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New Research from IWPR Finds Low Literacy Hurts Women More Than Men

By Kevin Miller

In an analysis of data from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy that was recently published, IWPR found that women earn less than men regardless of literacy level, but that women with low literacy levels are particularly likely to have low earnings relative to men. Higher literacy levels are associated with higher earnings for both men and women, but the “jump” in earnings from low to high literacy is especially noticeable for women at earnings levels that can sustain women and their families.

These findings are consistent with the phenomenon that women need to do more to reach the earnings of men. The gender wage gap remains substantial after decades of measurement, occurs both between and within occupations, and—we now know—exists regardless of men and women’s degree of literacy. In order for women to earn the same amount as men, they must obtain more education and develop more skills than those possessed by men. Low literacy—which occurs at similar rates among women and men—is a barrier to effective education and training that can help low-income individuals obtain jobs that allow for family economic security.

Programs that help women (and men) improve their literacy, obtain job training, and get degrees are key elements in the effort to help low-income Americans get better jobs. Adult and basic education programs, bridge programs that connect teens and adults to college, workforce training programs, and supports for nontraditional students enrolled in colleges are needed to help hard-working Americans get higher-paying jobs. Many of these programs are under threat of budget cuts. Cuts in education and training are short-sighted cost-saving measures that reduce workforce readiness while also threatening one of the few pathways out of poverty for millions of Americans with limited literacy.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Life-Time Self-Sufficiency: Eight Things Every Young Woman Should Know

By Minjon Tholen and Heidi Reynolds-Stenson

An Institute for Women’s Policy Research study analyzing men and women’s earnings over a 15-year span found that women in the prime working ages of 26 to 59 made only 38 percent of what prime working-age men made during the same time span. This major gap is due to occupational segregation, discrimination, caregiving obligations, and other factors, and creates a critical obstacle for women’s economic security throughout their working years and into retirement. Depending on a woman’s socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity, this gap may be even larger. Here are eight things all young women need to know now to be self-sufficient later.

1. Education

Education levels are strongly associated with earnings. The median weekly earnings of bachelor’s degree holders are 65.8 percent higher than those with only a high school degree. Women increasingly recognize the need to further their education and now outnumber men among those graduating with bachelor’s degrees, yet women still earn less than men at every level of educational attainment.  Postsecondary education is therefore an important tool for young women to increase economic security over their lifetime.

2. Reproductive Choice

Since educational attainment is a major determining factor of one’s income levels throughout life, and completing high school or college is difficult to combine with child-rearing responsibilities, a woman’s ability to control her own reproductive life is crucial for her economic security. If you are in school and have children, familiarize yourself with and use the student parent support services available in your school and/or community, and advocate for more such services.

3. Occupational Segregation

Many women work in occupations that are traditionally female-dominated and are undervalued and underpaid compared to male-dominated occupations. As of the 1990s, after decades during which occupations increasingly became more ‘mixed’, further gender integration stalled. There are now proportionately fewer women in Information Technology occupations, which are generally well-paid, than there were 15 years ago. As a young woman choosing a career, explore non-traditional career options and keep in mind the implications your career choice may have for your ability to support yourself into the future.

4. Wage Gap

Women also earn less than men within nearly every occupation, indicating that occupational segregation is only part of the story. The gender wage gap begins early (with young women starting off at lower salaries than young men with comparable qualifications in comparable positions), widens over time, and can be larger or smaller depending on one’s race/ethnicity.  Part of the problem may be that young women are less likely than young men to negotiate for a higher starting salary or a raise.  Also, many employers work to keep pay information confidential; nearly half of all workers say they are either contractually forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with their co-workers. Knowledge is power. So, talk to your co-workers, do research on average pay in your industry, and negotiate your salary. Know what you’re worth and ask for it.

5. Discrimination and Harassment

Research indicates that a significant portion of the wage gap within occupations cannot be fully explained by known factors—such as education or experience—suggesting that gender discrimination is still a significant barrier to women’s economic progress. Everyone has a right to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment based on gender or race/ethnicity. Know your rights under the law, familiarize yourself with the policies and protections at your workplace, and speak up when you feel these rights are violated.

