Median weekly earnings for women working full-time are 79.9 percent of median weekly earnings for men working full-time.
Sounds like a statistic from way back when, doesn’t it? Maybe something I pulled out of Susan Faludi’s Backlash?
No, this statistic comes from an April 2009 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) in Washington, D.C., and is based on average earnings in 2008. To make matters worse, this is actually the third consecutive decline in average earnings for women.
Wednesday of this week, August 26, was Women’s Equality Day in the United States. Ironic, isn’t it? Women’s Equality Day was established in 1971 to commemmorate the passage of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution. We may have achieved equality when it’s time to enter the voting booth, but this recent earnings statistic doesn’t sound too equal to me.
Compounding the matter is the fact that earning less means smaller pensions and smaller social security checks, all while women are, on average, outliving men. “The jobs that women are holding onto typically lack benefits, retirement savings plans, or pensions. The strong part of women’s participation in the labor force is also the weak part because their salaries are limited. Women tend to choose a path that’s less risky, that’s more secure for their families.” – Heidi Hartmann, President of IWPR.
So, let me get this straight: As a female worker, I am likely making less than a man in a similar position. I am fortunate to be married to a healthy and employed (and yes, he makes more money than me) spouse. But what if, later in life, I am divorced or widowed? Marital status plays a crucial part in economic well-being, not only as a younger or middle-aged woman but especially as an older woman. Research shows that the poverty rate among widows is much higher than for married women. So, not only do I need to keep my job, but I also better stay married. Gee … shouldn’t I feel happier on Women’s Equality Day?
My spirits are lifted, though, by the fact that an ELCA task force on the topic of justice for women is being formed. And I feel fortunate to be working for a church who believes that justice for women is an ongoing battle that is worth fighting. Because guess what? We’re not there yet.
So to all you women out there, happy Women’s Equality Day!
And, well, good luck.
Emily Hansen is director for stewardship, Women of the ELCA.