78 cents on the dollar

Judy Putnam

For every dollar a male worker earns, a female worker pulls down just 78 cents.

That depressing fact is brought to you by Equal Pay Day. That’s today. It’s a day set aside to show how far into 2010 women must have worked (in addition to 2009 earnings) to earn what men earned in 2009.

In Michigan, the disparity is worse – women earn just 72 cents for every dollar and the state ranks 43rd in the country.

I recently attended a policy forum on this issue by the Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. The upshot is that decades after the feminist movement began pushing equal pay for equal work there is still a lot of work to do to make the workplace an equal opportunity place for women.

This is a critical issue for low-income families because so many are headed by single women. (See the League’s recent poverty paper for more information.)

Jason Palmer, a state labor market economist, said Michigan’s recent job losses have been concentrated in male-dominated fields (i.e. manufacturing) but the spinoff effect has impacted jobs filled by women.

In fact Michigan’s young women have the largest jobless rate gap compared with the national average. For women 25 to 34 years, 12.7 percent are unemployed in Michigan compared with 8.5 percent nationally.

Palmer reported that Michigan women are out of work four weeks longer than women nationally, and that many Michigan female workers are working part-time, but not by choice.

When race is considered along with gender, the pay gap grows. According to Louise Jezierski, associate professor at Michigan State University’s James Madison College, white non-Hispanic women working full-time, year-round, earned only 70 percent of the wages of white males working full-time and year-round.

But the gap is bigger for women of color. African American women (again working full-time year-round) earned only 64 percent of wages of African American men. For Hispanics, it’s just 56 percent.

Paulette Granberry Russell, who is a special adviser to MSU’s president on diversity issues, said too many girls drop out of high school, one in four, with higher rates for female students of color.

Ironically, women are achieving more than men when it comes to education – more women are enrolled in college than men. But significant numbers choose fields that pay less – picking non-science, non-technology, non-engineering and non-mathematics fields of study.

Granberry Russell’s solution? She says research shows we must address high school dropout rates and do more to encourage women to go into technical fields.

Let’s keep this in mind as debate on a cuts-only budget threatens to further chop funds for every level of education in our struggling state.

— Judy Putnam

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