6. Work/life balance

Although the majority of women are active in the workforce, they remain the primary caregivers to children and other dependents. Balancing work and personal life can be a struggle for many women and taking time out of work can have a long-term impact on your earnings and job security. Find out whether your employer offers flexible work arrangements and is subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act, in order to know your rights and responsibilities when balancing your work life and personal life.

7. Social Security

Compared to men, women rely on Social Security for a longer period of time (because they live longer) and depend on Social Security for a greater share of their income.  Yet, women receive, on average, significantly lower Social Security benefits due to a lifetime of lower wages and periods of decreased employment due to caregiving responsibilities for children, parents, or others. As a young woman, be aware that there is strong likelihood that you will live alone for at least part of your retirement. Educate yourself on how to maximize your Social Security benefits, strive towards ensuring other sources of income in retirement, and work to protect this program which is so vital to so many women and men.

8. Assets, Savings, and Pension Plans

Women face specific barriers to acquiring assets, building up savings, and investing in a pension plan. Women’s lifelong lower earnings due to occupational segregation, the wage gap, and caregiving responsibilities make it difficult to accumulate assets and savings. Women are also significantly less likely than men to have access to and participate in employer-sponsored retirement or pension plans. On top of these factors, women who do receive income from their own pensions receive on average less than half as much as men. To offset reliance on Social Security, start thinking about other ways to supplement your income in retirement early in your life and career.

Be cognizant of how gender inequality impacts your ability to be economically secure.  These inequalities are reflected in policies, institutions, and attitudes that affect all of us on a daily basis.  Know you have the ability to change this by educating yourself and others, and advocating for women-friendly policies. For in-depth studies on the issues described above and many others, visit the Institute for Women’s Policy Research research portal.

Minjon Tholen and Heidi Reynolds-Stenson are Research Interns at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research

Social Security: A Lifeline for Latinas

by Mallory Mpare

With talks about the national debt and deficit dominating policy discussions, much attention has been paid to the fabled contributions Social Security makes to the national debt.  As has been said before (but clearly bears repeating), Social Security does not contribute to the national deficit. In fact, poll after poll shows that the American people understand that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit.  Yet it seems that with Social Security still on the table for cuts, this message is not getting through to those who need to hear it most.

How can we make this message resonate? It is important to discuss policy and its wider implications for the economy at large, but we cannot forget that policy is always tied to people. Instead of focusing on the dollars and cents of Social Security maybe we should talk about how changes to the program affect individuals. After all, how long can political leaders continue to ignore the needs of their constituents?

Social Security was created to ensure that the elderly could retire from the workforce in dignity, without fear that after a lifetime of work they might spend their old age in poverty. Today, Social Security is a crucial source of income for many Americans.  An IWPR report details how, even in the midst of efforts to scale back benefits, people are becoming increasingly reliant on Social Security as a source of income. Though men’s reliance has increased more than women’s, the degree ofreliance is greater for women and people of color who tend to have fewer alternative sources of income.

To supplement its report, IWPR released a fact sheet which details the importance of Social Security to Latinas in the United States. Yes, Social Security is designed to redistribute income to low earners and yes, it currently has policies that disproportionately benefit women.

However, it is impossible to fully compensate for a lifetime of gender inequality in wages.

Compound this with labor market discrimination based on race and ethnicity and many Latinas are bound to encounter economic insecurity in old age.  Additionally, Latinas have a higher life expectancy—89 years compared with 85 years for women of all races and ethnicities combined—and tend to be concentrated in low-wage jobs without pensions.

Latinas in the United States account for at least 1.7 million of the total 52.5 million Social Security beneficiaries. After age 64, few Latinas receive income from sources other than Social Security. In fact, only 27 percent of Latinas aged 64–74 report any income from assets and this source of income becomes even scarcer with age (only 21 percent of  those 75 years of age and older report having any income from assets). Yet asset income is the most common source of additional income for older Latinas, after Social Security.

Although many older Latinas rely on Social Security, the benefits they receive from the program are relatively modest. Among Americans aged 75 and older, women as a whole receive average annual benefits of $11,585.  But Latinas of the same age range receive on average just $8,975 in Social Security benefits.  Still, these modest benefits constitute by far the largest share of income for older Latinas. Eighty percent of Latinas aged 75 and older rely on Social Security for at least half of their income and more than half rely on Social Security for all their income.

