My Time, Intellect, Skills and Labor are Worth Less than Those of My Male Peers? Really? Yes, Really.

By Anny Bolgiano, Intern, Coalition of Labor Union Women

My mother, a former forest fire fighter, reiterated to me from the earliest age possible: You can go into whatever profession you want. Thanks to her, I grew up with uninhibited dreams for the future. Then I went off to college, and in a basement classroom of the sociology department, on a sleepy Monday morning my freshman year, I began my journey of disillusionment. Mom, thanks for keeping me dreaming, but you left something out:

You can go into whatever profession you want, but you are statistically unlikely to make a salary equal to your male counterparts.

This doesn’t sound like something I’m eager to say to a bright-eyed six year old girl. Through my work as an intern at the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), I’m realizing just how persistent the wage gap is, and how even now, in 2012, our economy continues to devalue the labor of women.

Pay equity advocacy relies on statistical evidence of the wage gap, evidence that demands thorough interpretation.  It’s important that we use these statistics to address the points of speculation regarding the wage gap. And trust me, they’re out there. The most common response to the issue of the wage gap seems to be, “Yes, but…” For instance, in high school I once mentioned to a friend that women make less money than men. Being poorly versed on the issue at the time, I was unable to refute his claim that, “That’s because women choose lower paying jobs”

Let me make this very clear: women are paid less than men for the same work. In fact, even in jobs where women dominate in numbers, they are still paid less than their male counterparts. For example, according to the 2011 fact sheet, Professional Women: A Gendered Look at Occupational Obstacles and Opportunities, produced by the Department of Professional Employees (DPE), AFL-CIO and available on CLUW’s website, “Female elementary and middle school teachers earned nine percent less than similarly employed men, despite comprising over 80 percent of the field, and female postsecondary teachers earned over 22 percent less than equivalent men.”

Research consistently finds that women earn less across the board. For example, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women truck drivers only make 71.8% of their male counterparts earnings, 81.3% for janitors and building cleaners, and 82.9% for maids and housekeeping cleaners (despite making up 85% of the workforce in this occupation).

In a recent debate I had with someone, they argued that women are more likely to take time off to have children, falling behind in training and creating gaps in their resumes. This is a faulty explanation of the wage gap; an increasing percentage of American households rely on the income of a mother to make ends meet. In light of this trend, we need to re-evaluate the assumption that women are removing themselves from the paid workforce for decades at a time. Personally, I believe that parenting is a societally relevant form of unpaid labor and should be recognized as such.

Those who attribute the wage gap to lower levels of educational achievement have long been off-base. The DPE fact sheet, cited earlier in this post, reports that women have been earning more bachelor and master’s degrees than men since the early eighties, and in 2008-2009 earned 52.3% of all doctoral degrees.  It is relevant to examine the gender segregation in college majors. According to the DPE, women make up 79% of education majors, while men make up 82% of engineering majors. After completing their degrees in a male dominated educational environment, the 18% of engineering majors who are women (special shout out to my cousin Mimi, engineering undergrad) are relatively well-positioned in relation to the wage gap. The DPE fact sheet explains, “The support and opportunity for women to pursue careers in fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are important for achieving pay equity. In science and engineering, for example, women are still paid less than men but tend to earn more than similarly educated women in other sectors of the workforce.”

I will admit that I have been hesitant to approach the issue unless in the context of thoughtful, methodical paper writing, with statistics at hand. I dread encountering the, “yes, but…” people.  However, I realize now that as a woman on the cusp of her career, it is essential that I become well versed on and fully aware of the issue of pay inequality.

Whether she is engineering our buildings, educating our children, or making the beds in our hotel rooms, the work of a woman in America is consistently valued less than the work of a man. That’s not OK.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

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