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Election 2012: What Can We Learn Now from Women’s Equality Day?

This article by Susan Bailey is reposted from the blog, Girl with Pen (girlwpen.com).

This year marked the 41st anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, marked each year on August 26th to commemorate the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment which granted women the right to vote in 1920. For many not actively engaged in women’s issues, it’s merely another in a long list of little known awareness days. But this election year’s escalating anti-woman rhetoric is crazy making. I feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole into the land of the absurd. When ‘rape’ and ‘legitimate’ can be used in the same breath and women and men of reason are called upon to counter medieval constructs of female biology, I need the lessons of Women’s Equality Day. Maybe others do, too.

Women’s Equality Day originated after New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug proposed August 26th be so designated in honor of the 1920 ratification of the Woman’s Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The designation reflected the renewed energy of the ‘second wave’ of the feminist movement. It was an attempt to reclaim lost history.

By the 1960‘s, the struggles preceding the final ratification the 19th amendment had been largely forgotten. If school books mentioned women’s rights at all, a single sentence usually sufficed: “Women were given the vote in 1920.” The 70-year battle for women’s suffrage was not considered a significant part of our national history.

Beginning at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and continuing until 1920 when the Tennessee legislature became the 36th state required for a two thirds majority, women battled for a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote. They organized, lobbied, protested and picketed. Their efforts were mocked and ridiculed. Protesters were arrested, jailed, and force fed though tubes shoved down their throats. Leaders did not always agree on tactics. But women persisted. Far from being given the right to vote, women fought hard to win it.

Some of the rights women worked for and achieved over the years have remained controversial. There are many battles still to be fought and re-fought. The right to vote and to run for office is not one of these. It stands unquestioned.

But a key result the women and men who fought for suffrage expected, equal representation of women in elected office, remains elusive. Ninety two years after women won the right to vote, women make up barely 17 percent of the U.S. Congress. This percentage leaves us tied for 78th place with Turkmenistan in global rankings of national elected representatives.

At the state level it’s not much better. Women hold 23.4 percent of statewide executive offices and 23.8 percent of the seats in state legislatures this year.

Although I find it hard to believe given our current national discussions, I realize that some may still ask why it all matters.

Of course, neither women nor men march in lock step, or agree on every issue. Certainly many men support women-friendly legislation and there are women who vote for anti-woman initiatives. But studies repeatedly show that women, no matter what political party they represent, tend to sponsor and vote for legislation and programs that support women and families in larger percentages than do their male colleagues.

Women do not “misspeak” about rape and its consequences. Women will not fall in line with statements or policies that imply that women are governed by our bodies, rather than our minds.

U.S. Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) and his fellow travelers may be the last gasp of a crumbling patriarchy; I for one certainly hope so. Or they may be better described as part of a larger set of global fundamentalist efforts—of various origins—attempting to control women and their bodies. Maybe it’s some of both. But ‘last gaspers’ and fundamentalists can be equally dangerous and destructive. We cannot turn away in disgust. We cannot fool ourselves that lies and pseudoscience will fade away.

Our strongest weapon in the battles ahead may be the one our foremothers won for us. The 20th century began with women winning the right to vote. The 21st century is the time to fulfill the promise inherent in that victory. More women need to run for office. And RIGHT NOW we ALL need to canvass, phone bank, donate and vote for candidates who will fight for women’s equality. It won’t happen any other way.

Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D., served as Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), and a Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Education at Wellesley College for 25 years. Following college she taught in Asia, Latin America and the United States; experiences that fostered her commitment to gender equitable education.

New BLS Data Confirm Unequal Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

By Kevin Miller and Caroline Dobuzinskis

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) on access to and use of paid leave by American workers. This is the first time the ATUS has included questions on leave-taking among American workers, with a module paid for by the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

The findings from the 2011 Leave Module of the ATUS reveal that many American workers lack access to paid leave from their jobs, though access varies by worker and occupational characteristics. Overall, 59 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid leave; 4 in 10 American workers lack access to paid leave. This reflects IWPR research analysis that found that 44 million workers in the United States lack access to paid sick leave and that only 58 percent of private sector employees in the U.S. had access to paid sick days in 2010.

