April 23, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 17

Community & Editorial

Unless we close Washington’s gender pay gap, women will lose out on more than $10 billion a year

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Women and families in Washington and around the nation continue to struggle under an unflinching gender wage gap. Even though the country acknowledged Equal Pay Day on April 8, it’s still a good time to reflect on what the wage gap means for Washington women and families and what we can do here at home to make a better world for our daughters.

For every dollar that men earn, women in Washington earn 78 cents. That’s more than $11,000 a year in lost earnings. For women of color, it’s even worse: African-American women are paid 64 cents, and Latinas are paid 54 cents for every dollar paid to white men.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families: “On average, Washington women who are employed full-time lose a combined total of approximately $10,191,456,788 every year due to the wage gap. Families, businesses and the economy suffer as a result. These lost wages mean families have less money to spend on goods and services that help drive economic growth.

“For example, if the wage gap were eliminated, on average, a working woman in Washington would have enough money [over a lifetime] for approximately:

- 82 more weeks of food for her family (1.6 years’ worth);

- Seven more months of mortgage and utility payments;

- 12 more months of rent; or 3,265 additional gallons of gas.”

Most wage-gap measurements are based on earnings of full-time, year-round employees only. This excludes many hourly service jobs as well as people who “voluntarily” work part-time for family-care or other reasons. If we factor in those workers and look at 2013 economic data, Washington women took home 61 percent of men’s average monthly wages, according to analysis from the Economic Opportunity Institute.

There is some good news. Earlier this month, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who share compensation information. Unfortunately, the following day Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, a piece of groundbreaking legislation that would have protected a worker’s right to share information in order to learn if employees are receiving equal pay for equal work.

We can’t afford to wait for D.C. to take action. In Washington, we can lead the nation on equal pay and pass a state version of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Cities such as Seattle are championing equal pay practices at the local level by looking at pay bias in historically gender-segregated roles such as administrative work, strengthening the city’s minimum wage and universalizing city employee parental leave policies.

But the wage gap is more complex than what women see on their pay stubs. Our laws still assume that every household has a full-time caregiver at home despite women making up half of the nation’s workforce and nearly half of family breadwinners. State-based policies like family and medical leave insurance and paid sick days ensure that women and their families can navigate the predictable booms and busts of life and family — welcoming a new child, caring for a sick and aging parent or a sudden medical emergency. Both family and medical leave insurance and paid sick days are working in cities and states across the country, positively impacting business and families.

We can honor Equal Pay Day by talking to family members, neighbors, lawmakers and candidates about why policies that support working women and families are important.

Let’s get to work.

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