In other words, for older Latinas, Social Security is not merely a safety net; it’s a lifeline.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Manager at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Top 5 Recent IWPR Findings

By Jennifer Clark

When IWPR posted a “Top 5” list of our most revealing research findings in December, we were so encouraged by the level of interest our readers showed in the post, that we decided to turn it into a regular roundup. Although intending to compile another “Top 5” list, the first four months of 2011 were so action-packed that we couldn’t limit ourselves to just five. From Social Security to employment discrimination, here are the top IWPR findings from 2011 (so far):

1.       Without access to Social Security, 58 percent of women and 48 percent of men above the age of 75 would be living below the poverty line.  If you watch cable news, read reputable newspapers, or even tune in to late night television, you would get the impression that the Social Security system, which helped keep 14 million Americans over the age of 65 out of poverty in 2009, is broken. Social Security does not contribute to the deficit and is forbidden by law to borrow money to pay for benefits.  In fact, Social Security is actually running a surplus—a big one—at $2.6 trillion, an amount that is projected to increase to $4.2 trillion by 2025.

2.       Although many groups advocate for immigrant rights at the local, state, or national levels, very few advocate specifically for the rights of immigrant women. A new IWPR report, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change, on the challenges facing Latina immigrants in the United States, explores the specific challenges faced by immigrant women—higher poverty rates than their male counterparts and greater risk of sexual, domestic, and workplace violence—and spotlights the organizations that are trying to help.

3.       The gender wage gap has narrowed only 13 percentage points in the last 55 years. With the ratio of women’s to men’s earnings stagnating at 77 percent in recent years, IWPR projected that, if current trends continue, the gender wage gap will finally close in 2056—45 years from now. In terms of how the gender wage gap breaks down by occupation, IWPR also found that women earn less than men in 107 out of 111 occupational categories, including female-dominated professions like teaching and nursing.

4.       Women’s career and life choices do not completely explain  the gender wage gap. IWPR’s new report, Ending Sex and Race Discrimination in the Workplace: Legal Interventions That Push the Envelope—a review of over 500 sex and race discrimination settlements –offers distressing evidence of the factors that keep women’s median earnings lower than men and keep women out of better paid jobs. These include discrimination in hiring, sexual harassment of women trying to work in male-dominated jobs, preventing women from getting the training that is required for promotion (or only requiring that training of women), and paying women less for the same work than men. The report finds that ensuring transparency in hiring, compensation, and promotion decisions is the most effective means for addressing discrimination.

5.       On-campus child care centers meet only five percent of the child care needs of student parents. IWPR’s report, Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents, explores the challenges facing 3.9 million student-parents, 57 percent of whom are also low-income adults, enrolled in colleges across the U.S. Costly off-campus care centers—in many states the cost exceeds median income—are unrealistic for many, leaving some student parents devoting up to ing 70 hours per  week to jobs and caregiving, leaving little time for classes or studying. Postsecondary education provides a path to firmer economic stability for low-income families, but without child care on campus, the path often seems more like an uphill climb.

6.       Both businesses and employees in San Francisco are generally in support of paid sick days, as the nation’s first paid sick days legislation sees benefits four years after passage. San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance (PSLO) went into effect in 2007.  Four years later, IWPR analyzed the effects of the ordinance in the new report, San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance: Outcomes for Employers and Employees, which surveyed over 700 employers and nearly 1,200 employees.  Despite claims from opposing groups that this kind of legislation is bad for small businesses, IWPR’s survey found that two-thirds of employers in San Francisco support the law, including over 60 percent of employers in the hotel and food service industry.

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

A Partial Fix for Closing the Wage Gap: End Segregation in the Labor Market

by Barbara Gault

So, the wage gap is still going strong, even though women have surpassed men in terms of number of higher degrees received. Women are now more likely than men to get bachelors’ degrees, master’s degrees, and Ph.D.’s. Is it just a matter of needing time to catch up?