Overall, the newly released BLS data on leave access and use by American workers confirm large disparities in access to and use of leave, especially paid leave. Workers with lower wages, Hispanic workers, workers in poorer health, and workers in jobs that put them in direct contact with the public (e.g., sales or hospitality workers) are less likely to have access to leave from their jobs and are more likely to lose pay when they do take leave.

Findings Show Large Gaps in Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

Men and women have similar rates of access to paid leave, with 60 and 58 percent of male and female workers with access to paid leave, respectively. The reasons for taking leave tend to differ between gender, with more women tending to take leave for illness or medical treatment for themselves or a family member.

Based on educational levels, there are large disparities in access to paid leave. Workers with college degrees are far more likely (72 percent) to have access to paid leave than workers without a high school diploma (35 percent). The BLS data also show large gaps in access between Hispanic and other workers. Hispanic workers are less likely to have access to leave (43 percent) than are non-Hispanic workers (61 percent). White, black, and Asian workers have similar rates of access to paid leave (59, 61, and 62 percent respectively).

Among full-time workers, those in the top quartile of earnings are the most likely to have access to paid leave (83 percent have access), while those in the lowest quartile are less likely (50 percent have access). Seventy-nine percent of workers in the financial industry have access to paid leave, while only 25 percent of those in the leisure and hospitality industries—which include food service—have access to paid leave. Workers in the private sector are less likely to have access to paid leave (57 percent) than are workers in the public sector (76 percent).

Taking Time Off Can Mean Lost Wages for Many Workers

Though over half of workers have access to some kind of paid leave, and 90 percent have access to either paid or unpaid leave, in an average week only 21 percent of workers took leave (including either vacation or sick time) according to the BLS.

Women, who tend to have more caregiving duties for children and older relatives, were slightly more likely than men to take leave from their jobs during an average week (23 percent compared with 20 percent). Of women workers who took leave in an average week, 35 percent did so either to care for their own medical needs, for those of a family member or relative, or to provide elderly care or child care, compared with 25 percent of men who took leave for the same reasons.

Workers who characterized their health as fair or poor were somewhat less likely to take leave in an average week. But those who did were more likely to take unpaid leave compared with those who characterized their health as good. Sixty percent of workers in fair or poor health took unpaid leave, compared with 38 to 39 percent who characterized their health as good, very good, or excellent (most of whom took paid leave). IWPR’s analyses of the costs and benefits of paid sick days in several states and cities nationwide have found that access to paid sick days improves workers’ self-assessed health, reduces costly emergency department visits, and reduces health care costs to private and public insurers.

Reflecting the lack of access to paid leave in many service-oriented jobs, workers in management, business, and financial operations were much less likely to take unpaid leave compared with workers in service occupations (20 percent took unpaid leave compared with 66 percent). Of those workers in the leisure and hospitality industry who took leave in an average week, 86 percent took unpaid leave. Only 13 percent of workers in this industry took paid leave.

Mirroring the inequality in access to paid leave that exists across income levels, workers in the top quartile of earnings are twice as likely to have taken paid leave in an average week (82 percent) compared with workers in the lowest quartile of earnings (40 percent).

These new findings reaffirm the lack of equal access to paid leave that can leave many workers without economic or job security if an illness should arise for themselves or for a family member. Without access to paid leave, many workers simply cannot afford to take time off. Workers who are sometimes forced to work while ill tend to be those who are most likely to come into contact with the public and spread contagious illness. Women, often those caring for family members, tend to be disproportionately impacted because they are more likely to work in part-time jobs and tend to have lower earnings than men.

Visit IWPR’s website for more information on IWPR’s research on paid sick days and the impact on paid sick days legislation on workers and businesses.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate and Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Rallying Together Around Issues Critical to Women and Families at NOW Conference 2012

IWPR staff and interns attended the NOW Conference in June.

By Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) had the opportunity to participate in the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) national conference in Baltimore, Maryland in June. The annual conference is the largest gathering of women’s groups and advocates in the country and attracted several accomplished leaders in women’s policy and advocacy, including Representative Carolyn Maloney, Dr. Bernice “Bunny” Sandler (responsible for the enactment of Title IX), political strategist and MSNBC commentator Krystal Ball, and playwright and women’s advocate Eve Ensler.

