The Wage Gap is Still a Reality for All Women

For all the effort that we’ve put in as feminists to equalize the economic landscape between the sexes, we still come up short when discussing the wage gap.  A report last fall from the Census Bureau on income and poverty revealed little progress with the average woman’s full time pay showing statistically insignificant improvement from 77 to 78 cents for every dollar white men earn.  The new report also highlights that income inequality exists not just along gender lines, but racial ones as well.  The following is a breakdown of women’s full time, year round pay by race for cents earned on the dollar from their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts:

  • White women: 78 cents
  • Asian women: 89 cents
  • African-American women: 64 cents
  • American Indian and Alaska Native women: 59 cents
  • Hispanic women: 54 cents

This gap in earnings leaves women and their families shortchanged.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, other groups are affected as well. 

Mothers earn less than fathers

In addition to the disparity in pay for the races, mothers who work full time, year round typically have lower earnings than fathers ($38,000 compared to $55,000), meaning mothers only make 69 cents for every dollar paid to fathers.

Lesbian women still earn less than men, regardless of their sexual orientation.

  • Lesbian women are far more likely than gay men to support children – 49 percent of lesbian and bisexual women report having a child compared to 19 percent of gay and bisexual men.

Women with disabilities have a wider wage gap than the wage gap between women and men overall.

  • Women with disabilities working full time, year round are typically paid just 67.3 percent of what men without disabilities working full time, year round are typically paid.
  • Women with disabilities working full time, year round are typically paid just 82.5 percent of what their male counterparts with disabilities are paid.
  • Women with disabilities working full time, year round are typically paid just 82.5 percent of what their male counterparts with disabilities are paid.

Women are impacted by the wage gap as soon as they enter the labor force.

  • The wage gap is smaller for younger women than older women, but it begins right when women enter the labor force. Women 15-24 working full time, year round are typically paid just 87.7 percent of what their male counterparts are paid. Among older women, the gap is even larger. Women 45-64 working full time, year round are typically paid just 73.5 percent of what their male counterparts are paid. For women still working at age 65 and older the figure is 70.2 percent.

Older women also experience a wage gap in retirement income, due in large part to the wage gap they experienced during their working years.

  • A typical woman who worked full time, year round would lose $464,320 in a 40-year period due to the wage gap. This woman would have to work more than twelve years longer to make up this gap.  A typical woman working full time, year round who starts, but does not finish high school would lose $357,680 over a 40-year period, an enormous amount of money for women who are typically paid $21,387 a year. This woman would have to work nearly seventeen years longer to make up this gap. These lost wages severely reduce women’s ability to save for retirement.
  • As a result of lower lifetime earnings and different work patterns, the average Social Security benefit for women 65 and older was about $13,090 per year, compared to $17,170 for men of the same age in 2012.
  • In 2010, women 50 and older received only 56 cents for every dollar received by men in income from pensions and annuities. One study found that the typical woman worker near retirement with a defined contribution plan or individual retirement account had accumulated $34,000 in savings, while her male counterpart held $70,000 – more than twice as much.

Women and their Families Count on Women’s Earnings
In 2012, women working full time, year round typically had lower earnings than men ($37,791 compared to $49,398). Women’s lower wages hurt women and families who rely on women’s earnings for all or part of their income.

Lower earnings have a serious impact on the economic security of the nearly 7.4 million families headed by working single mothers.

  • Working single mothers with children struggled to make ends meet in 2012. Over a quarter, or more than 2.1 million, of all such families were poor. Almost an additional 2.4 million working  single mother families were struggling to make ends meet, falling between 100 and 200 percent of the  Federal Poverty Level (FPL), meaning that more than six in ten (61.3 percent) of working single mother  families lived below 200 percent of the FPL. In 2012, the FPL for a single mother with two children was just under $18,500.

Most two-parent families depend on women’s wages, and so also suffer when women receive unfair pay.

  • Nearly 1.6 million married couples with children relied exclusively on women’s earnings at some point in 2012, representing 6.5 percent of all married couples with children.
  • In 2012, more than 14.3 million married couples with children relied on both parents’ earnings, representing 58.0 percent of all married couples with children.

The wage gap impacts single women with no children as well, who are also working to support themselves.

  • In 2012, the typical never-married woman with no children working full time, year round was paid 71.4 percent of what a man working full time, year round was paid.

Fair pay impacts married women with no children who are more likely to be solely supporting their family than married women with children.

  • Nearly 4.2 million married couples with no children relied exclusively on women’s earnings at some point in 2012, representing 11.3 percent of all married couples with no children.
  • In 2012, almost 14.6 million married couples with no children relied on both partners’ earnings, representing 39.8 percent of all married couples with no children.

Closing the Wage Gap Would Significantly Improve Families’ Finances
Women have higher rates of economic insecurity than do men. In 2012, women were more likely to live in poverty (14.5 percent of women compared to 11.0 percent of men).  Women are thus more likely to rely on public benefits like Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and housing assistance.  Bringing women’s earnings in line with men’s earnings would greatly improve the economic situation for women and their families. An additional $11,608 per year is enough to:

. . . pay the median cost of rent and utilities for a year and one month with almost $400 to spare, or the median mortgage payment and utilities for over eleven months,
Over 1.8 million properties nationwide defaulted on a mortgage in 2012.  Earnings lost due to the wage gap could have made a substantial difference in helping these families stay in their homes. They could also affect whether a family can afford to pay rent.

. . . or feed a household of four for a year and a half with more than $300 to spare,
The difficult economy has stretched family budgets for basic needs, particularly for households headed by women. In fiscal year 2011, female-headed households made up 52.1 percent of all households with children receiving SNAP (food stamp) benefits, compared to 27.0 percent of all households with children.  With the continuing economic crisis, SNAP participation has continued to climb: In fiscal year 2013, more than 47.6 million children and adults received assistance on average each month, an increase of over 1.0 million (or 2.2 percent) from the previous fiscal year.

. . . or pay a year and six months of full-time child care costs for a four-year-old with more than $300 to spare,
Child care expenditures consume a large percentage of families’ earnings, especially those earned by low-income and single mother families. In Montana, the state at the national median for child care costs, providing care for a four-year-old represented 36.3 percent of a single mother’s income and 10.7 percent of a two-parent family’s income.

In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, families living in poverty who paid for child care spent an average of 30.3 percent of their income on care, and families earning between 100 and 200 percent of the federal poverty line devoted an average of 18.0 percent of their income to care. Even higher-income families (above 200 percent of the FPL) paying for child care spent 6.3 percent of their income on care.  If women took home the earnings lost due to the wage gap, this financial pressure would be partly alleviated.

. . . or pay for two years and eight months of family health insurance premiums in an employer-sponsored health insurance program with over $300 to spare,
Women spend a substantial amount of their income on out-of-pocket health costs and health insurance premiums, and they are more likely than men to experience serious financial hardship as a result of medical bills. In 2010, the most recent year for which these statistics are available, one-third of working-age women spent 10 percent or more of their income on these expenses, and nearly one-third of women who had medical bill or debt problems were unable to pay for basic necessities like food, heat, or rent because of their medical bills.  Closing the wage gap would provide essential help for women to pay for their medical expenses.

. . . or pay for two years and ten months of student loan payments with more than $100 to spare.
Student loan payments can consume a considerable portion of a woman’s earnings, especially in the years immediately following post-secondary education. In 2012, it is estimated that seven in ten college seniors graduated with student loan debt. The average debt for students with loans was $29,400.  Closing the wage gap would enable women to pay down student loan debt much faster.