Equal Pay Day Rally Is Set for April 12

On April 12, 2011, Equal Pay Day events will be held throughout the country. April 12 is how long into the new year women must work to make the same amount of money as their male counterparts did the previous year. The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law is cosponsoring the Equal Pay Day Rally in Chicago at Daley Plaza on Tuesday, April 12, at noon. Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, Evelyn Murphy of the Wage Project, and Doris Moy of the Illinois Department of Labor are scheduled to speak. Please join the rally.

This year the Equal Pay Day Rally falls soon after the release of the White House Council on Women and Girls’ first report on the status of women in America. Entitled “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” the report paints a portrait of women’s status in America today compared with men’s and highlights women’s gains of the past fifty years. Women have made considerable gains in their participation in education and the workforce, but a wage gap persists between men and women. For this reason, this year’s Equal Pay Day is especially relevant.  

Women’s Employment Rates
According to the report, more women are employed now than ever before. Women’s labor force participation rates have risen over the past few decades, whereas men’s have declined. Still more men are in the workforce than women, but the gap between the two has decreased: in 2009 the labor participation rate for women was 61 percent; for men, 75 percent. Having affected fewer women than men, the recession has narrowed this gap. Whereas men’s unemployment rate doubled during the recession from 4.4 percent to 9.9 percent, the unemployment rate for women rose less, from 4.4 percent to 7.7 percent. This difference can be attributed to the recession-caused unemployment having affected mostly male occupations. For example, in manufacturing, production, and construction—overwhelmingly male occupations—unemployment rates rose dramatically.

The types of jobs held by women have also shifted over the past fifty years. Women today are more likely to hold business and finance jobs, although women still lag far behind men in this category. Women hold 14 percent of all management, business, and finance jobs today, up from 9 percent in 1983. However, one-fifth of all women in 2009 were employed in just five occupations: secretaries, registered nurses, elementary school teachers, cashiers, and nursing aides. 

Women’s Education Rates
One reason for the improvement in women’s labor participation is that women are pursuing education in much higher numbers. More women than men are enrolled in college and graduate school, and women have higher graduation rates than men across all academic levels. In 2008, 72 percent of women who graduated from high school enrolled in college the next school year as opposed to 66 percent of men; women made up 57 percent of total undergraduate enrollment.

Disparities are notable in the types of degrees that men and women pursue—mirrored in the gender segregation of certain fields. Although women earn more bachelor’s and graduate degrees overall, historically male-dominated fields such as engineering and mathematics continue to be overwhelmingly male. Women receive fewer than half of all bachelor’s degrees conferred in mathematics and the physical sciences. Health care and education continue to be mostly female.  

The Persistence of the Wage Gap
Women’s gains in labor force participation and educational attainment have not been matched by gains in wages. As women have received more degrees, their earnings have increased—up 33 percent since 1979—but not enough to equal men’s average annual earnings. Across all levels of educational attainment, women still earn only 75 percent as much as their male counterparts. For the average working woman, this pay gap will account for a loss of $430,000 over the course of a career, according to a recent report of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. The gap is even wider for black and Hispanic women, who earn 71 percent and 62 percent, respectively, as much as male workers. Because of this wage gap, women would have to work from January 2010 until April 12, 2011, to earn as much as men earned in 2010.

Not only does the wage gap persist between men and women in the same profession, but also women tend to occupy positions with lower average salaries. In 2009, compared to only 32 percent of professional men, 70 percent of professional women worked in education and health care, relatively low-paying fields. The fields in which women are least likely to get a degree or pursue a profession—mathematics and science—have the highest wages.  

The Wage Gap and Poverty
Women’s earnings increasingly constitute a sizable share of family income, and more households are headed by single women than single men. Family earnings, however, are the lowest among female-headed households, and those with children earn 30 percent less than those without children. Poverty rates for households headed by an unmarried woman with children have consistently remained high. Over the past forty years, in large part due to the wage gap, these households have had poverty rates two to three times higher than the overall poverty rate in the United States. Mothers see on average a 2.5 percent earnings decrease per child whereas men see a 2.1 percent earnings increase. The disparities are even starker for black and Hispanic families. In 2009 more than 25 percent of all black and Hispanic women had family incomes below the poverty line. 

Looking Forward—Equal Pay Day Rally in Chicago
“Women in America” presents promising data on the progress of the past fifty years, but it also shows the inequalities that remain. The wage gap persists in spite of major gains in educational achievement, with the result that female-headed households are the most impoverished. Please join the Shriver Center, Women Employed, and many other individuals and organizations at the Equal Pay Day Rally to show your support for equal pay and continue the fight for equality.

For more information, contact Wendy Pollack, director of the Women’s Law & Policy Project, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.


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