By participating in or moderating a number of conference panels and presentations, IWPR researchers and other policy experts facilitated a “Mothers and Caregivers Summit” that took place over two days of the three-day convention. With the country on the steps of a possible care crisis as Baby Boomers begin to age, raising awareness on issues related to mothers and caregivers is particularly timely. This also being an election year, it is a crucial time to shine the spotlight on the importance of economic and family supports for women, who are more likely than men to act as caregivers for children and older relatives.

The conference summit consisted of four panel discussions on topics including the importance of family leave and paid sick days for the well-being of women and their children, trends in women’s employment such as occupational segregation and the gender wage gap, family economic and retirement security, and means to improve access to quality jobs for women and people of color. IWPR staff presentations from the summit can be found on IWPR’s website.

In one of the first panel discussions of the conference, IWPR Research Analyst Claudia Williams and Helen Luryi, Work and Family Policy Associate at the National Partnership for Women and Families, discussed the progress of state-level of paid sick days campaigns across the nation. Williams highlighted the importance of this legislation in reducing contagion, ultimately benefiting employee productivity and reducing health care costs, as found in IWPR’s cost-benefit analyses of paid sick days policies. IWPR has analyzed the impact of a nationwide paid sick days policy on health care costs and employment, as well as the cost-benefits of paid sick days legislation in states and cities considering such laws (including New York State, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Denver, Colorado). Nationwide, access to paid sick days could save approximately $1 billion in health care costs according to a November 2011 report from IWPR.

In discussing other topics such as the gender wage gap, Social Security modernization, unemployment insurance, asset-building, and jobs in the “green” industry, IWPR researchers were joined by other experts such as Dr. Martha Burk, who spoke about her role in the push for paycheck fairness in New Mexico, and Web Phillips of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, who discussed proposed reforms to Social Security and ways in which they would help or harm women and their families.

In May, the NCPSSM, the NOW Foundation, and IWPR released a report that looked at the challenges facing older women and called for affordable changes to modernize Social Security to better support women’s economic security. Recommendations included improving survivor benefits, providing Social Security credits for caregivers, providing a more adequate benefit to those who have spent most of their working lives in low-wage employment, and restoring student benefits to children of disabled or deceased workers until age 22 when the child is attending college/vocational school full time.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann receiving the NOW Woman of Vision award on Saturday, June 30, 2012. Photo courtesy NOW/NOW Foundation.

This year’s NOW conference, titled with the theme “Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women!” called upon the next generation of young advocacy leaders to speak up on issues important to women. But the conference was also an opportunity to look back on significant accomplishments and achievements. Several women’s leaders were honored for their work, including IWPR’s Dr. Heidi Hartmann, who received the NOW Woman of Vision Award for significant contributions towards improving the lives of women and girls in the United States. The award’s honorees have a strong commitment to women’s issues and have, over time, developed, communicated, and realized their vision by engaging with other leaders in women’s policy and advocacy. “I am deeply honored to be recognized by the National Organization for Women and to have the importance of economic issues for women be given visibility by this award,” said Dr. Hartmann.

IWPR thanks NOW for organizing a successful and engaging conference! We look forward to continuing to energize and inform conversations and dialogues on women’s issues as the year unfolds. Watch for upcoming IWPR research on women and caregiving, as well as on work/family supports, access to paid sick days, and access to quality employment for women and minorities. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay informed!

Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon is the Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The Wage Gap: Myths vs. Realities

By Heidi Hartmann

We owe a debt of gratitude to MSNBC host Rachel Maddow for pointing out the differing perceptions people have about the gender wage gap. In April, she invited me on her show to set the facts straight on the wage gap and I hope that I helped her to do that

By now, most Americans are likely familiar with the 77 percent figure, meaning that, at the median, women’s wages equal only 77 percent of men’s wages both for full-time, year-round work (in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available). This figure, provided annually by the U.S. Census Bureau, has come under criticism from conservative economists and others for a variety of reasons for the past several decades—so much so, that this simple and accurate figure is now viewed by many media outlets as suspect. One New York City newspaper even refused to allow an op-ed writer to include a number such as this provided by IWPR based upon government data.

