Our Guest Opinion on Equal Pay in The Oregonian

April 10, 2013

DSC_0215Today women finally catch up to men: Guest opinion

By Andrea Paluso, Alice Bartelt and Marcia Kelley

Today is the 99th day of 2013, slightly more than a quarter of the way through the year. It took this long for women in the United States to finally earn what their male counterparts earned in 2012. That’s right, it took women 15 months to earn what men earned in twelve. That’s because they still aren’t paid equally for equal work.

Despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963 under President John F. Kennedy (50 years ago!), women across the United States earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar men earn for equal work — a 23 percent gap. And the gap widens for women of color: African American women are paid 64 cents and Latinas are paid just 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. This is for the same work — controlling for variables by income, education, job type and more. It comes down to discrimination for the value of women’s work, and this is a significant problem for women and the families they support.

Here in Oregon, working women fare slightly better than the national average, earning about 78 cents for every dollar Oregon’s men earn. That’s hardly cause for celebration, though, when Oregon women and their families are being shortchanged nearly $10,000 a year, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. Women don’t pay less for housing, health care, transportation, food or anything else, but they do have far less buying power because of this persistent and insidious discrimination.

Not surprisingly, this wage gap affects mothers’ economic stability disproportionately. The “motherhood penalty” is estimated to be 5 percent per child, and mothers are earning a mere 60 cents for every dollar a father makes. Even the wage gap between women with kids and women without them is and large and growing (women without kids earn 94 cents to a childless man’s dollar). And, most alarming: Motherhood is a leading predictor of poverty in old age in our country. The wage gap contributes greatly to this problem.

With three of four mothers now working outside the home and 40 percent of them serving as primary breadwinners, mothers’ wages are critical to their own and their family’s economic well-being. Their unfairly lower earnings can cause economic instability and even poverty for mothers and their families and can create unnecessary burdens for the state when mothers are forced to turn to public services to bridge the gap. With more and more families relying solely or partially on women’s paychecks for their livelihood, we must do all that we can to ensure the financial stability of Oregon’s women and families.

Right now we’re supporting a bill in the state Legislature (Senate Bill 744, sponsored by Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene) that would launch a study conducted by the Oregon Council on Civil Rights to provide lawmakers with a clear understanding of the barriers to wage equality in Oregon and concrete, state-specific recommendations for needed changes. State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian has been working hard to address the wage gap in Oregon; this study would bolster his efforts.

With efforts like these and a growing grass-roots movement to shift the way we see women and families in the workplace, we can create a path toward wage equality in Oregon — before another 50 years go by.

Andrea Paluso is the executive director of Family Forward Oregon. Alice Bartelt is the action chair of the League of Women Voters of Oregon. Marcia Kelley is the policy advocate for the American Academy of University Women of Oregon

Click here to read the piece online.