(WOMENSENEWS) –As the Democratic Party candidates move towards the penultimate primaries on June 7 in California, New Jersey and four other states, the race is turning increasingly into a battle for underdog Sen. Bernie Sanders over such issues as how the National Democratic Party treats debates and primaries in the future.
But for the voters who will choose 800 delegates on June 7, it’s also a last chance to express how they feel about the differences in policy between the frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Sanders.
Here’s a rundown on three domestic issues of particular concern to women.
Although women are less than half of the U.S. paid labor force, nearly 60 percent of the 3 million Americans whose wages are at or below the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour are women, according to U.S. government statistics.
The minimum wage has not been raised since 2007, which has taken a heavy toll on women living in the southern states, women of color and single mothers who dominate the labor force of low-wage industries like fast food restaurants, retail sales and home health care.
After winning the Indiana primary May 3, Sanders sent a tweet claiming his proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour would reduce spending on food stamps, public housing and other governmental programs by over $7.6 billion.
Although some economists claimed that the savings would be far lower, no one was surprised by the tweet. Sanders has championed raising the federal minimum wage throughout his political career. He has sponsored legislation ranging from the Livable Wage Act of 1993, the first bill of its type, to a 2013 bill that would have raised the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, to a budget amendment in July 2015 that would have increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Throughout the primaries, Sanders denounced the minimum wage of $7.25 as “a starvation wage.” In his stump speech he said, “the people who serve our food and clean our offices should not be faced with working two or three jobs to pay their bills.”
Initially, Clinton favored a more modest increase, telling students at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, before the first caucus that she was “more comfortable saying let’s get to $12 in a reasonable expeditious way with no unintended consequences to job creation.”
However, during the hotly-contested New York primary in April, Clinton endorsed the $15 minimum wage with a caveat: communities where the cost of living was lower than the national average would be exempt, but could pay $15 an hour if they chose. This exemption would make her proposal more acceptable to the restaurant lobby and other groups that claim they can’t afford to pay higher wages.
Clinton has highlighted gun control measures during the 48 primaries and caucuses through May 7. While campaigning before the May 3 primary in Connecticut, she vowed that gun control would be at the top of her agenda as president.
“We need a national movement to demand action by Congress and the states,” she said a rally at a YMCA in Hartford. “The gun lobby is the most powerful lobby in Washington. They have figured out how to really intimidate elected officials at all levels who basically stop thinking about this problem because they are too scared of the NRA (National Rifle Association.)
Clinton vowed to sign legislation that would increase the number of gun sales subject to background checks by closing the loophole that allows a gun sale to proceed without a complete background check if the check has not been completed within three days.
She would also tighten the gun show and internet sales loophole by requiring sellers on these sites to abide by the same rules that apply to gun stores. Although federal law generally prohibits domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing guns, this protection does not apply to people in dating relationships or convicted stalkers, so Clinton would also close this loophole.
During the Democratic candidates’ debates, Clinton denounced Sanders for his 1993 vote against the Brady Act, which mandated federal background gun purchases, as well as his 2007 vote for a bill that allowed firearms in checked bags on Amtrak trains.
Sanders fought back by pointing out that in 2013, he voted for expanded background checks for gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons, which were bills the Senate had rejected. In addition to touting his D-minus rating from the National Rifle Association, Sanders said that he believes that gun control should be a state responsibility because rural states like Vermont may have permissive laws but few gun deaths.
The two also sparred over the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a 2005 law passed by the Republican-dominated Congress, which protects gun manufacturers, distributors, dealers and importers from liability when their guns are used.
As the junior senator from New York, Clinton voted no while Sanders supported the measure.
“There are parts of the bill that made sense to me,” Sanders told NBC news in Oct. 2015. “If you have a small gun shop owner in northern Vermont who sells a gun legally to somebody and then something happens to that guy who goes nuts and kills someone, should that gun shop owner be held liable? I think not.”
Now, however, Sanders has joined Clinton in calling for repeal of the law, which would enable victims of mass shootings like that of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut to sue the manufacturers and dealers of the weapons.
Although 88 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans favored expanded background checks in a July 2015 poll by the Pew Research Institute, there are major partisan, gender and regional differences about whether it was more important to control gun ownership or protect gun rights. Nearly three-fourths of Democrats favored controlling gun ownership; 71 percent of Republicans backed gun rights, the Washington-based think tank found.
The majority of women supported gun control measures compared to less than half of men. More than 70 percent of African Americans and Hispanics favored restrictions. Sixty percent of urban voters favored restrictions compared with only 35 percent of rural voters.
Clinton has proposed spending $350 billion over 10 years to reduce the $1.2 trillion college loan debt. The program would be financed through tax adjustments on the wealthy.
In addition to giving grants to states that will work with their public colleges to enable students to attend at a minimum cost and no debt, tuition at community colleges would be free. Clinton estimates that these changes would help 25 million borrowers save an average of $2,000. To make it easier for graduates to repay their loans, monthly payments would be capped at no more than 10 percent of discretionary income.
Sanders’ plan is more ambitious because he says it’s wrong for the federal government to make an estimated $110 billion profit on student loans over the next decade. To solve the problem, he proposes reviving the tradition of free tuition at publically supported college and universities. Sanders’ website states that the University of California system offered free tuition until the 1980s. In 1965, tuition at the typical four-year college was a $243 a year.
In addition to allowing Americans to refinance student loans at the current interest rate of 2.5 percent, students would be permitted to use federal, state and college funds to cover room, board and books and living expenses. To enable students to acquire work experience, appropriations for the federal work study program would be tripled.
To finance the $75 billion a year program, a Robin Hood tax of .5 percent tax would be imposed on Wall Street speculation. Great Britain, France, Germany and other counties now tax such speculation.
The share of young women enrolled in college after high school was 71 percent in 2012, up from 63 percent in 1994, found a 2014 report by the Pew Research Institute. The bad news was that 68 percent of women left college with debts compared to 63 percent of men that year, noted a 2014 report by the American Association of University Women, a Washington-based grassroots organization that works to improve the lives of women and their families.
The group found that student loan debt takes a higher toll on women than on men due to the gender pay gap. In 2012, 53 percent of women compared with 39 percent of men were contributing more money to their student debts than the typical individual can reasonably afford. As a result, women have less money for basic living expenses, like food and rent, and can’t save to buy a home or retire.