Are We Equal Yet?

Ladies, we’ve had fun this year, haven’t we? Komen defunding Planned Parenthood sure made PP’s contributions zoom up, and Komen’s zoom down. The Republicans' jaw-dropping attack on contraception has given Obama an absurd lead among women. Katie Roiphe—yes, she who believes that date rape is nothing more than rough sex—has bravely decided that we’re so tired of being in charge, of our success, working gals all wanna be whipped. (Sigh. Somebody tell dominatrixes, who are making a mint off the high-powered men who really are in charge and do long to be whipped, or so I’ve been told by insider sources). It’s The End of Men! Women are The Richer Sex!

Yeah, right. Sorry to be Eeyore yet again, but as feminist blogger, economist, and minor goddess Echidne of the Snakes puts it, “You get to be the richer sex by earning less, on average, than the other sex earns, you know. A well-known factoid.”

Here’s the reality: Today is Equal Pay Day—the day that marks how many more days an average working woman has to work to earn as much as an average working man earned in 2011. On average, in 2011, women working full time still earned about 23 percent less than men working full time. A very small subset of women outearn their male peers: young, highly educated, urban, single, and childless women. The vast majority of women have been shunted into the lower-paying occupations, in some cases kept out of the higher-paying ones by violence. But even within occupations, women are just paid less, across the board, in ways that can't be explained away by experience or education or time out of the workforce. 

And as manufacturing and construction jobs pick up again, that wage gap is gonna widen—or so it has in the past, because women are disproportionately clustered in minimum-wage and low-paying jobs, even when they have more education. Huffington Post has a nice piece reporting on the AAUW’s report “The Simple Truth about the Pay Gap”:

Certain industries have a larger wage gap than others -- on Wall Street women only earn 55 to 62 cents for every dollar that their male co-workers do. However, a 2007 AAUW report showed that even after controlling for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours, work experience, education, GPA, age, race/ethnicity, religion, marital status and number of children a 5 percent gap between male and female earnings existed one year out of college. Ten years out of college, a 12 percent “unexplained difference” was found.

Check out the report’s page seven to see how much better, or worse, than average your state’s gap might be.

Early in the 2000s, I worked on former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Murphy’s book Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men—and What to Do About It, which came out in 2005. I was shocked by how much that missing money added up, over a working lifetime. If you’re a high school graduate, you’ll lose about $700,000 compared to the young men who graduate alongside you. If you’re a professional school graduate—doctor, lawyer, MBA—the pay gap means you’ll lose about $2 million over your working lifetime.

Contraception is a much sexier issue, if you’ll pardon the pun, than economics. It’s easy for women to blame ourselves for not making better financial choices: We should’ve studied engineering instead of English; we should’ve negotiated harder instead of taking what we were offered; we shouldn’t have accepted all the child-care responsibility when the twins came along. And maybe we oughta be teaching young women about all those decisions. But there’s also a heck of a lot of structural unfairness still in the workplace, which is set up to move men along faster, to pay women less, and to shunt women more often into the grunt jobs. In 2006, Dr. Murphy (she’s an economist) and I wrote this in the Los Angeles Times:

Female firefighters are … are incredibly rare because flagrant sex discrimination still keeps women out of every job that is overwhelmingly male -- truck driver, construction worker, electrician, miner, bond trader, you name it. More than 40 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act and 30 years after major lawsuits tried to crack male-employment monopolies, men still harshly patrol the entrances of too many well-paying jobs…

Do women really want to be firefighters and cops? Yes. Social scientists have repeatedly shown that women will jump into a better-paying field, no matter how dirty or onerous the work, if they think they'll be let in. Just try supporting a child or two or three, and maybe a disabled husband, on a waitress' or a bank clerk's wages: It can't be done.

"Men's work" still pays significantly more than comparable "women's work." Consider the difference between the median weekly earnings of a secretary ($552) and a firefighter ($933), a social worker ($698) and a police officer ($844). That's the difference between scraping by and supporting a family.

Policing and firefighting are, unfortunately, not anomalies. In 2000, two-thirds of U.S. working women were still crowded into 21 of the Bureau of Labor Statistics 500 occupational categories. The top 10 included receptionist, secretary, cashier, sales worker, registered nurse, elementary schoolteacher and nursing aide. Women still make up only 2% to 20% of all engineers, police officers, firefighters, mechanics and construction equipment operators, chefs and head cooks, and more.

Translation: Women remain ghettoized in jobs with skinny pink paychecks. Employers get away with flagrant violations of the law because there's no public outcry -- indeed, almost no public scrutiny at all.

All the above is still true. Equal Pay Day is a testament to that fact. C'mon, ladies. Let’s get as angry about our skinny wallets as we get when the guys call us sluts. Make your employer audit its own pay gap. Get working on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Get in touch with Evelyn Murphy’s WAGE Project to figure out what else you can and need to do. And let’s get even.

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