A Mother’s Day Gift: Equal and Better Pay for Women
On May 10, people across the nation will make phone calls, send flowers, and go out to brunch to show appreciation on Mother’s Day. And while consumers will likely spend around $18 billion on the holiday this year to show their mothers they care, supporting equal pay for women and an increase to the minimum wage would have a more positive impact on mothers’ lives -- especially for single moms.
“Our current employment policies are built for male workers without family obligations,” explains Justine Andronici, a local attorney who has worked nationally on issues related to equal pay and gender discrimination in the workplace. Today, women make up 47% of the nation’s workforce, and mothers are either the sole breadwinner or primary source of income in 40% of US families, according to the Pew Research Center. However, women make up the majority of the low-wage workforce, which impacts their annual incomes. Low-wage jobs are defined as paying $10.10 per hour or less, and some examples are home healthcare aides, cashiers, maids, fast-food workers, and childcare workers. Nationally, women make up two-thirds of the low-wage workforce, and in Pennsylvania, a working woman is 2.5 times more likely to be in a low-wage job than a working man. To avoid entering into a low-wage job, women would need to obtain a bachelor’s degree while men would only need to obtain a high school diploma.
Low-wage working women also face a lack of access to paid sick days, difficulty paying and finding childcare, a lack of access to health insurance and reproductive health benefits, and a lack of retirement benefits. Single mothers face the toughest obstacles, with an annual median income of $26,000 per year and a poverty rate five times higher than marriage couples. The national average for childcare costs is over 40% of the state median income for a single mother, and childcare subsidies often have waitlists. If a child gets sick or an elder parent needs assistance, women are still responsible for caring for them, often taking time off of work without pay.
In addition to low wages, gender discrimination in the workforce has a large impact on women’s wallets. In 1963, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act (EPA) into law, making it illegal to pay unequal wages based on gender. When the EPA was passed, women made a mere 59 cents to every dollar a man made. Forty years later, according to the 2013 American Community Survey, white women in full-time, year-round positions still only make 78 cents per dollar that a white man makes. In Pennsylvania, white women make slightly less: 76.4 cents per dollar made by a man. The numbers are even worse for women of color in Pennsylvania: a black woman makes 69.3 cents per dollar, and Latinas make 54.9 cents per dollar.
Skeptics of the gender pay disparity argue that the statistic is a myth. They argue that men are more likely to work more than 40 hours per week, that staying home to raise children impacts women’s work experience, and that women are less likely to negotiate for higher salaries at the outset to increase their earning potential, which explains the wage discrepancy. They also argue that men take on jobs that are “riskier,” either more dangerous (like logging) or more financially insecure, like finance jobs, which pay more to counteract the risk. Finally, they argue that women choose college majors that traditionally lead to lower-paying jobs, like sociology, rather than higher-paying ones, like engineering.
However, traditional views on gender roles lead to the cycle of financial insecurity for women. Working women may work fewer hours each week because they are expected to take time off from work to care for the children and their elders. While more women have become primary breadwinners for their families, they are still saddled with more hours of housework and childcare per week than working men. “Until women are no longer penalized in the workforce for being women and caregivers, equal pay will remain elusive,” concludes Andronici.
Women who “lean-in” and strongly negotiate for a higher salary are often accused of being aggressive, bossy, and can be terminated for failure to fit into the culture of the workplace. Women in highly professional and “risky” jobs like law and finance still make less than their male counterparts in the same positions and are less likely to be promoted to become CEOs and partners. And women are pressured from the time they are born that certain occupations are “male” while others are “female” through cultural cues, like boys being featured on Lego boxes instead of girls.
To counteract some of the damage of income inequality that exists between men and women, advocates are pushing legislators to pass the federal Paycheck Fairness Act and to increase federal and state minimum wages. The Paycheck Fairness Act would allow workers to share information regarding salaries and wages without retaliation, which would allow women to see if they were being paid less in their jobs than male counterparts. It would also allow workers to seek additional damages, including punitive damages, against employers who have discriminated based on gender. Finally, it would make it easier for workers to bring class action lawsuits to benefit all workers who are being injured by unlawful practices, rather than specific plaintiffs.
The push to increase the minimum wage would allow all workers with full-time positions to earn a living above the federal poverty guidelines. Currently, with the federal minimum wage set at $7.25 an hour, a mother working full-time with two children would have an annual income of only $15,080, well below the federal poverty line of $20,090 for a household of three. Advocates argue that an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour would allow families to earn a reasonable living, would increase consumer spending and boost the economy, and would reduce taxes paid into subsidy programs that are necessary for people living in poverty.
While flowers, cards, and brunch are nice, working mothers would rather enjoy a paid day off, a higher salary, and financial security for themselves and their families. Appreciate your mother this year by telling your Congressperson to support the Paycheck Fairness Act and an increase to the minimum wage.
Reprinted from VOICES May 2015 with permission.