It shouldn’t take 94 days to catch up

Record Observer - - OPINION -

Equal Pay Day was ob­served ear­lier this month, on April 4. That’s the day on the cal­en­dar, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Com­mit­tee on Pay Eq­uity, when women fi­nally catch up to earn as much as men did from the pre­vi­ous year. This year, the ex­perts say, it took 94 days to level the play­ing field.

In Mary­land, the sit­u­a­tion is not as dire as the na­tional num­bers sug­gest, but there’s still room for im­prove­ment. Here, the av­er­age full-time fe­male worker earns 84 per­cent of what the av­er­age man earns, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Women. Mary­land’s wage gap of 16 per­cent is the 12th small­est in the coun­try.

In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was signed, and sta­tis­tics on the gap be­gan be­ing gen­er­ated and pub­li­cized. At that time women were mak­ing just 59 cents on av­er­age for ev­ery dol­lar earned by men.

Over those past 54 years, wars have been won and lost, na­tions have changed names and their lead­er­ships, and tech­nol­ogy and ed­u­ca­tion have boomed world­wide. But the pay gap be­tween women and men re­mains.

There have been gains — about 20 cents’ worth, by some mea­sures. The short­hand says women now make 79 cents on the dol­lar for do­ing the same work as men. Even though math is fact based, this fig­ure is po­lit­i­cal. Some so­ci­ol­o­gists and some econ­o­mists say num­bers from the U.S. Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics show the 79 cent fig­ure to be in­ac­cu­rate.

They say it doesn’t take into ac­count such things as the dif­fer­ent def­i­ni­tions of “full time,” and sug­gest a bet­ter snap­shot be­tween the sexes might be ar­rived at by com­par­ing av­er­age weekly wages in­stead of an­nual wages.

So while the ac­tual size of the pay gap may be de­bat­able, the fact of it is not. In many ways, the fo­cus on a tidy num­ber dis­tracts at­ten­tion from more com­plex prob­lems about wage earn­ers, gaps be­tween the sexes and in­come in­equal­ity.

A re­cent study by the Pew Eco­nomic Mo­bil­ity Project shows that women’s wages are ris­ing across all eco­nomic groups and have been do­ing so since 1970. At the same time, fam­ily in­come is fall­ing for the bot­tom 40 per­cent of fam­i­lies. Some so­ci­ol­o­gists say the best way to bridge the in­come in­equal­ity gap for poor and work­ing-class peo­ple is to get mar­ried and stay that way. Richard Reeves, pol­icy di­rec­tor of the Brook­ings In­sti­tute’s Cen­ter on Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, has writ­ten that “mat­ri­mony is flour­ish­ing among the rich but floun­der­ing among the poor, lead­ing to a large, cor­re­spond­ing ‘mar­riage gap.’”

At the same time, wages for men in the bot­tom 40 per­cent of in­comeearn­ers are de­clin­ing. The re­sult is fewer mar­riages and more di­vorces among lower-in­come wage earn­ers.

The de­cline of sta­ble fam­i­lies among the work­ing class has fed in­equal­ity and im­mo­bil­ity, and eco­nomic pres­sures are widen­ing the gap among classes.

The nation needs poli­cies like wage sub­si­dies, early-child­hood ed­u­ca­tion and safe and af­ford­able day care to help strengthen house­holds in gen­eral.

In­deed, the wage gap be­tween the sexes should be closed. It shouldn’t take women 94 days to catch up to what men earn.

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