By Lynn Stuart Parramore – March 5, 2015
Equal pay for women doing the same work as men should be a no brainer because it’s a matter of fairness. But this isn’t just about sisters getting what they deserve or even a convenient political talking point. Equal pay helps everyone, and ever more Americans are voicing their concern about continued disparities.
According to an Ipsos poll conducted for ThomsonReuters from Feb. 27 to Mar. 2, 66 percent of respondents said that women are not paid the same as men for equal work, with 61 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of independents sharing that view. Nearly half of those surveyed viewed the issue as “very important.”
The fact is, equal pay benefits men and women, young and old, Democrat and Republican, and everybody in between. Here are four reasons why anyone who wants to see a thriving America should get on board the equal-pay train right away.
Economic growth: When a woman takes home a smaller paycheck, it puts a crimp in her spending power. It’s time politicians in Washington recognized what marketers in America have been clear on for some time: Women are the main consumers in their homes. A whopping 85 percent of purchasing decisions are made by women. They decide on most everyday items, like groceries and clothing, as well as on half of all automobiles, home-improvement products and consumer electronics purchased in the United States. Over the next decade, women are expected to control two-thirds of consumer spending, according to a 2012 study by strategic communications firm FleishmanHillard and Hearst Magazines.
If women made more, the additional money flowing toward goods and services would act as a much-needed stimulus to a U.S. economy struggling to gain momentum. Just how much? In an interview with the Huffington Post, economist Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, calculated it would be enough to expand the economy by at least 3 to 4 percentage points — an effect even greater when you take into account the fact that pay hikes would entice more women to join the workforce.
Strengthening the middle class: Want to help the incredible shrinking American middle class? Paying women fairly would go a long way toward that goal. Smaller paychecks, according to economist Evelyn Murphy, founder of The WAGE Project, cost the average full-time U.S. woman worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her work life. With record numbers of women contributing to household incomes, the lack of equal pay for women hurts all middle-class families, including the men and children who rely on their contributions.
In 2010, economist Heather Boushey testified before Congress that the typical American wife brings home around a third of her family’s total income. Boushey further noted that the trend in recent decades has been increased upward mobility for families in which the wife works. This additional income has made the key difference between families who are able to pull ahead economically and those who fall behind. Pay women their fair share, and more families can join the middle class and have a shot at economic security.
Attacking Big Poverty: Research from the Brookings Institution paints a disturbing picture of U.S. poverty stuck at record levels, with the number of poor Americans growing by 5 million between 2008 and 2012. Data collected by Maria Shriver in her annual Shriver Report shows that a third of American women either live in poverty or are just on the brink.
Why do women experience an unequal burden of poverty? As economist Hartmann and her colleagues have observed, continued pay inequality is part of the answer.
Just paying women fairly, according to a regression analysis of federal data by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, would cut the poverty rate for working women in half. Women of color are particularly hurt by pay disparities; African-American women earn only 64 cents to a white man’s dollar, and Latinas take home a mere 54 cents.
The wage gap puts a terrible burden on families with only one female earner, which particularly hits African-American and Latino communities, where women are likely to support families on their own. The wage gap also increases the likelihood that women of retirement age will slip into poverty because their pensions and Social Security checks are shrunken by years of lower pay.
Global competitiveness: Pay inequality is a serious challenge to U.S. competitiveness; it keeps women out of the workforce and renders them less likely to contribute the full benefit of their skills and talents to the economy. A 2014 report by the World Economic Forum, however, shows that the United States ranks 65th in wage equality out of 142 countries studied. The International Labor Organization’s Global Wage Report 2014/15 shows that the United States was at the very bottom of the rankings on wage inequality out of 38 countries surveyed, behind places you might guess — Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Germany — but also behind Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia.
Clearly, something has gone wrong with U.S. policy. One reason countries that rank high on pay equality got there is that they don’t just enact a piece of legislation and call it a day. They are constantly coming up with new policies, amending existing laws and promoting initiatives that attack this persistent problem.
Denmark, for example, passed the Act on Equal Pay for Men and Women in 1976. But it didn’t stop there — the act has been amended several times, most recently in 2008. Every third year, the minister of labor and the minister of gender equality put out a report on measures that guarantee equal pay. Denmark stays on the case. Washington could take a lesson there.
Republicans have blocked legislation that would help ensure that a woman is paid as much as a man for doing the same work. Democrats have seized the issue as one that will appeal to their base as 2016 approaches.
But if ever there were an issue that ought to be bipartisan, this is it. The idea of pay equality is about dollars and cents as much as about common sense. America can’t afford to lag behind.