Women in the United States still earn only 78 cents on the dollar compared to men, more than 45 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Current labor laws that favor employers—often over the rights of minority and women employees—put women at a severe economic disadvantage. The House of Representatives passed two important acts last week that attempt to rectify this situation—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. This week it’s the Senate’s turn.
The current financial crisis makes it more important than ever to guarantee that women receive an equal wage for a day of work and can provide for their families. Here’s why:
1. Lower earnings make it harder for women to take care of their families.
A report from the Institute For Women’s Policy Research found that if women were paid fairly, single women’s income would rise by 13.4 percent, single mothers would earn 17 percent more, and married women’s income would increase by 6 percent. These wage increases would reduce levels of poverty for single mothers by over 50 percent. This would greatly increase the ability of women from all economic backgrounds to provide basic support to their families, including food, education, and child care.
2. Benefits pegged to salary are also significantly lower for women.
In addition to the direct loss of wages, women also earn less when it comes to benefits such as social security, pensions, and employer-provided health care. Because these benefits are based on a lower annual salary, women consistently accrue less. There is an $8,000 gap between the average retirement income that men and women receive annually. Two-thirds of this disparity can be attributed to the pay gap and occupational segregation. These losses greatly affect women when they try to retire or become ill and have no other financial support to rely on.
3. Families are becoming more dependent on women’s salaries as men lose their jobs at higher rates.
Men are increasingly turning to women as a source of financial support as America’s economic crisis worsens. The unemployment rate among adult men has risen 2.8 percentage points over the past year—up to 7.2 percent—in comparison with that of adult women, which has risen 1.6 percentage points—up to 5.9 percent. Job losses have particularly affected manufacturing, construction, and temporary help—industries that traditionally employ more men than women. Even within losses in the retail industry—with traditionally high levels of female employment—men have been hit hard due to job losses at car dealerships. As the economy takes its toll on a disproportionate number of men, now is the time to guarantee that women have the same ability to support their families with fair and equal wages.
4. Women with more education lose more income.
Even though many women have invested the same time and money into higher education as their male counterparts, they often do not earn the same salary. According to a CAPAF report, a woman with a bachelor’s degree or higher can lose $713,000 over the span of a 40-year career. With a fierce job market, women need an incentive to continue investing in higher education.
5. Lower wages for women hurt men, too.
Men in the United States work the longest hours in the industrialized world. They also have the smallest amount of leisure time, usually so that their wives can spend more time on family caregiving. By spending more time making up for their wives’ lower wages, men are spending countless hours away from their families.
6. Lower wages for women also hurt society.
State and federal social programs funded by income and wage taxes are dramatically affected by the wage gap. Because women make less money, these tax revenues—many of which fund vital community services—are lower than they should be.
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