To talk about income inequality in 2015 is largely to talk about women. In California – as in all but four other states – women account for the majority of workers making minimum wage.
About 2 out of 3 of those female low-earners support families, either wholly or partly. Four in 10 are the struggling sole breadwinners in their households. Women and their children constitute the majority of Californians living in poverty.
The disparity continues all the way up the pay scale. At hospitals and office parks, in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, women still earn less than men for reasons that simply don’t add up.
Oh, gains have been made. Women working full time now earn a median of 84 cents for every dollar earned by men in California. That’s up from the 59 cents women earned back in the early 1960s, when pay equity became a national issue.
But as any kid with a lemonade stand can tell you, 84 cents just isn’t a dollar. And some women don’t even earn that. Latinas, a huge segment of this state’s population, get less than 44 cents for every 100 pennies in a white male worker’s paycheck. Collectively, the amount of money that California women miss out on because of the wage gap totals an estimated $33 billion a year.
Two out of 3. Eighty-four cents. Thirty-three billion dollars left on the table. California’s conversations on inequality have been peppered with statistics like this for decades and, talk notwithstanding, women continue to be simultaneously run ragged and shortchanged.
Last week, Democratic lawmakers from the Legislative Women’s Caucus, and a few laudable male cohorts, aimed a comprehensive package of bills at the issue. Their agenda is ambitious – more subsidized child care, tougher pay equity standards, workplace policies that reflect the way people with families actually have to organize their lives in California.
But it is also infuriating because so many of the problems being addressed have been with us for so many decades.
Seventy-one percent of California women are in the workforce (another well-worn statistic). Can we really still be arguing over the value of subsidized baby sitters? Or over whether the male nurse taking your blood pressure should be paid thousands of dollars more a year, on average, than the female nurse taking the blood pressure of the patient in the next room?
Are we really still the kind of people who would refuse an extra $128 a month for baby born to a mother on CalWORKs unless she could prove the child was the product of a rape or a failed sterilization?
Do we actually still think – because this has become widespread in retail and service jobs since the recession – that it’s OK to essentially keep whole workforces of part-timers on constant call, shifting and shaving their hours with little or no notice, even though that makes it impossible to hold down a second job or schedule child care?
These workers are our mothers, wives, sisters, grandmothers and daughters. How much longer must we talk before the statistical needle moves?
There’s a lot of energy this year around women’s issues. With the state’s economy rebounding and a presumptive female frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, expectations are rising in this bluest of blue states.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins is one of the lawmakers who convened the press conference, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Léon cares about such issues. Still, the recession left the state with a long and expensive to-do list. However, it would be nice to see some of that energy translated into meaningful day-to-day action, not least because a whole lot of men also would benefit from these proposals.
Inequality doesn’t just hurt women; it hurts everyone in every household who depends on a woman’s paycheck. Isn’t it time to do more than talk? It’s 2015.