Equal Pay is NOT JUST a Women’s Issue – It’s Everyone’s Issue and the Lack of It Affects our Health

By Renata Maniaci, Government Relations Intern

Let me just begin by saying, Happy Equal Pay Day! What is Equal Pay Day you might ask? Equal Pay Day is a public awareness event which symbolizes how far into 2011 women must work to be paid what men were paid in 2010. So today, April 12, 2011, after 75 extra days of waged work, the average working woman has finally been paid as much as the average working man received last year. Woo Hoo!

It is a regrettable fact that women still make only 77 cents on every dollar made by men. Additionally, since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, the pay gap has closed by just a miserable half a cent per year, which means if this rate stays the same, we will not reach equal pay for 45 more years, i.e. 2056. In 45 years, I will be 69 years old and might not have as much fight in me as I do today — so for now, I’m going to keep yelling.

For those of you interested in where I got these numbers or in learning more about the gender pay gap, check out this easy to understand pamphlet from the American Association of University Women titled “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap” – I’m sure you will be illuminated:

http://www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/SimpleTruthAboutPayGap.pdf

Back to business. All of this talk about pay equity tends to be swept under the rug as a “women’s issue” – and only paid lip service by politicians. Why has this inequity persisted for so many years? Because women’s work is purposefully less valued in our society and women have less power politically to get more stringent laws against sex-based wage discrimination adopted. Also, powerful business interests that benefit immensely from women’s devalued labor can halt legislation and fund conservatives’ efforts to blame women themselves for the pay gap.

To return to my theme, I want to stress that pay equity is not just a women’s issue! That’s right; the average loss of $700,000 over a lifetime of work for a woman with a high school diploma because of the gender pay gap does not only affect her bottom line. This huge loss of lifetime income affects her family’s economic security, her children’s well-being and future success, her community’s economy and the woman’s own health.

The middle-class is further weakened by this enormous devaluation of women’s work. Even more dramatic, the estimate for lifelong loss due to the gender pay gap jumps to $1.2 million for women with college degrees, and up to $2 million for professional school graduates. These figures are based on research from The WAGE Project, which examined full-time workers’ lifetime losses due to the pay gap.

A woman’s health is also affected by the absence of the $700,000 that she should have made over her lifetime — as authors of Health Impact Assessment of Gender Pay Inequity have found. The Human Impact Partners study found that income profoundly affects health, especially premature mortality and longevity. Women making $15,000 a year — representative of the millions of women in job categories where pay is historically low — have almost four times the risk of dying before the average life expectancy of those who make $70,000 a year. They have twice the incidence of angina, diabetes, obesity and poor diet.

As women’s income increases, the incidence of such illnesses as cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, stroke, susceptibility to infection, musculoskeletal disorders and others decrease. Increasing women’s incomes reduces sick days, premature mortality, early childbirth and depression. The absence of strong pay equity laws and workers’ inability to purchase health insurance result in a myriad of poor outcomes for women and their children. Additionally, there are direct correlations between income and stress, and income-related stress affects parenting behaviors.

These are very clear and compelling arguments indicating that we must take effective steps soon to improve wages for women in low-status/low-paying jobs and address the persistent wage gap of 23 cents that cheats everyone. What will you do to help erase the gender wage gap?

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