According to recent IWPR statistics, at the current rate of change it will take until 2056, or 45 more years, until we see equality. How do we accelerate change? One method is to equalize access to high paying jobs.

As IWPR’s new fact sheet, shows, the most common jobs for men and women are quite different. Of the ten most common jobs for men and women, there is overlap in only one. The best paid professions which are more common to  men are Chief Executive Officer (CEO), computer software engineer, and manager; the best paid professions more common for women are accountants, registered nurses, and elementary and middle school teachers. In the ten lowest paid occupations, close to two-thirds of workers are women, and in the highest paid occupations, two-thirds of workers are men. The proportion of women who are machinists, carpenters, and electricians hovered at below 10 percent between 1972 and 2009. Fewer than 10 percent of civil engineers were women in 2009.

And sex segregation is not improving. The index of dissimilarity, a tool that economists use to measure the degree of sex segregation overall in the labor market, found that in the 37 year period between 1972 and 2009 we saw progress in this area for the first 25 years, and then progress essentially dropped off starting in 1996 and continues to stagnate.

Women’s representation in some high paying fields, notably computer science, has actually gotten worse. Segregation in the labor force is a natural by-product of sex segregation in educational focus. Whereas in 1989 women were more than 30.2 percent of computer science bachelor degree recipients, in 2008 they were only 17.6 percent. Similarly, the proportion of math bachelor degree recipients that were women dropped in that same time period, from 46 to 43 percent. Engineering bachelor degrees increased, but only slightly, from 15.2 to 18.5 percent. On the other hand, women receive more than 70 percent of psychology degrees, and they are also the vast majority of degree holders in education.

We see the same gendered patterns in receipt of associates’ degrees. The percentage of women receiving associates degrees in computer and information sciences, engineering and engineering technology, and math and science, all dropped between 1997 and 2007.

An analysis released by IWPR yesterday found that of 111 occupations for which we had sufficient data, women earned less than men in 107 of them. These within-occupation wage gaps do reflect pure discrimination, but sex segregation can of course occur even within occupations. One of the largest wage gaps we found was in retail sales, where women only earn 64.7 percent of what men earn. 

In the Walmart vs. Betty Dukes case currently before the Supreme Court we hear stories of differential retail sales assignments being used as a justification for paying men more (men work in the tools department, which pays more, and women work in the cosmetics department, which pays less).

To end occupational segregation and the wage gap, there are clear steps that employers, policymakers, and even teachers and parents can take:

  • Education: Encourage girls and women to go into nontraditional, higher paying jobs.   The National Girls Collaborative provides access to an array of programs encouraging girls to pursue careers in fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
  • Unionization: Improve access to unions.  Unionized jobs have lower wage gaps.
  • Enforcement: Address issues contributing to hostile work environments through Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) interventions in order to eradicate this problem. Investigate common occupations with the highest sex segregation, and those with most profound wage gaps, as these are likely to be hotbeds of harassment and hostility.
  • Awareness: Address the unequal division of caregiving work.  The recent White House Women in America report found that women still do more housework and child care work, allowing men to spend more time at paid work and leisure.  IWPR’s research found that even teen girls shoulder an unfair burden of care for siblings and housework, while boys spend more time at leisure.
  • Support: Build greater family supports for workers and learners, including expanding support for student parents, who make up roughly a quarter of students at colleges and universities.
  • Development: Think of ending inequality as a key component of sustainable community development by working to make communities family friendly: include child care as a part of city and state economic development plans, and co-locate child care with public transportation and housing.  For ideas like these, check out the Cornell University’s website on child care and economic development with useful tools including those for assessing the economic development importance of child care to communities.
  • Advocacy: We need a whole new wave of kitchen table advocacy and consciousness-raising on the pervasiveness of sex discrimination.   Some argue that Walmart shouldn’t be held responsible for sex discrimination because the problem is too widespread throughout the whole society.  We somehow managed to desegregate schools and universities even though segregation was widespread at one point in our history. We need to approach unequal pay the same way.
  • Communication: The Paycheck Fairness Act was not passed this year, which would have outlawed retribution for sharing salary information – but we can use the anonymity of the Internet to share such information with one another through discussion forums, blogs and social media.  Also, women need to join forces to address the unequal distribution of labor within the home.
  • Negotiation: And we do need to negotiate, but not because it will make us any allies in the short term, but as a form of advocacy.  When women negotiate like men, it is not always met with a warm reception.  Negotiate as an act of solidarity, so that  we’ll all get used to it, and gradually shift our stereotypes of how nice women workers are supposed to act.