On an April 30 broadcast of  the Sunday morning television show, Meet the Press, Ms. Maddow pointed out that another guest on the show, conservative-leaning CNN commentator Alex Castellanos, seemed to deny that men’s and women’s wages are unequal. After first countering that wages were equal, Mr. Castellanos said they were unequal but that was due to good reasons such as women working in fields like science or math, or women taking time off to have children, and so on. Mr. Castellanos was echoing justifications provided by conservative economists over the years to ignore the size of the wage gap by imagining that it is really much smaller than the data show, or that it may reflect women’s preferences—therefore, no government action to end discrimination is necessary.

While often those on opposite sides of an issue agree on facts but disagree on solutions, Ms. Maddow’s point is that, in terms of the wage gap, there exists a major difference in belief about the facts. In such circumstances, it is impossible to come to a compromise and agree upon a solution. Just as conservatives have spent decades challenging the role of government in regulating pollution, banks, or big business, they have spent decades challenging the popular wage gap number, and for a similar reason—to avoid policy changes. Let’s review what conservative economists have been saying.

Some economists challenge the 77 percent figure by pointing out it does not compare women’s and men’s earnings in the same jobs: in other words, the figure implicitly compares truck drivers, who are mostly male, with secretaries, who are mostly female, for example. Yes, the figure does compare women and men across the whole economy, but do we believe women should receive lower pay because they are any less talented, competent, or hard working than men? Given their equal competency, shouldn’t both women and men be able to find jobs in the economy that pay them what they’re worth?

When citing the wage gap, it may be more accurate to say, as President Obama often does, that women earn only 77 percent of what men earn for an equal day’s work (rather than for equal work).

A second set of reasons economists give for challenging the 77 percent figure is that the women and men being compared are not identical. More women than men have likely taken at least a year off from work in the past to take care of children, even if they are working full-time, year-round now. Also, more working women than working men are single parents. More married working fathers than married working mothers have stay-at-home spouses, allowing them to focus on full-time paid work.

Critics who cite these issues suggest it would be more accurate to compare single workers without children in restricted age ranges, where time spent working and work life careers are presumably more similar. But does it make sense to consider only subsets of workers? Shouldn’t women and men expect equal earnings when they provide equal effort and skill on the job whatever their age, marital, or parental status?

Yet another set of economists’ favorite reasons revolves around women’s choices. Perhaps women chose more family-friendly jobs that pay less, for example, because they provide more flexibility in exchange for the lower wages. Interestingly, data about the nature of jobs held by women and men cannot confirm this hypothesis. According to a recent survey IWPR conducted, single mothers have the least flexible jobs and college-educated white men the most flexible jobs.

Ms. Maddow was correct to point out that Mr. Castellanos is denying a reality that many women experience every day, lower pay than they deserve for the work they do. Many economists have been denying this reality for a long time. Let’s hope women’s voices and women’s votes in this election season make it clear that women’s lower wages must be addressed by stronger public policies.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann is the President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Encouraging Diversity in Leadership: A New Handbook Describes Promising Practices for Mentoring

By Caroline Dobuzinskis

Mentoring is an essential tool for moving organizations forward: young members learn new leadership skills and are given a lay of the land when it comes to their working environment. A new handbook by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), produced with funding and support from the Berger-Marks Foundation, provides valuable tools and information for developing and implementing mentoring programs for union members and staff.

The handbook, The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders, defines and describes various types of mentoring, outlines strategies for addressing potential obstacles or roadblocks in the mentoring process, and includes methods for making mentoring programs sustainable. It also includes worksheets to help mentors and mentees get the most out of their mentoring relationship, and to enable union leaders to identify the strengths of their mentoring programs and possible areas for improvement. The guide can be used to begin a new mentoring program or to shore up one that’s already in place.

Mentoring can especially help women and people of color, who face specific challenges in advancing their careers. These programs can help women build professional networks and make connections—opportunities that are often otherwise not readily available. And mentoring programs can help unions cultivate more diverse leadership. Interviews with respondents who participated in union mentorship programs—as mentors or mentees—shed light on the benefits that mentoring had for these respondents  and others in their unions.

“[As a result of the mentoring,] I ended up being very successful…the program that I was running ended up being held up as a model,” said one former union mentee. “And our international union has really recognized the work that I was doing. And that, I’m sure, would not have happened if I hadn’t gotten the help that I needed to be really successful.”

