- Racial Equity
- Talk About Race
I think I might be a 47-percenter. Or at least, maybe, honorary. I went to college, work every day, and pay taxes, but I am by no means anywhere close to ever being rich. I generally think a lot of basic things in life—healthy food, high quality housing, good healthcare—are pretty expensive. I don’t believe most people who are poor want to be and I don’t think the government gets to wash its hands of helping people in need. If somebody were offering a student loan bailout, I’d be camped out like I’m waiting to be first in line for an after Thanksgiving Black Friday sale. I am absolutely a 99-percenter; that much I know. I suppose 99% of the American population is too big to publicly own up to completely ignoring, but apparently 47% isn’t and my instincts tell me this group is disproportionately made up of women.
This is why the wage gap still matters. Too many important issues boil down to the haves versus the have-nots. Access to better opportunities and life outcomes often hinges on socioeconomic status. But people talk about the wage gap like it’s a chasm that magically appeared and can never be closed. It has become so status quo that people just expect it. The wage gap is as significant as ever for women, especially now that we appear to be in a regressive era where it has become important for many currently and potentially influential people to chip away at women’s rights. While the knee-jerk reaction may be to think talking about the wage gap is beyond old school, the reality is that it is still impacting the everyday lives of most America women.
Take, for instance, the issue of marriage. As Business Insider recently pointed out, being single is expensive. Whether it’s the cost of housing and utilities or tax breaks and insurance, going it alone will most likely be the costlier route. Being financially rescued by a dual income, however, isn’t a quick fix. In general, most American adults are waiting longer to marry. If you factor in the divorce rate of first marriages consistently hovering around 50%, even higher divorce rates for second and third marriages, the many women in the LGBT community who cannot legally marry at all, and the countless other reasons women might voluntarily and involuntarily be unmarried, tying the knot isn’t always the most practical or viable option.
Dissecting women’s decisions about whether or not to have children out of traditional wedlock is also popular. Despite the overall decline in birthrates due, in part, to the recession, the number of unmarried women having children has been steadily increasing. Even though many children are not being raised in traditional two-parent homes, mothers are older and have more education than in previous years which definitely has its benefits. The downside is that children living in households headed by single mothers are still five times more likely to be living in poverty than children living in a home with two parents. With women still earning an average of 23% less than men in comparable positions but increasingly responsible for raising children alone while the cost of living continually rises, the cycle of poverty for many women and children may worsen.
It’s hard to talk about the wage gap without talking about the education gap, since how far you go in school correlates with almost everything. Education is the gateway to a more financially stable life. The more education you have, the more money you will probably make during your lifetime. The problem is, education isn’t usually free and given that women are obtaining college degrees at higher rates than men, women are probably taking out student loans and accumulating student loan debt at higher rates as well. Education is important, so sometimes taking out a loan is a necessary evil. If you are a woman though, it’s like salt in a wound to know that it will probably take you longer to pay off your loan because men who have gone to college but don’t graduate earn about as much as a woman with a Bachelor’s degree, and a man with a Bachelor’s degree earns about the same as a woman with a PhD.
The wage gap doesn’t just pertain to marital status, motherhood, or education. It encroaches upon almost every aspect of a woman’s life. Through gender rating, women often pay more for healthcare premiums just on the basis of being female. Salaries for new jobs often take into account how much you earned in your previous position. Pensions and retirement benefits are generally based on salary histories. With age, women’s salaries stop increasing much earlier than men’s. And because women typically live longer than men, there is often less money to pay for increased costs of living and healthcare.
Despite whatever the narrative has been, the wage gap can be closed. Implementing and enforcing legislation on equal pay across the board and without exceptions would arguably make the largest, most sustainable impact. Girls need to be introduced to STEM and other fast-growing fields early so that their skills and confidence can be developed and they can be competitive in the workforce. Women need to learn to negotiate better salaries. Outdated, discriminatory, sexist work cultures and attitudes toward women and our contributions must be challenged. We don’t have to accept continued inequality and women certainly can’t afford to be ignored…no matter how nice the binder is.