What would happen if the wage gap finally disappeared? We know women would be making more money, but how much more would they be bringing home?
By now, you’ve probably heard depressing statistics like this one: For every dollar a man earns, a woman makes 77 cents. You might even be sick of hearing it. But here’s another way of thinking about it: If you add all those pennies up, the gender gap will cost the average American woman more than $400,000 over the course of her professional life.
What could that buy? A lot, as it turns out. With that money, a woman could buy a house, put two kids through college, buy more than 21,000 gallons of gas and feed her family for almost seven years. Care about the gender wage gap now?
Now that we know how much pay inequity costs women, let’s look at how it affects men. Thanks to the gender gap, life is 33% cheaper for a full-time, year-round male worker than it is for the average woman. In other words, men have 33% more spending power. And that’s a big deal.
Exactly how big of a deal varies depends on your state. Let’s take a look at Virginia, for example. The gap in Virginia, according to National Partnership, means that a family headed by a white male can purchase almost two more years’ worth of food, six more months’ worth of utilities, two and a half years’ more insurance payments and a full year’s rent.
More important than what these funds can buy, however, is the amount of money they can save. The pay gap helps some people accumulate wealth and achieve long-term financial security, leaving others behind in the dust. In fact, it’s a critical part of the wealth gap, the unequal distribution of assets. In the United States, a woman who has never been married typically owns .06 cents for every dollar a never-married man owns.
Those numbers are outrageous in their own right, but they become even more dramatic when placed in the context of single mothers and single fathers. In 2006, just under 18% of single fathers fell below the poverty line. That number was more than 33% for single mothers. Women, especially single and divorced and widowed women, are more likely to be what Stanford Professor Mariko Lin Chang calls “wealth poor,” someone possessing no assets or suffering from debts that outweigh the value of their assets.
Even the useful 77 cents-to-the-dollar statistic is partially misleading because it looks at the median earnings of all full-time employed women against the earnings of full-time employed white men, leaving race and ethnicity out of the equation. Here’s the granular breakdown. White men in the United States make:
· 47% more than Hispanic and Latina women
· 40% more than American-Indian and Alaskan Native women
· 36% more than African-American women
· 34% more than Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women
· 21% more than white women and
· 13% more than Asian women.
Wage gap deniers, who, let’s be honest, often happen to be white males (can someone please start a Tumblr called White Guys Who Don’t Know The Gap Exists?) will tell you that women just choose professions that make less money. Sorry wage gap deniers, but that argument just doesn’t add up. The Bureau of Labor Statistics catalogs 534 job types — men make less than women in precisely seven of them. And yet just last week, Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander demanded to know what gender gap legislation would do to help men. Was that a joke?
Sure, OK, that argument works if you want to call systemic institutional forces that shape our decisions and opportunities from the moment we step out of the womb “choices.” But with that logic, you might as well call the fact that women make up more victims of sexual assault and domestic violence choices as well. Women choose lower wages just as much as they choose their gender, ethnicity or race. Given the choice, I’m sure African-American women would choose to make more than 64 cents and Hispanic women would prefer to make more than 54 cents for every dollar that a white man receives. Making the assertion that the wage gap is somehow women’s fault is not only sexist, it’s racist, too.
Another popular misconception is that women’s wages are increasing every year, when in fact the wage gap hasn’t budged since 2002. In fact, the workplace still looks like a lot like a typical Mad Men episode (minus the day drinking). The top jobs for women today are the same as they were in 1950: secretaries and administrative assistants, 96% of whom are women. Since equal pay was signed into law in 1963, average wages for women have only increased by 18 cents.
So what can we do? One of the single most effective strategies to reduce the gender pay gap would be to raise the minimum wage, along with passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. Although it was projected to pass the Senate, the Paycheck Fairness Act did not pass in the Republican-controlled House. Clearly, one side of the aisle is getting it more than the other.
Keep in mind that your typical minimum wage earner is not a pimple-faced teenager flipping burgers — it’s an adult woman. Since more than 2 out of 3 primary minimum-wage workers are women, increasing the minimum wage would actually result in a raise for more than 15 million female workers. Women, especially women of color, make up 66% of jobs involving “tipped wages.” Do you know what the minimum tip wage is? It’s $2.13 an hour. It hasn’t been changed in more than 20 years.
Another key intervention that has the potential to lower the wage gap is paid paternity leave, something that’s still (somehow) a source of derision. After two radio hosts mocked a baseball player for being a total pansy for like, you know, wanting to help his wife with his newborn baby (what a wuss!), it gave way to a long-overdue conversation about the importance of men leaning in.
The reality is nations that have implemented paid paternity leave like Quebec or Sweden have seen a dramatic increase in men’s share of domestic and child care tasks. Studies also show that when women aren’t slaving away over the family stove every night, they happen to have more time to focus on their careers. Shocker! The same logic follows for the minimum wage. States that have increased it show the smallest disparities between women and men’s wages. These two policy interventions are largely backed by the American people, but overwhelmingly blocked by Republicans. They could help us finally make the wage gap ancient history.
This piece originally appeared on PolicyMic.