45 Years to Equality is Too Long
Mariah CravenMariah Craven is the director of communications and marketing at Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the only donor-supported, public foundation solely focused on improving the lives of women and girls in the Washington metro area. Prior to working in the nonprofit field, Mariah was a broadcast journalist. She writes and makes short films about a variety of topics ranging from entertainment to poverty and civil rights to social media. You can find her on Twitter at: @Mariah_Craven.
Imagine the year 2057. What does it look like? Are you picturing driverless cars, tiny tablet supercomputers, and everyone wearing a pair of Google glasses? Are you picturing a country where women finally earn as much as men?
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2057 will be the year the gender wage gap closes in the United States if we continue at the current rate of progress. That’s 45 more years of unequal pay for full-time, year-round workers, and it will take even longer for minorities to catch up. Today, the average woman earns 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Center for American Progress reports that the gap for women of color is even wider: black women earn 64 cents and Latinas earn 55 cents for every dollar a non-Hispanic white man is paid.
For those who argue that women enter into lower-paying careers, even in some fields traditionally dominated by women, men are earning more money. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that men make up about 10 percent of the population of registered nurses. Their average pay is $61,000 while the average pay for women in the same field is $51,000. And while access to higher education has helped reduce the gender wage gap, there is still a disconnect between degree attainment and pay. Washington Area Women’s Foundation reports that in the DC region, women with a graduate or professional degree have a lower median earning than men with a bachelor’s degree ($70,787 vs. $75,399).
While career choice, negotiating tactics and family planning decisions are among the contributing factors to wage inequality, there are also the immeasurable and undeniable factors of sexism and racism that have a tremendous impact on the wage gap. When women and minorities are viewed as less capable, important or powerful, it makes it easier for employers to pay less for their work. (Of course, it’s expected that these women will work the same amount as their male counterparts and they’ll certainly be charged full price for everything; when I go to the grocery store, there’s certainly no “wage gap discount” that makes my bread and eggs 23 percent cheaper.)
But the pay gap is about more than the cost of living or doing what’s right and fair. It’s also about the quality of life and future opportunities for millions of families across the country. Given this country’s changing demographics and the increasing number of families headed by single women, this inequity is having a detrimental impact on our society and the stakes are getting higher. There are nearly 20 million children in the United States living in a home headed by a single woman. And last year, the Census Bureau reported that, for the first time, the majority of babies born in the US were from minority groups. With an estimated loss in wages of more than $430,000 over a career, women and their families are losing out on money that could pay for college, purchase a home, put food on the table and so much more. Everything from preschool to retirement is impacted.
Four-and-a-half decades ago we didn’t have cell phones, video games or post-it notes. But we did have a gender pay gap that was just under 60 cents. Since then, technology, the economy and social progress have moved at breakneck speed. We’ve accomplished absolutely incredible things, but we’re lagging when it comes to equal pay for equal work. Forty-five years is far too long to wait for pay equity. Let’s start right now by doing things like raising the federal minimum wage (the majority of minimum wage earners are female), protecting employees who discuss and compare their wages with their colleagues, passing paycheck fairness legislation, and ensuring that the decision to start a family is a detour on a career pathway rather than an off ramp.