Barbara Gault is the Executive Director and Vice President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

A College Student’s Take on the Gender Wage Gap

By Lauren Hepler

In honor of Equal Pay Day, IWPR intern Lauren Hepler observes the impact of the gender wage gap as she looks to start a career after college.

In this economy, it is very scary to be a college student getting ready to graduate in just one short year. And with media profits tanking, it is even more daunting to be a journalism major set to graduate in 2012. Sadly, it is worse to be a female journalism student set to graduate knowing that women still only make an average of 77 percent of men’s yearly salaries (according to median yearly earnings in 2009).

Family friends of college grads, professors, and anyone who knows one—or follows one on Facebook— are curious about where we will land our first real jobs. With unemployment among people age 20-24 at 15.4 percent and showing no signs of easing, I would imagine that many other college students share my unsentimental notions on the issue. I will work wherever I can get a job.

This anxiety about finding any job at all often obscures the reality that we are still confronted with: Women make only make 77 percent of men’s median yearly salaries.

For a student used to living on a shoestring budget, the potential financial impact of the gender wage gap is daunting. On average, monetary losses due to the wage gap over a lifetime add up to $700,000 for a high school graduate, $1.2 million for a college graduate, and $2 million for a professional school graduate.

That is not chump change. That is money that could be spent paying back overwhelming student loans, financing homes or generally saving for the future—all things young people are constantly told to do but often can’t because of budget constraints.

Unfortunately, it appears this cash will not be materializing anytime soon. According to new IWPR research, if progress continues at the current rate, it will be 45 more years (or the year 2056) when men’s and women’s wages finally balance out.

In fact, one of the most alarming facts about the gender wage gap is that the rate of progress is actually slowing down (despite a small gain in the number of women in management positions). From 1980 to 1993, the gender wage gap narrowed by 12.9 percent. But in the 16 years from 1993 to 2009 the gap narrowed a meager 3.1 percent.

College history classes often hark back to the 1960s as the tipping point for gender discrimination, praising the shattering of the glass ceiling for women in the workforce. Now, half a century later, how far have we really come?

The Gender Earnings Ration 1955-2010 (click to enlarge)

In 1960, women, on average, earned only 60 percent of men’s wages for a year of full-time work. In 2009 that number had risen to 77 percent, with women still making almost a quarter less than their male counterparts.

And that’s just the national average. The numbers are even more jarring when comparing state-to-state, or across racial and ethnic categories.

In Wyoming, for instance, women still make just 64 percent of what men earn in a year. West Virginia and Louisiana are only slightly better, at 67 percent, which is roughly equivalent to the national average in the late 1980s.

As a percentage of white men’s yearly earnings Asian women average 82.3 percent, while white women average 75 percent, black women 61.9 percent, and Hispanic women just 52.9 percent of what a man earns.

Despite the bleak outlook for the immediate future, actions are being pursued to correct the imbalance in the gender wage gap, with the Supreme Court last week hearing arguments on the Dukes v. Wal-Mart gender discrimination case.

And there is a need for urgency on the issue.  A report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation shows that the gender wage gap starts early in a career and then widens dramatically. Just one year out of college, female graduates on average make only 80 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries. Ten years down the road, the report found that the gap widened, with women receiving just 69 percent of men’s earnings by that point in their careers.

This phenomenon is even more counterintuitive considering that in the last decade women have consistently outnumbered men at American colleges, with women averaging about 57 percent of enrollment. Despite making huge gains in education and being better prepared than ever to enter the workforce, complacency on the gender wage gap continues to hamper the careers of American women.

As a student preparing to go on the job hunt, I know I am not exempt from this problem. However, I certainly don’t want to wait until I reach retirement age (I will be 66 in the year 2056) to get the same pay as men in my field.

