AUGUSTA — With the theme of turning ideas into action, the Maine Women’s Policy Center hosted its second Maine Women’s Summit on Economic Security on Friday at the Augusta Civic Center.

Caroline Fredrickson, an author and president of the American Constitution Society, delivered the keynote address to a crowd of 200-plus attendees representing 25 organizations. Fredrickson, author of “Under the Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over,” used her 45-minute speech to touch on a number of subjects, including wage inequality in the workplace, gender bias, policy gaps and how the burgeoning sharing economy mirrors the longtime struggle of low-wage female workers.

“Something that affects low-income women and women of color is that we have designed a set of workplace benefits that depends on the categorization of a worker as an employee,” Fredrickson said. “This has become newsworthy lately because of the so-called sharing economy.”

The sharing economy refers to new types of businesses – Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are examples – in which people provide services such as transportation or overnight accommodations and are paid by online companies that help them make connections to customers. Lawsuits against the companies are pending as the courts work to help clarify the difference between employees and independent contractors.

“For low-wage women, this is an old, old story of being denied the benefits workers are entitled to,” Fredrickson said.

Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Policy Center, said the daylong conference was designed to educate the public and highlight the struggle against poverty many women face in Maine and elsewhere in the United States. She cited Census data from September showing that one in seven women lives in poverty in the U.S., while in Maine, 58 percent of women who are single heads of household and have a child under 5 are living in poverty.

“This is not just an effect on them but on society as a whole, because it affects their health, the brain development of their children and the long-term ripple effects,” Townsend said. “Science now tells us poverty has a lifelong impact on your brain and physical health.”

For Sarah Joy Chaples, workforce development specialist for the Augusta-based New Ventures, an organization dedicated to helping Maine residents succeed in business, careers and the community, the summit provided an opportunity to learn.

“It’s important information to pass along to our clients, and in turn they can pass it on to communities,” Chaples said.

South China resident Sally Brotherton, who describes herself as an activist, said she attended to lend a voice in hope of creating a better future for her daughters and granddaughters.

“All of the activism I’ve done hasn’t seemed to change much,” Brotherton said. “In some ways I’m cynical, but I do have hope.”

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