Hey, it’s Meg again, working the lunch rush for Steve today. As usual, I read something in the newspaper this morning that bugged me…
On the front page of The New York Times Tuesday was a very misleading headline. “Women Are Now Equal as Victims of Poor Economy” at first said to me that perhaps the gender gap in wages had closed.
Nope. According to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women still earn less than 80 cents for every dollar that men do in similar occupations. The New York Times article merely shows that women are dropping out of the workforce at such a rate that the number entering the workforce is actually in decline for the first time since the Women’s Lib movement.
The big difference now, the article says, is that women are less likely to accept a pay cut, and instead drop out of the rat race entirely. As a woman who recently dropped out of the job market to go to graduate school, I can commiserate.
The article blames the poor economy, which certainly has something to do with it. But I’d also posit that wages play a role. If a family has to choose one member to drop out of the workforce (usually to avoid work-related expenses such as daycare or commuting costs) logic dictates that the main breadwinner remain employed. So though the stigma against stay-at-home dads may have dropped away, moms still earn less, and therefore their jobs are more expendable.
In fact, there are indications that women have been taking a harder hit in this economy when it comes to decreasing wages. Back in 2004, a study released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research indicated women’s wages were already falling while men’s were merely stagnant.
The only mention of the pay gap in the Times article is parenthetical:
“Pay is no longer rising smartly for women in the key 25-to-54 age group. Just the opposite, the median pay — the point where half make more and half less — has fallen in recent years, to $14.84 an hour in 2007 from $15.04 in 2004, adjusted for inflation, according to the Economic Policy Institute. (The similar wage for men today is two dollars more.)“ -Emphasis mine.
Has the gender gap become par for the course, so cliché as to be hardly worth mentioning? Is it so common that it has become acceptable?
As a new member of the (admittedly vast) age group the article cites, I’ve had my fair share of paycheck pain. Part of it is my distaste for working for large corporations. Small businesses are less able to weather difficult economic times and have fewer opportunities for advancement. But that doesn’t account for the entirety of the wage disparity I’ve experienced.
When I finally decided to go to graduate school rather than stay at my job managing two office clinics, I helped choose my replacement. The doctor who signed my paycheck confided in me that hiring a male to replace me would be difficult, in part because they expect to be paid more. And guess who replaced me? A highly talented single mother of two who had been laid off from her last job.
It seems “dropping out” is okay for the married woman on which the article focuses:
“[Tootie] Samson, the former Maytag worker, says she can afford not to work because she qualified under the terms of the plant closing for two years of unemployment benefits as long as she is a full-time student. She lost health insurance but shifted to her husband’s policy.
His $40,000 income as a truck driver and her $360 a week in jobless benefits gets them by while she takes an accelerated program at a William Penn University campus near her home. Graduation is scheduled for January 2010.
‘If I were a single parent or did not have benefits,” Ms. Samson said, “I would have had to find a job. I could not have gone back to school to get my degree and the promise it holds of a better job.’”
So, single mothers and women without access to affordable healthcare may not have the luxury Samson does. They may not be able to wait for the recession to end. Maybe they’ll just have to shut up and take what they can get.
While it’s true I don’t have children to take care of, it’s also true that I’ve never been in the financial position to even think about having any. I haven’t had affordable, comprehensive healthcare coverage since I finished my undergraduate degree and was forced off of my father’s healthcare plan. Luckily, I don’t have any major health issues besides extremely poor eyesight, and vision is so rarely covered by insurance that I’m in good company when I pay cash at someplace like America’s Best for a sorely-needed pair of new glasses.
So if I were pregnant or chronically ill, I never would have had the luxury of going back to school. I’d be one of millions of women stuck in low paying jobs all over the country, without The New York Times having the journalistic fortitude to even mention my plight. And it looks like these women can’t depend upon Congress to stand up for them either.
One day after Equal Pay Day, the Senate failed to garner the votes needed to stop debate and vote on the Lilly Ledbetter Act. The act would have strengthened existing anti-discrimination legislation to make it harder for employers to knowingly underpay their workers. The House passed the bill last year. President George W. Bush threatened to veto it, but it looks like he won’t have to.
While it was largely ignored by the mainstream media, I think it’s important to know how presidential candidates voted. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) voted for the bill’s passage, while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was one of only two who missed this important vote. Click here to see how others in House and Senate voted.
I’m not suggesting that legislation or a front-page article in The New York Times will solve the pay equity issue. But I simply can’t feign shock that women are dropping out of a system that doesn’t work for them. And I do think that 45 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed is as good a time as any to ask why we’ve given up on the idea of equal pay for equal work.