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

Guest Blog Post: Mentoring Program Inspires Girls to Explore Careers in STEM

Nadine Ann Skinner is a Program Manager at Girls Inc. of Alameda County®

By Nadine Ann Skinner

In March, IWPR released a report showing that the number of women pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at community colleges was declining, despite growing opportunities for gainful employment in these fields. Encouraging women to pursue STEM careers can start by inspiring girls and young women to explore these fields. Nadine Ann Skinner is a Program Manager at Girls Incorporated of Alameda County® (Girls Inc.) and contributed this guest post on mentoring programs for girls with her organization.

Last week I had the opportunity to take a group of teenage girls to Genentech to meet some of the women who worked there. Walking in, the normally boisterous girls were quiet, subdued by the large campus and the number of mentors waiting to speak with them. As the girls joined activities led by the mentors, I spoke with the two women engineers who had invited us. “Why did you decide to become engineers?” I asked. The two women thought for a moment, and then they both answered that their fathers were engineers and that inspired them to become engineers.

The girls in the program I work for are from Oakland and San Leandro, California. Most of the girls will be the first member of their family to go to college. They live in neighborhoods plagued by violence and attend underperforming schools. Who is there to inspire them to become engineers or scientists?

Even with the great gains women have made in employment women are still underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. In elementary school, girls and boys express similar interests in math and science. But by college, fewer women pursue STEM majors and by college graduation, “men outnumber women in nearly every science and engineering field, and in some, such as physics, engineering, and computer science, the difference is dramatic, with women earning only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees.” In STEM graduate programs and careers, women are even more underrepresented.

Underrepresentation in the STEM workforce is a particular challenge for minority ethnic groups. Underrepresented minority groups comprised 28.5 percent of the population in 2006, but only comprised 9.1 percent of college-educated Americans in science and engineering occupations. In addition, minority women only represent 11 percent of women in the entire STEM workforce. Editor’s note: IWPR’s research analysis found that a very small proportion of associate’s degrees in STEM fields are awarded to women of color, including African American women (3.3 percent); Hispanic women (2.2 percent); and Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women (1.3 percent).

Part of the reason girls are not pursuing STEM careers is the continuing perception that girls and women are not as good at math and science. Mentoring has proven to be an effective tool to encourage girls and young women to succeed in STEM in school by combating the stereotype about girls’ ability to succeed in math and science. Mentoring and exposing girls to role models, women who prove to girls that they can be successful in STEM, can inspire girls to pursue careers in the STEM fields.

At the end of our visit to Genentech, the girls participated in a speed mentoring session, where they had a chance to interview women in a variety of STEM careers. The room was loud, filled with laughter and smiles, as the girls asked the mentors about their careers.

Eventually it was time to leave. As we walked to the van the girls were talking about the women that they met. “I want to be a toxicologist,” said one girl. “I want to be a geneticist,” said another girl. “Do you think that might let me have an internship at Genentech?” asked a third. I smiled, knowing that whatever career these girls ultimately choose, meeting these amazing role models ignited the girls’ interest in STEM careers.

Nadine Ann Skinner is a Program Manager at Girls Incorporated of Alameda County® (Girls Inc.). Girls Inc’s mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold. For over 52 years, Girls Inc. has responded to the specific needs of girls in the most underserved communities of San Francisco’s East Bay through a continuum of academic enrichment programs and counseling services in over 48 elementary, middle and high schools in Alameda County and two service centers in Oakland and San Leandro. Programs challenge girls to explore their potential, develop life skills, ensure college and career success, and expand their sense of what is possible. With an innovative educational approach incorporating local needs into research-based curricula, Girls Inc. has established itself as one of the Bay Area’s leading providers of supplemental education, reaching nearly 7,500 girls and their families annually.

Facing the Wage Gap as a Female College Grad

IWPR Research Intern Vanessa Harbin

by Vanessa Harbin

As someone who considers herself to be pretty plugged in to gender issues, I have often heard the statistic about the ratio of women’s and men’s earnings, and figured I knew most of the story. The past few months I have been going merrily along pursuing job leads in preparation for graduation from my master’s program next month, without even considering how I personally might be affected by the wage gap. Surely, as a young woman with a graduate degree, my salary will be right up there with my male peers, right? Since I haven’t seen much difference in the jobs being pursued by and offered to my female and male classmates, isn’t it a given that we’ll be getting paid equally?

