What is the value of our education?

Linda Purrington (lpurring@earthlink.net)
Sat, 18 Jul 1998 08:45:12 -0700

Forwarded by lpurring@earthlink.net

Christian Science Monitor
July 17, 1998
By Ann Scott Tyson

More than day care or harassment, America's 63 million working women say
'equal pay for equal work' is their No. 1 concern.

Most nights, single mother Dolores Jones checks on her sleeping son,
locks the door of her brick duplex, and drives down dark, pot-holed
streets to a graveyard shift as a custodian on Capitol Hill.

For the past 11-1/2 years, Ms. Jones has worked until dawn dusting
paper-strewn desktops, emptying trash, and pushing her husky Hoover
sweeper through abandoned congressional suites - alone but for a few
dogged staffers or lawmakers asleep behind ``Do Not Disturb'' signs.

But while she is resigned to the wearing job, Jones is no longer
willing to tolerate what she sees as a blatant injustice: Men who
essentially the same work as she does earn $1 more per hour.

``We are tired of the unfair treatment,'' says Jones, one of 52 women
custodians who last July brought a class-action pay-equity suit against
their employer.

Many US women today share Jones's exasperation. Indeed, decades after
women began breaking into the labor force in record numbers, the No. 1
concern of America's 63 million working women is the stubborn
wage gap.

``Equal pay for equal work'' is the top workplace issue for the vast
majority of employed women (94 percent), according to a nationwide
of 50,000 working women by the AFL-CIO last year. It is cited more often
than child care (33 percent), sexual harassment (78 percent), or
downsizing (72 percent).

The emphasis on fairness is justified by facts:

Today, as a result of discrimination and other factors, women still
earn only about 75 cents for every $1 that men make, according to the US
Labor Department's median weekly wage figures for 1997.

On average, women earn $24,000 a year, compared with $32,000 for men.

If current wage patterns continue, the average 25-year-old woman who
works full time year-round for 40 years will earn $400,000 to $500,000
less than her male peer, according to the Institute for Women's Policy
Research (IWPR) in Washington.

Especially hard hit by the gap are the 2 of every 5 working women
like Jones, are the sole breadwinners in their homes. The toll is also
heavy on minority women, as well as the expanding number of older women,
whose retirement security is hurt by lower lifetime earnings. (See
related story, Page 8.)

``It's been hard on me in terms of keeping up with the mortgage,''
Jones, who is divorced and supports her eight-year-old son and retired
mother on $23,000 a year. Most of her female co-workers are heads of
household, she says.

Moreover, even as women's participation in the labor force continues
grow - reaching nearly 60 percent last year - elimination of the wage
is in no way assured, economists say.

Although the gap has narrowed slowly since 1980, when women's
averaged just 60 percent of men's, most of the change can be attributed
a backsliding by men rather than progress by women, says Heidi Hartmann,
director of the IWPR. Falling wages for men account for about
of the shrinking of the wage gap since 1980.

But when men gain, as they did in the mid-1990s, the gap widens
>From 1993 to 1997, for example, men's wages rebounded as women's earnings
stalled, leading to a wider gap.

Only very recently, in the first quarter of 1998, did the earnings
ratio inch back up to 76 cents per dollar. Economists are unsure the
will hold, attributing it to short-term phenomena such as the strong
economy and a boost in the minimum wage. (Women are two-thirds of
minimum-wage workers, so they benefit disproportionately from the

``There is a lot of reason for concern that we won't see the
narrowing,'' says Ms. Hartmann.

Experts point to three basic reasons why women still earn less,
despite progress in each area:

Experience and education. Women's relative shortfall in full-time
experience remains a leading source of wage inequality, accounting for
one-third of the gender pay gap in the late 1980s, according to research
published last year in the Journal of Labor Economics.

Women make up 68 percent of part-time workers. They also more often
take time off to care for children or elderly relatives. ``Children are
associated with lower wages for women but not for men,'' notes a report
this month by the president's Council of Economic Advisers.

Women do get penalized for time off. A 1994 study of nearly 200 women
with MBA degrees showed that those who took leave after childbirth -
averaging eight months - earned 17 percent less than did women who never
took time off.

Today, however, the trend is toward greater continuity in the work
force by women, including mothers. Unlike in the 1970s, when women often
left paid work during mid- career years to care for children, women's
pattern of labor participation now much more closely resembles that of
men. In 1996, for instance, 54.3 percent of women were back on the job
their baby's first birthday.

Meanwhile, women are entering the work force with greater education
skills. Women now earn more bachelor's and master's degrees than men do.
And last year, many more female high-school graduates (70.3 percent)
to college than did male (63.5 percent).

Gender segregation of occupations. Another nearly 30 percent of the
gap arises from the clustering of women in traditionally female job
categories, which pay less than blue-collar trades that are still
dominated by men.

