November 15, 2010

Women’s Lower Wages Worsen their Circumstances

April 2010

American women who work full-time, year-round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. This gap in earnings translates into $10,622 less per year in female median earnings, leaving women and their families shortchanged. The wage gap is even more substantial when race and gender are considered together, with African-American women making only 61 cents, and Latinas only 52 cents, for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men. Although enforcement of the Equal Pay Act as well as other civil rights laws has helped to narrow the wage gap over time, it is critical for women and their families that the significant disparities in pay that remain be addressed.

I. Fair Pay for Women is Particularly Important in Difficult Times

A loss of over $10,000 per year due to women’s lower wages is tough on families that rely on women’s earnings as a source of income, but lower earnings have a significant impact on the
lives of women and the families that rely exclusively on their wages, especially in a difficult economy.

►► The recession has impacted families in all demographics across the United States, but female-headed households—which make up 85% of single parent families4—have been particularly hard hit, with an unemployment rate of 11.3 percent. Even before the sharp rise in unemployment, more than one in three (37.2 percent) female-headed families with children were poor in 2008, the most recent year for which poverty data is available. Thus, the wage gap only compounds the economic hardships facing female-headed families. For the 9.9 million families that are headed by single mothers and who rely almost exclusively on a woman’s wage,
lowered earnings have a serious impact on their economic security.

►► With unemployment high among men, more and more families are depending entirely on women’s wages:

◙◙1.9 million married couples with children relied exclusively on women’s earnings in 2009, representing 7.4% of all married couples with children. In one year, the number of families relying on women’s earnings increased by 511,000, or 36.6%, compared to a 5.1% increase from 2007 to 2008.

◙◙Over 15 million married couples with children relied on both parents’ earnings in 2009, representing 58.6% of all married couples with children.

►► Unemployment insurance provides temporary income support to workers who lose their jobs and serves as a crucial safety net for many families in a difficult economy. Because unemployment benefits are tied to past wages and women’s wages lag behind men’s wages, unemployed women receive less in unemployment benefits than men. Worse yet, women face particular barriers in even obtaining unemployment insurance, which further women’s economic insecurity. For example, the 1.1 million unemployed women seeking part-time work would be ineligible to receive unemployment benefits in 23 states because of rules that require them to look for full-time work. Inequities in the unemployment insurance system due both to outdated rules and to the gap between men’s and women’s earnings depletes the financial resources available to women and their families during challenging economic times.

►► The persistence of the wage gap results in lower lifetime earnings for women compared to men, resulting in women’s loss of income in retirement, particularly in pensions and savings.
◙◙Closing the gender wage gap is an important tool to enhance women’s ability to save and ensure economic security for women and their families in retirement. For example, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has calculated that a typical woman with a college diploma would lose more than $440,000 in a 20-year period due to the wage gap.

◙◙Unmarried women in the workforce today will receive, on average, about $8,000 a year less in retirement income than their male counterparts—even after controlling for number of years worked and educational levels, occupational segregation and pay differences account for more than two-thirds of the difference in the retirement income of women and men.

◙◙The wage gap also impacts pension income. In 2007, on average, women age 65 and older received less than half of the pension income received by men (approximately $3,176 vs. $7,568).

◙◙The amount contributed by female workers to defined contribution plans, such as a 401(k) or IRA, is also reduced by the wage gap. Indeed, for 2005, the average contribution of female workers was thirty percent smaller than that of male workers. Furthermore, only half as many women as men contribute the maximum to their 401(k) plan.13
II. Closing the Wage Gap Would Significantly Improve Families’ Finances

Given the importance of women’s earnings to family economic security, bringing women’s earnings in line with men’s earnings would greatly improve the economic situation of women and their families. An additional $10,622 per year is enough to:

... pay the average cost of rent and utilities for a year with over $1,500 to spare, or the average mortgage and utilities for 11 months and 20 days.

►► With nearly 3 million households receiving at least one foreclosure filing in 2009, the lost earnings due to the wage gap could make a substantial difference in reducing family economic insecurity and financial hardship. Indeed, one in forty-five households—over 2.8 million properties nationwide—were in default last year.

… feed a household of four for a year with almost $1,500 to spare.

►► The difficult economy has stretched family budgets for basic needs thin, particularly for women and their families. In 2008, female-headed households made up 58% of all households with children receiving food stamp benefits, and 40% of all households overall, with or without children.17 With the deepening economic crisis, food stamp participation has continued to climb: In January 2010, nearly 39.5 million people received assistance, an increase of over 7.2 million (or 22.4%) from the previous year.

… pay a year’s child care costs for a four-year-old with over $3,600 to spare.

►► Child care expenditures consume a large percentage of the earnings of families, particularly those who are low-income. Among families who pay for child care, families in poverty spend an average of 32% of their income on care and families between 100 and 200 percent of poverty devote an average of 15% of their income on care. Even higher-income families paying for child care spend 6% of their income on care.
The lost earnings due to the wage gap could alleviate much of this financial pressure.
…pay for three years of health insurance premiums with over $400 to spare.

►► Women spend a significant amount of their income on out-of-pocket health costs and health insurance premiums, and are more likely than men to experience serious financial hardship as a result of medical bills: In 2007, more than one-third (35%) of working-age women spent 10% or more of their income on these expenses, and one-third of women, compared to one-quarter of men, were unable to pay for basic necessities because of medical bills. Closing the wage gap would provide essential help in meeting these tradeoffs, particularly since the current economic downturn has exacerbated medical debt.

III. Women Earn Less Than Men in All States, but the Size of the Gap Varies

Although women and their families are grappling with this tough economy around the country, there is not a single state where women have gained economic equality with men. In every state across the U.S., men earn more than women, impacting women across race, class, and occupation. The size of the disparity varies by state: In 2008, Washington, D.C. had the nation’s smallest wage gap, at 88%, well ahead of California, where women earned 84.9% of what men earned. The median of 75.9% is shared by the states of Connecticut, Kentucky, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. Women fared worst relative to men in Wyoming, where women’s earnings represented only 64.3% of men’s earnings, the widest gap of any state.

Women and their families cannot sustain a wage gap that persists this deep in this economy. There is no doubt that more is necessary both to strengthen equal pay laws, which have been weakened over time by courts, and to require the federal government to be more proactive in
preventing and battling wage discrimination. In particular, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has already passed the House of Representatives, would serve these goals

IV. The Paycheck Fairness Act Would Fight Pay Discrimination Based on Gender

Introduced in both the House (H.R. 12) and the Senate (S. 182) and passed by the House last year, the Paycheck Fairness Act would address discriminatory pay practices, an important source of the wage gap. The Act builds upon the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which made it illegal for
employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work. Among other things:

►► The Paycheck Fairness Act allows victims of wage discrimination based on gender to receive full compensatory and punitive damages, as opposed to only liquidated damages and back pay awards, putting gender-based wage discrimination on equal footing with discrimination based on race and ethnicity.

►► The Act would make it easier for parties that have been discriminated against to work together through a class action suit by automatically considering members part of the class unless they choose to opt out, in keeping with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

►► The Act would close loopholes in how discrimination is counted by clarifying that a gender differential in pay within a company need not be within the same facility to count as discrimination, and by tightening the rules concerning defense of a gendered pay differential that employers claim is not due to sex
►► The Act would facilitate detection of pay discrimination by prohibiting punishment of employees who share salary information with coworkers, by requiring employers to submit pay data by race, sex, and national origin to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and by reinstating collection of gender-based data in the Current Employment Statistics Survey.
National Women’s Law Center, Washington, D.C.,
April 2010
Footnotes and tables at link above.

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