Equal Pay Day highlights earnings gap for women, need for paid sick days

April 12, 2011 | Economic Opportunity Institute

Today is Equal Pay Day, which each year highlights the continuing disparity between men’s and women’s earnings. This disparity, commonly known as the ‘wage gap‘, shows just how far we still have to go to achieve gender equity.

Despite making modest gains in hourly earnings, women earn less than men in every sector of the economy, and at every age. From 1990 to 2009, Washington women’s average monthly earnings compared to men’s actually declined from 68% to 63%. In 2009, Washington women on average made $1,815 per month less than men.

As Ellen Bravo points out in a recent article, some argue that the wage gap exists because women – who bear the primary responsibility for providing care to children and older parents – trade income for flexibility. But there’s a flaw in this argument: typically, the lowest paying jobs have the least flexibility – and no paid sick days to cover illnesses or emergencies.

Forward progress for women in the workforce has largely stalled over the past two decades because workplace standards remain mired in outdated assumptions that most workers are men and most families have a full-time caregiver at home. Among Washington’s private sector workforce in 2009, just 41% of firms offered paid sick leave to full time employees, and just 14% offered the benefit to part-time employees.

A critical piece of the pay equity puzzle includes employer recognition of changing family structures. Now more than ever, families rely on two incomes to get by – and women’s earnings are critical to family economic security. But employer practices and benefits often to don’t recognize these changes – and penalize female employees for taking time away from work for maternity leave, to care for sick children, or provide care for an elderly relative.

New legislation that enforces modern workplace standards, protects family care giving roles, and supports early learning and care is needed for women to make the next leap toward gender equality. Without reliable access to paid family leave, paid sick days, and affordable, quality childcare and preschool, career opportunities and earning potential will continue to be limited for the majority of women.

Our children, families, businesses, and communities all pay the price for our failure to step up to the public policy needs of today’s working women.

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Posted in Paid Sick Days, State Economy, Women in the Workforce, Work & Family

Comments

  1. Winslow P. Kelpfroth says:

    Well, there are studies and then there are studies.
    The Independent Women’s Forum has theirs at
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704415104576250672504707048.html

    • Alex Stone says:

      Winslow,

      Sure there are studies. And then there’s data.

      The U.S. Census Bureau publishes the Quarterly Workforce Indicator (QWI) data here: http://lehd.did.census.gov/led/datatools/qwiapp.html

      That data shows, at every age and for every occupation (in Washington state), men earn more than women. Why the difference? It’s not because women aren’t going to college – in fact, women now earn the majority of college degrees. Here’s an example:

      Using the QWI data, in the ‘Educational Services’ sector, women and men are almost equally represented. Yet in 2009, women’s average monthly earnings were $3,141 while men’s were $4,961 – a difference of $1,820 per month. Similar disparities are reflected across the industrial spectrum, from child care workers to construction workers.

      Most of the workers in the education sector – teachers and administrators – have college degrees, and genders are almost equally represented. So what explains the gap? Women are paid less than men. The facts simply do not match the opinion of your post’s author.

      Equal Pay Day isn’t about a battle between the sexes – another quote from your post – but recognizing and rectifying the injustice that women are not paid equal wages for equal work.

      – Alex

  2. Winslow P. Kelpfroth says:

    Hardly anyone with experience is persuaded by arguments.
    Consider my wife and me. One of us has a masters, the other high school. Both of us do essentially the same job; one analyzing chemical data and one maintaining the organization’s website. One works at a non-profit.
    And yet she pulls in around $54K and I bring in $43K.
    She has the high school degree, works at the non-profit, and maintains the website. So where’s the injustice in women not paid equal wags for equal work? We’re not seeing it.

    • Alex Stone says:

      My personal experience says otherwise. Let me give you an example: My girlfriend works for a childcare center, and holds a BA degree in Psychology. I, too, hold a bachelor’s degree, and work for a nonprofit, where I earn about 1.5x her annual salary. We have the same level of education, yet I am paid more.

      So what does this tell us? Absolutely nothing. We could trade stories all day – and it won’t do any bit of good.

      Anecdotal evidence and personal experience are simply no substitute for hard data, such as the U.S. Census Quarterly Workforce Indicator (QWI) datasets that I referenced in the above posting.

      By way of example, I have pulled the QWI data for the ‘Information’ sector in the state of Texas from the year 2009. On average in 2009, men in Texas in the ‘Information’ industry had an average monthly wage of $6,259.50, while women earned $4,332.25. That comes to about a $75,000 average per year for men, while women average just below $52,000. That’s a pretty significant difference.

      While your personal experience may not suggest injustice, often people are not privy to other people’s earnings – aside from their spouse. So how would you really know unless you examined the data?

      To access the data, go to http://lehd.did.census.gov/led/datatools/qwiapp.html and select your home state. Click ‘Information by Detailed Industry’ and select the box next to the industry you would like to explore. You can control for gender, age, and year. All data referenced in this post were from 2009 Q4, full year average.

      • Douglas Von Korff says:

        And this doesn’t only apply to the United States. This report http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/29/63/38752746.pdf from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that men are paid more for their work throughout the developed world. The gender pay gap is one of the most persistent and universal instances of structural discrimination in the world.

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