Lauren Hepler is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She is majoring in journalism and women’s studies at George Washington University.

One on One with Sara Manzano-Diaz, Director of the U.S. DOL Women’s Bureau

Sara Manzano-Diaz, Director of the Women's Bureau at the U.S. DOL

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

IWPR was honored to have Sara Manzano-Díaz as keynote speaker at a launch event at the Woodrow Wilson Center for our latest report on immigration, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change. We also had the opportunity to interview Ms. Manzano-Díaz, the Director of the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), for this blog on her work championing for the rights of working women and for families.

Ms. Manzano-Díaz’s resume includes judicial, state, and federal titles: Deputy Secretary of State for Regulatory Programs at the Pennsylvania Department of State (appointed by Governor Edward G. Rendell), Deputy General Counsel for Civil Rights and Litigation at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Assistant Attorney General in New York, and a Judicial Assistant and Pro Se Attorney in the New York State Judiciary. She also served as co-chair of The Forum of Executive Women’s Mentoring Committee, which mentors young professional women as they begin their careers, and participated in Madrinas, a program that provides mentors for at-risk Latina girls to encourage them to finish high school and attend college. Ms. Manzano-Díaz holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations and Communications from Boston University and a Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers University School of Law.

IWPR:  Please tell me about your background: What led you to pursue a degree in law?  What inspired you to pursue work in the civil service—specifically for women and families?

Sara Manzano-Díaz:  Since the age of five I envisioned myself becoming a lawyer. Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, I became the family translator at a very young age. As a result, a love for advocacy grew from that experience. I became an advocate for my own family, which fueled a passion to advocate for all working families and women. Now, I represent 72 million working women as Director of the U. S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

IWPR:  What influence do you think the Women’s Bureau has on policy?  How does it help to empower women?

SMD:  When the law was passed in 1920 creating the office, the Women’s Bureau was given authority to formulate standards and policies that promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve safety and working conditions, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment. One of the agency’s early achievements was the inclusion of women under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which, for the first time, set minimum wages and maximum working hours.  As the advocate for women within the Labor Department, the agency was also instrumental in the development of the Family and Medical Leave Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

In the 21st Century, our vision and the policy direction of the program still remains one of empowering all working women to achieve economic security. That translates into preparing them for high paying jobs, ensuring fair compensation, promoting workplace flexibility as well as helping homeless women veterans reintegrate into the workforce. Empowerment of women makes the world work and strengthens the American economy.

IWPR:  What are your goals for the Women’s Bureau?

SMD:  During my tenure, I want to see the Women’s Bureau continue to make a real difference in the lives of women of all races and to help families who have suffered in this economy. Our four priorities include: equal pay, workplace flexibility, higher paying jobs for women and assisting women veterans experiencing homeless. Lucrative jobs exist for women in the skilled trades, green sector and other non-traditional industries. Our goal is to link women to occupations in high-growth and emerging industries that can move them and their families into middle class status. Later this spring, we expect to publish a guide that links women to the green job sector nationwide. Another project will help Latino women, the fastest growing female population in America, achieve financial security through a financial literacy course in Spanish.

IWPR:   The anniversary of Equal Pay Day will be on April 12th this year. How far do you think we have come since the 1963 passage of the Equal Pay Act? What do we have left to accomplish for gender equality?

SMD:  Women continue to make great strides since passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This administration supports the Pay Check Fairness Act and we are working hard every day towards economic security for women. In 1963 women earned $.59 on average for every dollar earned by men, today women earn $.81 on the dollar (based on the 2010 Census). As part of the President’s Equal Pay Taskforce, we are working to ensure that women have the tools to get fair pay in the workplace.

IWPR:  You have had a very accomplished career. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

SMD:  As an attorney, I have spent my career advocating for the voiceless. President Obama and [Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis] share that vision and passion to care for the most vulnerable members of society. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work for two historic individuals and know that the work we do will impact the lives of working class women and families. As Director of the Women’s Bureau, I get to advocate on a national scale and represent women of all ethnicities in the fight for their economic security, from rural women to single moms to homeless women veterans.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Who Suffers without Collective Bargaining in Wisconsin? Families.

by Jennifer Clark

(Photo by Michele Dickinson/SEIU)

A new development in the Wisconsin union story occurred a couple nights ago when Wisconsin’s Republican state senators discovered a roundabout way, without any of their Democratic colleagues present, to pass a bill that will strip collective bargaining for public sector employees in the state. The state senators took out the “financial” aspects of the bill and voted to strip collective bargaining rights from public sector employees separate from the budget bill.  But banning collective bargaining will have financial ramifications—especially for family budgets.

