By Kyung M. Song The Seattle Times.
They focused on some of today's most politically divisive issues, at least in Congress: fatter paychecks for lowest-paid workers, paid sick leaves, affordable child care, gender pay parity.
Five female liberal Democrats, among them Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Patty Murray, gathered Thursday in Washington, D.C., to talk about economic security for women -- a concern they believe animates many silent Americans and who they believe should have a bigger voice in electoral politics.
The round-table at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy think tank, had an air of a campaign stop for Clinton's undeclared presidential run, with half of the more than 100 seats occupied by journalists.
But the themes Clinton and others dwelled on were all pillars of the Democratic agenda.
Murray, for instance, said government investment in preschool education is a "no brainer" that remains unfulfilled because of Republican opposition.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called affordable child care a need on par with health care. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who first introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in 1997, said far too many working women still simply don't earn enough to live on.
Clinton said that two-thirds of minimum-wage jobs and three-fourths of tipped jobs are held by women. Some 50 percent of female workers, Clinton said, are their families' primary source of wages.
Without economic security for women, "their children suffer, their communities suffer and their countries suffer," she said. "If voters, citizens speak up for themselves and families, we'll see the change we're looking for."
Yet President Obama and his party have not been able to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, even as cities around the nation have managed to pass even higher increases.
The U.S. Census Bureau this week released data showing full-time, year-round female workers still earn 78 cents for each dollar male workers make, meaning women need to work more than 51 hours to equal what men earn in 40 hours.
The census report came a day after Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act for the second time this year.
The legislation would protect workers who divulge their salaries and allow them to sue for punitive damages for wage discrimination.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said, "The No. 1 thing we can do to help the economy grow is tap into the full potential of women in the workforce."
Democrats have highlighted the partisan differences as part of their electoral strategy. Women historically have supported Democratic candidates by wider margins than have men, though President George W. Bush twice won office while losing a majority of women's votes.
Murray said she knows women care passionately about economic equality. Yet at a time when so many Americans are deeply cynical about the federal government, Murray said she fears women may be asking themselves, "Why should I bother?"