When I heard Alex Castellanos on “Meet the Press” contend that the wage gap is a myth a few weeks back, I choked on my green tea.
Data show that it persists across nearly all demographics and sectors of society. And equal pay for equal work seems like a non-partisan issue of fairness to me. But Castellanos wants to wave a wand and make those facts disappear.
Compared to my friends graduating this year, I feel pretty lucky that I have another two years before I enter the full-time job market. Bleak statistics on job placement for recent grads has me anxious about my future. Top that off with my soon-to-increase student loan rate (you’re welcome millionaires, enjoy your continued tax breaks) and my hope to continue my education beyond undergrad and my financial security is, well, nonexistent. Oh, and since I’m a woman, my new degree is very likely to earn me less than my male peers with the same degree starting year one, even though I’ve done everything right. Trust me, if I had a magic wand, I’d make the wage gap a thing of the past – but I don’t, and I’m worried.
To hear Castellanos condescendingly admire Rachel Maddow’s passion but “wish she were right,” had me fuming. Department of Labor statistics and countless studies agree that, even with other variables accounted for, women still make less than men. The pennies I am likely to lose out of every dollar are very real and not because of the “career choices” that critics purport explain away the gap.
I come from a long line of ambitious and hardworking women whose determination has been hindered by economic inequality. My mother was paid 20 cents less per hour that her male co-workers doing the exact same job (assembling plastic containers for airline food) as a high school student working a summer factory job and suspected, but could never prove, pay discrimination throughout her career in the finance world. My great-grandmother had to turn down a full-ride to Smith College to work instead, after her widowed mother was denied her fair share of her husband’s assets. And my many-generations-back grandmother was hanged as a witch in Salem for standing up to her male neighbor who was stealing her land. I bet if she’d really been a witch, she’d have done something about that neighbor, and the wage gap.
Compared to their struggles, my future promises the most equality, but despite their sacrifice, in 2012 I still will not earn equal pay for equal work. If I earn the median income coming out of undergrad – an optimistic if at the moment – I will be making $10,784 per year less than my male counterparts working full-time, year-round. Rent, health care costs (though less of these thanks to the Affordable Care Act! utilities, grocery bills, and my student loans don’t leave a lot of room for a $10k sacrifice to misogyny. The wage gap will mean delaying when I can further my education, buy my own house, and pay off my student debt. Since my dream is to work for non-profits, I can’t anticipate the security of big bucks later in life. As I move towards retirement, my Social Security, based on earnings, will also be less.
Besides impacting my own life, the wage gap will affect my family as well. My parents, who both have family histories of Alzheimer’s, will likely need my help as they age. I hope my savings will allow me to take time off work to care for them if they need it someday. My foster sister struggles with the mental health aftermath of serving in Iraq, and my brother has learning disabilities: their job futures are also uncertain, putting much of the family financial responsibility on my shoulders.
My story is no different than those of many other young people entering the workforce, and in fact I’ve had many opportunities that most of my peers are not afforded. Equal pay for equal work is a matter of necessity and justice in my life and the lives of all women. Almost 50 years after the Equal Pay Act, it is not acceptable that the wage gap has narrowed by only 18 cents and still has 23 cents to go. We need to close it once and for all.
Castellanos and the rest of his cronies need to ask young women what fair pay means to us before calling the wage gap a “myth.” Young women need policies like the Paycheck Fairness Act that work to close the wage gap and secure an equitable financial future.