Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The wage gap hurts mothers & babies

Blog for Fair Pay 2010I wasn't sure what to write for Blog for Fair Pay Day, until the comment Geeks in Rome made on my carnivals post inspired me.

We still have a lot to do with getting more women in management. It will be nice for pay to be equal per position, but it would be nice to see more women in high-paying positions of power... That is how those jobs will be made more family-friendly, too. I'm sure men don't like working 70 hours a week either. (Geeks in Rome)

That's my catalyst today for caring deeply about Equal Pay Day. But, first, the facts, ma'ams:

  • April 20 is Equal Pay Day — the point in 2010 when the average U.S. woman's wages finally catch up to her male counterpart’s salary in 2009.
  • There is a $10,622 gap between the median yearly earnings of men and women, which is why this year's theme is what you would do with that extra money per year.
  • American women still make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
  • The gap for women of color is even higher. African-American women earn 61¢ & Latinas earn 52¢ for every $1 paid to white, non-Hispanic men. In 2008, 22% of Hispanic women, 9% of white women, and 23% of African-American women lived in poverty.
  • The more education a woman gets, the bigger the gender pay gap is. In 2008 the median weekly wages earned by female physicians were 64% of the median weekly wages of male physicians. By 2004 a typical woman who graduated college in 1984 had lost more than $440,000 due to the wage gap.
  • In 2008, U.S. women were 35% more likely to live in poverty than men.
  • Women account for nearly 1/2 of all workers, and in 2008 nearly 40% of mothers were the primary breadwinners for their families.
  • Unmarried women will receive an average of $8,000 less per year in retirement income than their male counterparts.
  • If women earned as much as men, their annual family income would rise by about $4,000 and their poverty rates would be cut in half.
  • If you're an American woman, urge your senators to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and help close some of the legal loopholes keeping women underpaid by protecting workers who disclose their wages from retaliation, and check out this interactive map showing which states have the biggest wage gaps — the results may surprise you!

You can read more of these facts being Tweeted throughout the day with the hashtag #fairpay.

But what Geeks in Rome said struck me, and it relates to the point up there that tells us 40% of American mothers are financially supporting their households.

I don't want "equal pay for equal work" to mean that women should enter the workforce and change themselves into men. I don't want women to think they have to work more hours, put off having children, get back to work as quickly as possible after giving birth, consider the time and effort costs of breastfeeding/pumping vs. formula, and accept jobs simply to receive some rudimentary form of health care coverage for themselves and their children.

What I want is for women (and like-minded men, too, for sure), within the workforce and entering the workforce, to transform the workforce. I want families to be valued beyond sentimental lip service. I want that wage gap to close so that women can afford decent maternity leave, and so men can also choose paternity leave. I want that extra $10,622 to go toward more time at home with a newborn to establish breastfeeding. I want companies to support breastfeeding in the workplace without making a huge deal about it as if they're being put upon. I want more job options where parents can bring young infants to work when necessary. I want health care that's affordable and reasonable for everyone and that doesn't penalize based on gender. (Mine, for instance, doesn't cover maternity care. Sexist and shocking.) I want working parents to be able to care for family members who are sick without recrimination or retribution. I want companies to understand that increasing family friendliness increases productivity and employee retention. I want more legitimate work-from-home business opportunities like Sam's and mine to allow parents flexibility in caring for their children.

I've long known that women are highly influential in bringing their families out of poverty. I've followed microloan success stories with interest — but that was in other countries, and this is here. Today's my day to wake up and see that here, in the United States, and now, in 2010, women are still the ones who have the power to pull their families with them out of poverty, if they're given the chance.

The equal-pay gap hurts families. It hurts children. It hurts young babies.

It's a feminist issue that makes me want to punch someone in the nose, but it's more than that — it's a humane issue. It's the way we keep families in poverty, and the way we can change that reality.

Women and their wages support their families, and the mothers I know could really put that extra $10,622 per year to good use.

How have you balanced parenting and working in your family? What would you do with an extra $10,622 a year?


Betsy B. Honest said...

Ach! the wage gap really gets me riled up. It's just despicable.

Taryn said...

I think that that you nailed the most salient issue on the head--The wage gap is a Humane Issue. This is an especially compelling assertion when we really consider how the gap affects children. The equal wage issue is not just about maintaining the pride of women (which sadly, many people flippantly assume), for many women, it is about providing for their families and helping to insure their overall well-being. I loved that you brought that point out.

Becky said...

This is my first time commenting on your blog. I found the article interesting-- even more so is the fact that I've learned about the same topic eight years ago as a freshman in college. It seems that not much has changed in the last decade. What can make a difference? The common minority is women, no matter which race, but what can make a difference for instance black and Hispanic women to close the gap? It still surprises me that white women earn less as well. And it's the same problem in Europe (I know in Germany it's a big problem!). It's sad, but I wonder if better outreach programs and education in the elementary through high school years would help. Is there a correlation between being a teenage mother and earning less (i.e. living below the poverty line)? I keep hearing about the problem, but I hear very few suggestion on how to close the gap!

And as a side note not related to the subject at hand: I'm about to resign from my job to stay home with my daughter full time. My current, part-time salary is now about $10,622 (what you wrote was the average gap between men & women's wages). When I first thought of resigning, I feel that my husband and I were being snobs "looking down" at this amount of money because it's not worth it to us. My view is that we only get to raise our daughter once and I can work anytime. Also, when I resign, my position can be filled with a full time worker who needs the money more than I do. Hopefully, this decision will work out for us!

Lauren Wayne said...

Here's an interesting (albeit somewhat old) article about teen pregnancy and its relation to child poverty:

I can definitely see that in unintended teen pregnancy, it would increase a mother's chance to leave school (maybe h.s. and probably college) and therefore decrease chances to earn a higher wage. Not being a single working mother myself, I can only imagine how challenging that must be — and if all you can earn is minimum wage, forget about paying for daycare.

I'm thinking that's a big aspect of it, too, and I forgot to put this in the article: wages need to be living wages. It's outrageous that some parents are working 3 jobs at a time to keep their family afloat. One job should be enough, but it just isn't when the wages are so low. The book Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, was really illuminating for me in showing by example how hard it is for anyone to get by on low-wage jobs. The author, who granted comes from a background of privilege and education, tries to live on minimum wage and can't. The 30 Days episode about minimum wage had a similar impact on me.

Becky: So glad to have you comment! Best wishes with your decision to stay home. I know it's a tough one. My mother often sighed that almost all her part-time wages went to childcare just so she could earn it. When I was doing contract work, my yearly take was about the same as yours and I felt very sheepish about it. Looking back, I do think a lot of my low income had to do with being a woman and not being seen as "worth" as much. (It was a very conservative nonprofit that I was doing the work for.)

Anonymous said...

I have balanced working outside of the home and inside the home, and so has my husband. I think we're both making efforts to share parenting as equally as possible, most of the time.

But I definitely perceive that I am treated differently than my husband. That most women are treated differently than men, in this regard. For example, I have been asked if I really HAD to work. I have been jokingly told that I was abandoning my colleagues when I got pregnant. I can't imagine anyone would say something similar to my husband.

Becky said...

On my last comment I wrote that I wanted to stay home and resign from my job. Due to some bankruptcy issues at my husband's job, I just rearranged my work schedule to work three days a week/16 hours a week. That's the minimum that I can work. It's better than being there every night and we get the security of a job in case my husband loses his. Thanks for your good wishes!

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