◙◙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.
◙◙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
►► 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.
►► 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.
►► 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.
►► 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.
►► 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 2010Footnotes and tables at link above.