Collective bargaining allows for workers to negotiate more effectively for things like higher wages and better benefits. Wisconsin’s bill limits collective bargaining over wages and eliminates the power to collectively bargain over benefits and pensions. Without collective bargaining, workers have fewer options for recourse against unfair wages or low benefits, issues women are more likely to face. As has been noted elsewhere, state and local public sector workers are actually paid less than their private sector counterparts, once their qualifications are taken into account, and as we pointed out last week, the majority of public sector workers at the state and local level are women.

Recently, the Wisconsin Women’s Council released a fact sheet showing that a staggering 71 percent of Wisconsin’s women with children under the age of six are working. This means that there are a lot of working mothers in Wisconsin–more than the national average of 60 percent. Not all of them work in the public sector, of course, but the same fact sheet also showed that the 56 percent of state government workers and 58 percent of local government workers in Wisconsin are women, and women exceed 60 percent of the state government workforce in 12 counties.

In a projection for NBC News, IWPR estimated that it will take 45 more years to close the gender wage gap.

In general, lower women’s wages hurt families that rely on their earnings. Women workers still face a stagnant wage gap–regardless of private or public sector employment. But collective bargaining gives women a collective—and thus, effective—voice in wage disputes. In a recent projection for NBC News, IWPR estimated that it will take until 2056—45 years from today—until women’s wages catch up with men’s. The same NBC story noted that women represent the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households, underscoring the importance of women’s wages to family economic security.

If this trend to eliminate public sector workers’ collective bargaining power spreads to other states, the bills will have a disproportionate affect on families of color as well. Nationally, more than one in five black workers are public sector employees, compared to 17 percent of white workers. Although black women in the public sector have the lowest wages, the gender wage gap is actually five percentage points narrower in government (81 percent) than in the private sector (76 percent), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  (The racial wage gap, as it happens, is also narrower in the public sector.) And five percentage points is not insignificant; remember that it has taken about 16 years (since 1993) to narrow the overall gender wage gap by five percentage points.

Families are already facing an uphill battle with the persistent gender wage gap affecting their household finances. In Wisconsin, female-dominated public sector professions will take the biggest hit from the new legislation and many of the women affected will be working mothers. The last thing these Wisconsin families need is one less way to improve women’s wages.

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

This post was updated March 11, 2011, at 2:25.

Voices for International Women’s Day

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

International Women’s Day is important for a myriad of reasons, but they all add up to one: achieving equality for women. This day calls on us to remember that women still have to achieve equal access to education, employment, health care, roles in government leadership, resources, and income.  Research from IWPR shows that it will take until 2056 for women to achieve pay parity with men in this United States, based on the pace of progress over the course of the past fifty years.

Slowing progress, women continue to dominate professions traditionally done by women, which typically pay less, despite sometimes having higher education requirements. Women now account for over 95 percent of all kindergarten teachers, librarians, dental assistants and registered nurses in 2009. As further evidence of this, women now make up 61 percent of the local government workforce, with the highest number—at 22 percent— working as elementary and middle school teachers.

Today on Twitter, many men and women used their voices to call for change and progress.

The conversation on the significance of International Women’s Day has been spirited. The Ms. Foundation for Women tweeted “We have far to go. U.S. ranks 37th out of 42 highly developed nations in terms of gender equality.” Musician and women’s rights advocate as Oxfam Global Ambassador, Annie Lennox wrote: “Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, earn ten percent of world’s income and own one percent of the world’s property.”

Some women may not have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of their rights, consumed with finding basics of survival. Médecins Sans Frontières tweeted about its efforts to bring surgery to women suffering from obstetric fistulas, which can be life-threatening when left untreated.

