous breadth of this report illustrates that all issues are women's issues; those highlighted within this report are only some of the areas where women are experiencing a disproportionately negative impact," the report reads. "Minnesota offers a high quality of living for many of its residents, yet there are ample opportunities to turn it into the most prosperous and economically secure state for women."