Then I began helping with the research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) looking at trends in women’s earnings and labor force participation over the past few decades. First, I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t until 1984 that college-educated women earned as much as men with a high school diploma, and it took another seven years until they earned as much as men with some college education or an associate’s degree. Then, I saw the wage gap between men and women with at least a college degree—it’s the biggest gap between men and women at any level of education. And even though the gap for all workers in my age group (age 25 to 44) is the lowest in 30 years, it’s still almost 14 percent (according to IWPR’s micro data analysis of the Current Population Survey). Even when women get into highly-paid and fast growing sectors like science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) fields, they are paid 14 percent less than men—a much narrower gender gap than many other professions, but a gap nonetheless.

Yet, I know that I’m extremely lucky to be where I am. Women with low education and skill levels can not only expect to earn less than their male counterparts, but often struggle to make a livable salary. Men with poor literacy skills have substantially higher earnings than women with the same abilities. And even with higher literacy levels, women still face a wage gap.

Learning the statistics has shown me that the wage gap does indeed exist and impacts women’s earnings—even highly educated women.  It is important to be aware that the playing field might not be even and to inform policymakers about this persistent discrepancy in earnings. IWPR will be releasing an analysis of the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on the wage gap with occupations.  Our research on pay equity will be discussed at an Equal Pay Day congressional briefing April 17 organized by the Fair Pay Coalition. If you can’t make the briefing, you can still stay informed on this issue by visiting our website.

Vanessa Harbin is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She is currently completing her master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown University.

STEM Report Points to a Means of Economic Security for Low-Income Women

By Margaret Kran-Annexstein

Job opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are some of the fastest-growing industries in the country yet women’s presence in STEM education at the community college level is dropping. Between 2000–2001 and 2008–2009, the number of women earning associate’s degrees in STEM fields decreased by 25.7 percent. Meanwhile, jobs in STEM fields are expected to nearly double by 2018.

A new IWPR report, Increasing Opportunities for Low-Income Women and Student Parents in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math at Community Colleges, proposes solutions for bridging this training and jobs gap for women. The report addresses obstacles faced by women in STEM fields, and how educational institutions and organizations can help women to overcome these challenges.

It is important to encourage all women, but particularly low-income women and student parents, to pursue STEM fields. STEM degrees can be a link to better economic security because they lead to jobs in fields with better pay and narrower wage gaps—a 14 percent wage gap exists in STEM jobs versus 21 percent in non-STEM jobs.

From the report:

Women at the community college level are more likely than men to enroll in educational fields and training for jobs in traditionally female occupations—such as child care workers, health aids, or administrative assistants—with low starting pay, flat wage trajectories, and poor benefits (Hegewisch et al. 2010; Negrey et al. 2001). By contrast, women who train for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields—fields typically dominated by men—see strong economic returns.

I always liked math and science in elementary and high school. However, somewhere along the way, I abandoned STEM education, just like many other women and girls. In this difficult economy, why do so many women steer away from fields that offer so many job opportunities? During the release event for the STEM report, Roberto Rodriguez, a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said that women and girls drop out or avoid STEM education because of a “lack of role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility that exists in STEM fields.”

Sara Manzano-Díaz, who also spoke at the report release event, focuses a lot of her attention on the encouragement of young girls in her role as director of the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor. She sees that “education is the great equalizer” and by becoming role models and mentors for girls, we can encourage them to pursue STEM degrees and pave their way to fulfilling careers.

The report outlines steps that community colleges could be taking in order to recruit and retain women, especially mothers who face more challenges in completing their degrees and need flexibility in their study schedules. Increasing the number of student parents studying STEM fields can have lasting effects—not only on the quality of life of a graduate once they leave school, but also on their children. According to her research, author of the report Cynthia Costello found that children whose mothers pursue postsecondary education are more likely to receive college degrees themselves.

Women have made such huge leaps in education equality and this makes their minority presence in STEM fields of study all the more shocking.

The reality that women are highly underrepresented in STEM fields is distressing because those fields are in need of skilled workers in a shifting economy. It is also a missed opportunity to incorporate diverse perspectives in a growing industry.

