The horror stories about female heads of household being trapped in a maze of economic insecurity persist as the most haunting legacy of the gender pay gap.
Eighty-six percent of American women surveyed in an August 2019 study commissioned by Time magazine recognize pay discrepancies between women and men.
The chilling failure to pay women equal wages for comparable work remains historically insidious and resistant to workplace reform and stopgap legislation. The wage differentials are vast enough for many women heading households with children to suffer debilitating financial pain without a prayer of breaking the cycle.
Many American women live out their later years in poverty because their daily struggle to make ends meet completely overshadows preparing for retirement. Reduced lifetime earnings, limited accumulations of savings, and shrunken Social Security payouts generate insufficient income over females’ typically longer lifespans.
The permanent legal protections and judicial recourse necessary to end gender wage inequity can only be assured through ratification and implementation of the Equal Rights Amendment, which states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Enactment of the ERA will propel women to guaranteed equivalent opportunities in life and career, when ratified by the 38th and milestone state and moved forward to implementation nationwide. ERA advocates throughout Arizona and other “silent” states continue to press their legislators to abolish the political grandstanding and ratify. The economic survival of women must not be choked by a few politicians abusing power for personal satisfaction rather than the will of the people who elected them.
Opponents spread baseless fears not remotely connected to the ERA. The provision of equal rights for women has absolutely nothing to do with breaking up families, taking a position on abortion, or building communal toilets. The country has been able to do that on its own.
Often repeated myths proclaiming the wage gap an illusion are a slap in the face to intelligent and hardworking citizens everywhere. Staggering losses in career earnings for women compared to men with similar educational achievements are reported by the National Committee on Pay Equity: $700,000 lost for a high school graduate, $1.2 million forgone by a college/university alumna, and $2 million denied to women with advanced degrees.
The loss in wages appallingly begins immediately after university graduation, as young people enter the career workforce. The American Association of University Women reports a 7% wage differential between males and females just one year out of college. The discrepancy occurs even when taking into account college major; occupation, industry, sector; hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, grade point average, college selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and motherhood.
The Economist magazine predicts that advancing women’s equality will add up to $4.3 trillion to the U.S. economy over the next decade. Greater female participation in the workforce since 1970, according to the World Economic Forum, already accounts for one-quarter of U.S. Gross Domestic Product.
In Arizona alone, the average annual wage loss to working women versus men is $6 billion a year. The lack of wage parity does not, as opponents so insultingly claim, stem from women’s preferences (or family pressures) to forego workplace salaries for full-time stay-at-home motherhood, homeschool teaching, or keeping the castle.
The culprit is exclusion of most American women to the education, career choices and mentorship opportunities lavished on males, along with the proportion of family and household responsibilities relegated to women.
Men in general, without experiencing firsthand the plague of inequality on their own earnings and responsibilities, are not sympathetic to women’s plight. Only 62% of men in the Time magazine survey acknowledge gender bias and a mere 25% agree that the disparity is severe enough to require remedy.
All women deserve the choice of a career path – whether raising a family, relishing employment outside the home, or both – without sacrificing their independence and well-being to the whims of a male-dominated work and home environment which limits their advancement.
Victims of wage disparity and workforce discrimination are not heard loudly or clearly enough so that men or unaffected women understand. Rally to make Arizona the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA. Speak up for the lack of equality you experience. Use your voice now and urge your legislators to support the ERA. It’s time to close the chapter on these American horror stories.
Sue Marceau is a global business executive from the Midwest who has made her home in Arizona for the past 19 years. She is a public policy advocate for her local branch of the American Association of University Women.