The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

What’s in my wallet, gentlemen? 78 cents to your dollar

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Home care aide Malrissa Perkins feeds Alan B. Smith, 81, in Lincoln, Massachusetts on June 13, 2013. The number of personal care aides will increase 70% between 2010 and 2020, making it the fastest-growing job in the country, according to the US Department of Labor. Scott Eells / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Equal Pay Day reminds us how much needs to be done in America to close the gender-earning gap – 5 facts and 3 reasons why raising the minimum wage could help.

Mary Babic is the Communications Officer of Oxfam America’s United States Regional Office.

Today is Equal Pay Day, which marks how far into the year the average woman in the US has to work to make a salary equivalent to the one earned by her average male counterpart. US Census Bureau figures show that women are paid 78 cents to each dollar earned by a man. In some parts of the US, the gap is as high as 66 cents on the dollar, like in Louisiana, and it has barely budged in over a decade.

The gender wage gap is a global phenomenon, but some nations like France or Italy have a significantly smaller gap than the US.

So what’s behind the gap and what can we do about it? Here are five important facts on gender pay equity to consider this Equal Pay Day:

  1. Women make less money than men today and for a long time to come.

I have always made less money than my male colleagues doing similar work. It is more than likely that my (brilliant and talented) daughters will make less than the boys sitting next to them in class.

According to a recent Oxfam report, it may take another 75 years before women are paid equally, even in a wealthy nation like the United States.

  1. Women are underpaid and overworked in the workplace and at home.

Many women are pushed into “women’s work,” disproportionately working in jobs that model what women have historically done at home – cooking, cleaning, caring for children and the elderly. These jobs often have poverty-level wages, while women remain underrepresented in high-wage fields such as engineering.

And at home, women’s day-to-day lives are more often defined by the imperatives of caring for children and aging parents, to feed and clothe, to clean, to entertain. This has a huge impact on women’s economic security and earnings. In fact, Oxfam found one in seven low-wage working women report losing a job because they needed to care for a sick loved one.

  1. Women make less money than men doing similar work, especially women in demanding, low-wage jobs.

Consider the experience of hardworking women like Crystal Whetstone of Beavercreek, Ohio, who works multiple jobs, including as a sales associate at a retailer for more than six years, but is still only making $8.89 per hour. While at the same time a man doing a security job makes an average of $13.24 an hour.

  1. More women than men do our lowest-wage, most insecure jobs. Period.

Women make up about two-thirds of all workers who are paid minimum wage or less, and 60 percent of full-time minimum wage workers. This concentration of women in low wage work is a major reason why the gender pay gap continues to thrive.

However, raising the minimum wage would likely narrow the range of wages paid to workers across the economy. And because women are the majority of workers who would see their pay go up, the wage gap would narrow as well.

  1. Working women are often parents.

According to Oxfam research, almost half (roughly 42%) of all low-wage working women are parents. Low-wage working mothers actually outnumber low-wage working fathers almost two to one. There are 7.1 million working families with children headed by women, and 58 percent of them are low-income.

A woman working full time at the current minimum wage earns less than $14,500 annually – more than $4,000 below the poverty line for a mother with two children. Sixty-five percent of the children in female-headed working families are low-income.

Experts have noted a number of ways public policy can help close the gender wage gap, from paid leave to increased penalties and legal protections, to job training in nontraditional occupations, but one simple and critical step remains on the table: Increasing the federal minimum wage. Here’s three reasons why this step is vital:

  1. Raising the minimum wage would narrow the gender wage gap.

The National Women’s Law Center found that states with a minimum wage higher than the federal wage typically have a narrower gender gap. The average wage gap in states with a minimum wage at or above $8.00 (17.7 cents) is 22 percent smaller than the average wage gap in states with a $7.25 minimum wage (22.7 cents).

  1. Millions of low-wage working women could benefit from raising the minimum wage.

An increase in the federal minimum wage could provide a boost to over 14 million low wage working women, not to mention the children and families who depend on their income.

  1. Inflation has rendered the minimum wage less valuable.

It’s been seven years since the last minimum wage increase, and the cost of life’s essentials has skyrocketed. Groceries for a family of four cost nearly 25% more, but the minimum wage for women trying to make ends meet is still stuck at $7.25.

Soon Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Robert Scott (D-VA) are expected to introduce legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020, putting it back on track toward its historical levels. Across the aisle, leaders in the Republican Party, like Senator Susan Collins and Senator Rob Portman have voiced support for an increase. We need leaders in both parties to work together and make giving hard working women and men a raise a bipartisan priority.

Paying poverty wages doesn’t make sense for us, as an economy and as a society, and it continues to disproportionately hurt working women. This Equal Pay Day, let’s stand up for working women and urge our leaders in Congress to push for a federal minimum wage increase.

There’s a lot of women who could use a raise.

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