“We need… more girls who believe they can grow up to invent and to discover,” said Rodriguez at the release event. “Invention and discovery in engineering and science is creative act. It benefits from a multitude of viewpoint…So without diversity we are paying inherently an opportunity cost here because that’s a cost in products not built, in designs not considered, ultimately in constraints that are not understood.”

Margaret Kran-Annexstein is a Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Living on a Dime: Small Wages and Large Gender Wage Gap in Restaurant Industry, According to Recent Report

By Margaret Kran-Annexstein

If I were to tell you that there are workers in the United States being paid $2.13 per hour, you’d probably tell me that that’s impossible because the minimum wage in this country is $7.25 and anything less is illegal. Well, you’d be right of course, but unfortunately, regulations on the tipped minimum wage have not kept up with the federal minimum wage.

In February, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), in conjunction with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and a number of other organizations, released Tipped Over the Edge: Gender Inequality in the Restaurant Industry. Among its other findings, this report exposes the restaurant business as an industry that has found a way to skirt the federal minimum wage, exacerbate the gender wage gap, and further reduce the economic security of employees by not providing health insurance or paid sick leave to most workers.

In 1991, the tipped minimum wage was 50 percent of the federal minimum wage. However, when the federal minimum wage increased in 1996, the tipped minimum wage remained the same and has not been adjusted. Today, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the tipped minimum wage remains at $2.13 an hour, less than 30 percent of the generally accepted $7.25 federal minimum wage. Although some states choose to raise that minimum, these regulations allow the restaurant industry to shortchange a vast number of its employees—a disproportionate number of whom are women.

As a student with many female friends working in the restaurant industry to help pay enormous tuition bills, I was disturbed by the findings of this report. The reality is that tipped workers often must rely on the generosity of their customers to make a living. Technically, employers are supposed to pay the difference if a worker does not make the minimum in wages plus tips but this requirement may not always be upheld or enforced. As one woman from Fort Worth, Texas testifies, “I can’t tell you how many times I made less than $20–$40 a day during the lunch rush…LOTS…I don’t understand how restaurants get away with not paying their employees minimum wage…”

Gender Segregation in the Dining Room

The notion that women and men should be paid equal wages is also overlooked due to hiring practices in the restaurant industry that solidify the gender wage gap. Female restaurant workers make on average 79 percent of what men do because women tend to hold the lower-paid positions in the restaurant world.

Women, especially women of color, hold a disproportionate amount of jobs in lower-paying restaurants while men dominate fine dining establishments—where wages can be 24 percent higher than wages in family style restaurants. Women who do obtain positions in fine dining are seldom hired as captains or martre d’s, the higher ranking, cushier positions with more supervising duties and less reliance on tips. One account from Tipped Over the Edge quotes a general manager refusing to hire a qualified women of color saying, “You don’t have the look to be a maître d’, but I can hire you as a hostess.”

There are laws that effectually set in stone wage inequality because these different ranks in restaurants hold different minimum wage requirements (the restaurant industry is one of the only sectors where you can find this discrepancy).

Many restaurant workers simply do not have enough money to support themselves: servers are forced to use food stamps at almost double the rate of the rest of the population. Rather than hold employers accountable to their staff, taxpayers have become responsible for the livelihood of many employed people through the size of their tips and the generosity of state programs.

“Try Not to Get Sick”

Not only do many restaurant workers receive painfully low wages, they often cannot afford to stay home when they get sick. In fact, ninety percent of restaurant workers lack paid sick days. One testimony from Tipped Over the Edge quotes a laughing manager telling a sick employee, who was concerned that if she did not go home she would make others sick, to “try not to cough.” Ninety percent of restaurant employees also lack employer-covered health insurance, making it even more difficult for them to seek medical care. Not only is this a violation of workers’ rights, it doesn’t make me feel very safe when I go out to try the best veggie burgers in DC.

My friends have to work in these unfair conditions but, unlike many restaurant workers, they have health insurance from their parents and are not providing for dependent children. For a single mother supporting a child on her own, Tipped Over the Edge shows that the restaurant industry can be a hostile work environment that lacks adequate living wages. Clearly change needs to come to the restaurant industry.

Margaret Kran-Annexstein is a Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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.

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