For example, most of the nation's 3 million secretaries and 3.6
teachers are women, as are the majority of nurses and cashiers.

``We still have a long way to go when you look at the occupational
categories and the participation rates of women,'' says Labor Secretary
Alexis Herman.

Much has changed since the 1960s, when newspapers ran ``Help Wanted -
Male'' ads offering higher pay for men than for women doing the same
Back then, women were discouraged from careers in medicine and law and
were virtually barred from skilled trades.

In the 1970s and '80s, the segregation of jobs by gender declined as
women moved into traditionally male jobs. From 1983 to 1997, the
proportion of employed women who worked in managerial and professional
occupations increased from 23 percent to 32 percent. More than 25
of lawyers and physicians are now female.

But even as women break into jobs that were formerly male bastions,
they are still paid less. ``There is a pay gap in every job category,''
says Karen Nussbaum, director of the working women's department at the
AFL-CIO in Washington.

Discrimination. ``Discrimination is clearly still a factor in the
market today, and that is why enforcement efforts are very important,''
says Ms. Herman.

At least one-quarter of the wage gap is the result of differences in
pay between men and women ``working in similar jobs and
according to a study published this year by economists of the National
Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass.

For example, Jones and other female ``custodians'' who vacuum and
inside congressional suites contend that their work is the same as that
the male ``laborers'' who wash the hallways and polish the brass
outside. ``We do just as much work as the men, and they get paid more,''
Jones says.
In addition to holding down women's pay, discrimination prevents
from being hired and promoted into better-paying jobs.

Finally, gender biases long entrenched in wage structures continue to
hamper efforts to increase wages for what was once unpaid ``women's
work,'' such as child care, says Ellen Bravo, head of the 9 to 5
Association of Working Women in Milwaukee. ``Women's work has been
devalued,'' she says.

Given the long-term trends in women's work experience, education, and
inroads into male occupations, some experts anticipate that the wage gap
will continue to shrink, albeit slowly and unevenly. ``It is clearly a
work in progress, but we've come a long way,'' says Herman.

Still, advocates of equal pay stress that without stronger and
better-enforced antidiscrimination laws, it will be difficult to close

The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which now covers women in most jobs,
prohibits pay disparities between men and women who are performing work
under similar conditions that is ``substantially equal'' in skill,
and responsibility.

The reach of the law is limited, however. Men and women must work in
the same establishment; hiring discrimination is not covered;
are made for seniority and merit systems; and the maximum compensation
double three years' back pay.

As a result, plaintiffs in equal-pay lawsuits often also bring claims
under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which more broadly prohibits
discrimination and allows damages of as much as $300,000.

Enforcement of the law is also lacking, partly because it is
for people to learn how much others earn. ``The key is having the
says Jocelyn Frye, director of legal and public policy for the National
Partnership for Women and Families, an advocacy group in Washington. ``A
lot of times people don't have access to information that will allow
to know whether they are being paid unfairly.''

Over the past 12 years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC), which holds enforcement authority for the Equal Pay Act, has
only 164 cases, resolved 251 lawsuits, and recovered some $16 million.
Hampered by understaffing and underfunding, the EEOC often takes more
a year to resolve a case.

Federal and state legislative initiatives aim to strengthen laws
against pay inequity in several ways.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which has been introduced in the Senate,
would combat pay discrimination by bolstering EEOC resources, allowing
higher penalties and compensation for violations of the Equal Pay Act
lifting gag rules imposed by employers who forbid employees to discuss
wages with co-workers.

Meanwhile, equal-wage advocates are seeking federal legislation that
would make it illegal for employers to pay part-time workers - the
majority of whom are women - at a lower hourly rate than they pay
full-time employees doing the same job.

And more than half the states have taken action or passed legislation
since the 1980s to create a principle of ``comparable worth,''
wage disparities between traditionally male and female occupations, such
as janitor and clerical worker. A Fair Pay Act bill with similar aims
been introduced in both houses of Congress.

For Jones and her female co-workers, winning the right to unionize in
1996 gave them a weapon for combatting alleged wage discrimination by
Architect of the Capitol (AOC), a federal body that oversees all House
Senate buildings. The AOC declined to comment on the case, which is
expected to go to trial in 1999.

``I've known about the wage gap for years, but we didn't have the
backing or unity to do anything about it,'' says Jones, who this January
was elected chief shop steward in her union. ``It was like whispers in
night,'' she says. ``Nobody heard.''

Women in the Workplace
How women have fared in six professions:

Judges in states' highest courts
1985: 23 / 1997: 78 (actual number)

College professors
1975: 24.7% / 1995: 34.6%

Police forces
1972: 2.0% / 1997: 13.3%

Construction workers
1964: 4.9% / 1997: 11.1%

1983: 2.1% / 1996: 1.4%

Bank CEOs
1986: 1.4% / 1997: 4.9%

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