In the political arena, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced during the launch of the 100 Women Initiative aired live yesterday on the State Department’s website, “I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century.” And former civil rights activist, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) commented on Twitter: “On the 100th IWD, there are still too many women in too many parts of the world who are left out and left behind.”

These are just a few of the statements made today in honor of International Women’s Day. It is inspiring to see such an outpouring of support for women’s issues. This conversation should carry on beyond today as a reminder there is still work to be done.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The FMLA: Old Enough to Vote, but with Room to Grow

On the occasion of its anniversary, IWPR takes the opportunity to outline the main characteristics of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and its impact over the past 18 years.

by Kevin Miller

Saturday, February 5 marks the 18th anniversary of the day that President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 into law. The law requires that employers with 50 or more employees provide 12 weeks of job-protected leave to any employee with one year of job tenure who has worked 1,250 hours within the past year. The law does not require employers to pay employees during this leave, though employees can substitute existing sources of paid leave such as sick days and vacation time in order to receive pay during FMLA leave.

 

Job-Protected Leave

In the 18 years that the FMLA has protected the right of (some) American workers to take job-protected leave, it has helped millions: mothers taking maternity leave and new child leave, fathers taking new child leave, and workers taking medical leave or leave to care for ill or injured family members (a child, spouse, or parent). It remains the only federal law that gives Americans a right to time off work, helping Americans balance work and family.

Gender Neutral

Though FMLA leave can be taken for maternity-disability reasons, it can also be taken to care for a new child regardless of whether that child was born to the employee, born to the employee’s spouse, adopted, or fostered. Nowhere in FMLA is access restricted by gender since the law applies equally to men and women.

Limited Eligibility

A 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Labor found that in 2005, 76.1 million workers were eligible for FMLA-protected leave, or 54 percent of the workforce. Of the 65.6 million ineligible workers, 47.3 million worked at establishments too small to be covered and 18.3 million lacked the job tenure or hours-in-job to be eligible.

Unpaid Leave

The United States is one of only five nations (along with Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea) whose workers lack a legal right to paid maternity leave. Australia, which previously guaranteed only unpaid leave, has introduced paid parental leave this year. Some American workers who are eligible to use FMLA leave are unable to afford taking unpaid time off from work: a 2000 survey commissioned by the Department of Labor found that among workers who said they needed FMLA leave but did not take it, 78 percent said that they could not afford to do so without pay.

Unequal Outcomes

Despite the gender neutral language of the FMLA, both the eligibility restrictions and the unpaid nature of the leave contribute to gender inequality. Men and women in the workforce are equally likely to work at a covered employer, but women with young children are 16 percent less likely to meet eligibility requirements than are men with young children. Among eligible workers with young children, however, women are more likely than men to take leave—76 percent compared to 45 percent. The unpaid nature of FMLA leave means that married couples may need to choose one parent to take leave while the other continues to work (and receive pay).

The average full-time female worker made 77 cents on the dollar compared to male workers in 2009, so it often makes financial sense for wives to take leave (or leave work entirely) while husbands remain on the job, a strategy that can leave women earning less for years after they eventually re-enter the labor force.

Room to Grow

Passage of the FMLA took eight years of hard work by advocates, researchers, and policymakers. During that time, provisions for paid leave were removed from the proposed legislation as a compromise, with the implicit promise that the law would be revisited and strengthened over time. The FMLA has been amended in recent years, but only to improve access to unpaid leave for airline employees, and military personnel and their families.

Successful efforts to provide paid leave have been limited to the five states with Temporary Disability Insurance systems (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island), with California and New Jersey expanding their systems to include paid family leave. A recent study of California’s paid family leave system found that implementation of the system had minimal impact on employers and greatly expanded leave for workers in low-quality jobs.

 

The signing of the FMLA in 1993 was a watershed event for American workers, finally providing Americans a job-protected right to time off work. The FMLA has helped millions of Americans take leave from work to care for a new child or family member. However, millions of Americans are not covered by or eligible under the FMLA, and some who are eligible cannot afford to take unpaid time off work. Advocates and policymakers continue to work to expand access to leave that is both job-protected and paid, with the hope that one day Americans will no longer be forced to choose between their jobs and their families.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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