Issue: Pay Equity and Gender Divide



That’s how much less women earn than men each week in Onondaga County.

“Women have never gotten past the subservient stigma,” said Jean Kessner, D-Syracuse, a Councilor-at-Large on the Common Council. “The pay gap exemplifies that.”

This number came to light in early April, when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.,  estimated   pay disparities across New York state to honor Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day, which fell on April 8, is the estimated date to which women would have to work in the current year to equal what men earned the previous year, according to a White House statement.

In Onondaga County, where nearly 40,000 women support their households, these numbers are particularly dismal, advocates for equal pay agree. Without that income, they argue, many women are forced to go without some everyday necessities. Raising women’s wages, they say, would help these women and stimulate the economy as well.

“If you are a woman who has children, what couldn’t you do with the extra money?” Kessner said. “I could buy all of my groceries and a tank of gas with $132 more. When you go to the doctor, you have a co-pay. You need prescriptions, diapers. Women would spend the money if they had it.”

Nationally, the gender difference in earnings is about 16 percent nationally, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Based on hourly earnings of full- and part-time workers, the survey revealed that women earn 84 percent of what men do, although the gap is smaller for young women, who earn 93 percent of men’s wages.

At the national level, equal pay legislation continues to fail in Congress.  In January 2013, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act. The measure would have prohibited ages being determined by gender. It would have required wages to be based solely on what the bill calls “bona fide factors”: education, training and experience.

But the bill failed for the third time on April 10, never making it out of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Syracuse Common Councilor-at-Large Kessner blamed the bill’s failure on greed and power struggles in Washington. “Those in power need to make it top priority,” she said. “But I think that while we wait for the nation to do something, the state should act.”

Which is what the League of Women Voters is trying to do, said Joan Johnson, public relations chair for the Syracuse League. The League has been lobbying state legislators for equal pay for a number of years, Johnson said. Now the League is hoping that a pay-equity bill that focuses only on wages will pass the state senate.

At the national level,  women’s advocates are trying to tie the pay-equity issue to a minimum wage hike. The data on the Onondaga County wage discrepancy released by Sen. Gillibrand suggests that a minimum wage increase could also help close the gap. Democrats are pushing for a national increase to $10.10 per hour.

For Onondaga County, an increase in the minimum wage would benefit nearly 20,000 women, supporters estimate.

But Johnson  of the League of Women Voters argues that raising the minimum wage is not enough. “It still doesn’t take care of the problem,” she said. “If you’re working at a low-paying job, you’re probably getting equal pay. But when you go up the ladder a little bit, you’ll find that women are not getting the same amount.”

Eileen Schell, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University, is a member of the university’s Labor Studies Working Group. There is resistance to a minimum wage increase because of the effect it could have on small businesses, she said. Those against equal-pay legislation offer a similar reason, she said.

“Some lawmakers have been discrediting the idea of the gendered wage gap altogether,” said Schell in an email interview, or they have objected to legislative solutions like the bill offered by Sen. Mikulski of Maryland.

A low minimum wage or a lower pay rate than men hurts the women of Onondaga County, Schell said,  and hurts the economy too.  “Equal pay would mean more money in the economy, more spending, more saving, more fairness,” Schell said. “We live in the United States where hard work is supposed to bring you fair wages and decent working conditions. Unequal pay for women who perform the same job as men flies in the face of the fairness we say we have in the U.S.”
(Avery Hartmans is a senior majoring in newspaper and online journalism with a minor in English and textual studies.)


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