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As a candidate for the U.S. Senate, I spend a lot of time on the road, crisscrossing Pennsylvania and meeting with working people in every corner of the commonwealth. And as I try to balance the demands of the campaign with my most important job, being the mom of three teenage girls, I often think of my own mother, who spent her days raising my nine siblings and me before going off to work at night as a restaurant hostess. She was a full partner to my dad, a policeman – showing the strength and dedication that enabled us to pursue our dreams. God rest her, my mom inspires me to work every day to break down barriers for women in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Everywhere I go in Pennsylvania, I meet hardworking women cut from the same cloth as my dear mom, but too often, the women I speak with say the same thing: that our economy isn’t working for the middle class, and that in many cases, it’s particularly hard on working women.

Now, the women I speak with aren’t looking for a handout. They’re working full-time, often more than one job, with unpredictable hours and little recourse if they get sick or need to take time off to care for a loved one.

I remember meeting a woman last spring who told me she works two jobs to support her family since her husband was laid off. She goes to work every day as a certified nursing assistant and holds another job at night, tutoring her children over rushed phone calls on breaks. I told her she should be proud of what she does — I know I would be — but tears formed in her eyes, because despite the backbreaking, heartbreaking work and long hours she puts in every week, she still depends on public assistance to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, her story is far from unique. Today, more than ever, women serve as primary breadwinners and heads of their household, yet they still represent nearly three quarters of minimum wage earners here in Pennsylvania and earn on average just 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man doing a comparable job. That disparity grows for African American women, who earn just 68 cents on the dollar, and Latinas, who take home just 56 cents on the dollar. This isn’t only a question of justice for working women, it’s a fundamental economic problem for all of us. Moms and women who serve as primary caregivers have immense spending power as it is; in 2012, if women were paid equally to men, it would have added $448 billion to our economy in that year alone.

I believe we can take this difficult situation on with a few smart, straightforward policies to make sure that working women and their families get a fair shake. In the Senate, I will fight to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to end gender discrimination in pay and protect women’s right to advocate for themselves in the workplace. I will work to ensure that all workers — men and women — have access to paid sick days and family and medical leave, so that no one has to choose between caring for a loved one and holding onto their job.

I will also work to level the playing field for working women by proudly joining with Sen. Bob Casey to pass the Child CARE Act, which would drive down the cost of childcare, a necessary expense that currently costs more than rent for many working families, and by supporting the Women’s Small Business Ownership Act. As it stands, women are leading the nation in small business creation, but still lack access to the resources needed to succeed in their ventures.

Finally, I will always stand with women when it comes to protecting and expanding access to high-quality, affordable healthcare. In the Senate, I will stand firm against legislation that would make it harder for women and families to get the care they need.

The challenges women face today are more than just “women’s issues.” They’re family issues and middle class issues that lie at the core of what makes this country great: the idea that if you work hard you should be able to get by and get ahead, no matter who you are, where you come from, or what you look like.

That promise was the reason that my mom went to work every night. For her, for my daughters, and for all the hardworking women I’ve met in this race who are still struggling to get by, I will do everything I can to make sure all Pennsylvania women get the fair shot they deserve.

— Katie McGinty is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.

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