Seeing red on March 24

ESCANABA — March 24, Equal Pay Day, marks the additional days that women across the United States have to work into 2021 to equal the pay earned by men in 2020. For more than 50 years pay discrimination has been illegal. Despite this, pay discrimination remains prevalent today.

Reflecting the gender wage gap, Equal Pay Day is an important illustration of how far economic inequalities leave women and families in the red. As a result of this pay inequality, it is women and children who live, disproportionately in poverty. Policies that ensure equal pay for equal work will support families, raise children out of poverty and provide an overwhelming economic boost. On average, full-time working American women earn 82 cents for every dollar a full-time working male makes. For Michigan that is 77 cents, giving Michigan the 16th largest wage gap (US Census Bureau).

The issue of the gender pay gap was recently highlighted as our local representative argued the gender wage gap wasn’t real. This unfortunate stance reflects a lack of understanding of the economic data and challenges working families are facing with 64% of mothers being the sole, primary or co-bread-winners in a family (AAUW.org). The wage gap leaves women bearing more of the long-term student loan debt, coupled with fewer opportunities to build wealth or buy a house. We cannot continue to underestimate and under-value the role women play in the American workforce and in supporting their families.

To illustrate the gender wage gap in America, we need look no further than fields traditionally dominated by women. Take college basketball, specifically women’s basketball. In women’s basketball, 61% of coaches are women, 39% men. Women basketball coaches make 78% of male coaches with women earning $200,000 less per year. We can also look at education, a field traditionally dominated by women. Women obtain 60% of Master’s and 54% of PhD degrees and 57% of Bachelor’s degrees (National Center for Education Statistics). Women comprise 60% of higher education professionals. However, women are only 18% of the highest earners in education (The Power Gap, 2021). We could also turn to the field of nursing which has traditionally been dominated by women. Men recently began to move into the field and now 90% of registered nurses (RNs) are women. Accounting for all other factors, male RNs now make 8% more than women RNs, about $5,000 more per year (Muench et. al. 2016).

Discrepancies in pay start at day one and accumulate throughout a woman’s career. Controlling for all other factors involving women’s employment statistics, that first year out of college and in the workforce, will see men earning 7% more than women. Even the smallest pay gap results in dramatic inequalities over a lifetime. For those women with a college degree, over her career, she will earn $1.2 million less than a man with a college degree. For women with advanced degrees, the lifetime discrepancy is $2 million (AAUW.org). The impacts of gender pay inequalities extend well beyond the working career and into retirement as social security benefits and pension benefits will be lower due to smaller salaries.

The gender wage gap continues to undermine families, the US economy and the lives of women. At the rate of change in the gender wage gap, it will be nearly 100 years before we see women’s earnings on par with men. We cannot wait. We need policies that ensure women are paid equally for the work they do including the prevention of prior salary being used to determine current salary, the ability of co-workers to discuss salary with retribution from the employer and national wage data collection to identify challenges and design policy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated economic inequalities felt by women. The pandemic resulted in job losses greater for women than for men and the job recovery rate for women has been slower (Fabrizio et. al. 2021). Unlike other recessions, the pandemic economic losses have disproportionately affected women erasing decades of economic gains for women.

AAUW continues to educate women and advocate for equal pay by promoting policies that support equal pay. AAUW offers resources such as Work Smart https://www.aauw.org/resources/programs/salary/

an on-line course that prepares women to assess the market value of their skills and experience. It also trains women to negotiate better salaries and benefits or advocate for a raise or promotion.

For information regarding membership, contact Cathy Spice, Membership Vice President at 906-239-0449 or via email at cathrynspice@gmail.com.


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