Today is Equal Pay Day. It is the day that brings us a sort of divisive political holiday, representing how far past Dec. 31 women must work to earn as much as men did the previous calendar year. Put another way, for the average woman to earn as much as the average man did in 2014, she has to work 104 days into 2015. But oops, look how far behind she is in 2015 now. And that yearly difference is not made up during her lifetime. The average woman loses $420,000 dollars of income over the course of her employment years due to this disparity, making only .78 to every $1.00 earned by the average man. And this impacts not only her yearly income, but her retirement income since a) Social Security payments are based on your earnings, but also, b) it’s a lot harder to save for yourself when you’re struggling to make ends meet. And since women still on average live longer than men, it impacts them even more.
In 1936 my grandmother was married with a 10 year old son, a 7 year old son and was pregnant with my mother. This was in the middle of the Great Depression. In May, when she was 6 mos. pregnant with my mother, my grandfather was eating peanuts, throwing them into the air and catching them in his mouth. He choked on one and inhaled it. The peanut in his lung gave him pneumonia. This was before antibiotics and the pneumonia combined with the enlarged heart that he got serving in World War I, killed him a week or so later. My grandmother gave birth to my mother in September and then had to go to work to support her family. Her mother, my great-grandmother Mary Anne whom I’m named after (and who was supported by my grandfather before his death because there was no Social Security at that time) looked after my mother and uncles while my grandmother went to work as a teacher. So my grandmother was working to support herself, 3 children and her mother.
At one point, my grandmother went to the school board to request to be paid the same as the male teachers on staff. Keep in mind that this was in a small town and everyone knew her circumstances. The board unanimously denied her request, telling her with straight faces that the reason men made so much more than she did was because they had families to support. When she politely pointed out that she was supporting her family since her husband’s death, they told her that she needed to get out there and find herself another husband. My grandmother never remarried. She taught for many years and then became a principal until her retirement. She was never paid, either as a teacher or a principal, anywhere close to what her male counterparts made throughout her long career. She was respected and well loved in her school district, but never deemed worthy to earn as much as a man.
It is 2015 and things really aren’t much different. For any number of reasons, there are large numbers of single parent families, the vast majority of whom are led by women. Child support laws are enforced with varying degrees of success from place to place, with far too many places doing a terrible job. The number of men who abdicate their financial responsibilities to their children is outrageous. And yet it is the women who are more often than not demonized in our culture. The vast majority of them work, many times more than one job at a time to support their children, on 78 cents to the dollar. Equal pay is not something that should be controversial. People who earn more money spend more money, benefitting the entire economy. Fewer children would live in poverty if their mothers earned more money. It is far past time that the sexist, misogynist views that women don’t deserve to make as much, or should be taken care of by a male, or whatever goes on in the mind of the majority, male power structure, are cast aside. Equal pay is a win, win for everyone.