Celebrating the Gender Pay Gap on Labor Day

BlogHer Original Post

Today is Labor Day, the federal holiday in which we honor working people by giving them a day off (unless they work in retail or emergency services) and offering exciting sales to entice people to use their day off to spend their hard-earned money. Recently, Bitch PhD lamented the words of a student enrolled in her gender studies class. The student complained:

I believe that woman have just as much privilege as men do. I don’t feel less important than men and I don’t think society is in that state of mind today. Feminism is a thing of the past. With so many women today having top paying jobs and high governmental status it’s hard to see why feminists still exist. With the numbers of women graduating from higher education growing and the numbers of men declining why do some women feel the right to parade around shouting for equality and “woman power!” We don’t need it. We got it. Those women need to turn around and help our young and struggling men get their power back.

Labor Day is actually the perfect day to illustrate why what this student "believes" and what reality is are two - very sadly - different things. One thing the student got right is that more women are graduating from higher education than ever. However, research from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) shows:

Women have made remarkable strides in education during the past three decades, but these gains have yet to translate into full equity in pay — even for college-educated women who work full time. A typical college-educated woman 25 years and older working full time earns $50,600 a year compared to $70,800 for college-educated male workers 25 years and older — a difference of $20,200!

AAUW also reports that "women typically earn 78 cents for every $1 that their male counterparts earn." The gender pay gap is not unique to the United States. Australian Women Online reports that:

...female graduates on average earn $2,000 less per annum than male graduates when they first start working and the 2008 Graduate Pathways Survey estimated males earn around $7,800 per year more than females in their fifth year after graduation.

Macquarie University researcher, Ian Watson, recently estimated that as much as 70% of the unexplained part of the gender pay gap is due to discrimination.

In the UK, Vonnie at Adventures of a Lady in Training reports that:

According to Close The Gap” the full-time gender pay gap is 14%. The part time pay gap jumps to a massive 33% – that means women working part time receive 67p per hour for every £1 per hour received by a full-time man. Do you think that is okay? Do you think it’s fair and equal?

Still not convinced. Here are more disturbing figures: Womenstake reports that the Institute for Women's Policy surveyed 500 occupations, and men earned more than women in 495 of them:

The occupations in which women earn equal to or more than men include counselors, two traditionally male occupations in which women account for less than four percent of all workers, special education teachers, and a subcategory of physical and social science technicians.

The fact sheet shows that men outearn women in the ten most common occupations for women, which include registered nurses (women earn 87.4 cents for a man's dollar) and retail managers (women earn 71.2 cents for a man's dollar) as well as the ten most common occupations for men, which include truck drivers (women earn 76.5 cents for a man's dollar) and janitors (women earn 80.5 cents for a man's dollar). In addition, men are paid more than women in the ten highest paying occupations for women, which include physicians and surgeons—an occupation in which women earn merely 64.4 cents for every dollar paid to men.

Yes, clearly so many women have top paying jobs and men are so far behind that they earn more than women. I will immediately put away my parade gear now that the facts are out there. (Incidentally, Sept. 1 is "Equal Pay Day" in Australia. Probably they should cancel it since women are already believed to have achieved equality.) Bah. My brain is exploding.

Of course, Labor Day is also a very good time to reflect on the amount of unpaid labor performed by women every year. A Happy Hospitalist notes that:

It looks like, on average, women do 10.8 more hours per week than men in unpaid "household work". The difference was greatest in the 25-24 year old age group with women doing 31.7 hours per week compared with 15.8 hours for men. But as we get older, the men pick up some slack, with women in the 65-74 year old age group doing just 8.2 hours more per week than their man.

Happy Hospitalist's figures came from Deborah Soloman at The Wall Street Journal, which in turn picked the numbers up from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So if the unpaid labor performed by women is factored in, the pay gap between men and women is even greater.

Incidentally, women of color have the least right of anyone to complain. Just because they make Hispanic women get paid 56 cents and black women are paid 67 cents to every dollar earned by white men, according to the National Women's Law Center, is no reason to believe that women have not achieved full equality. (In all seriousness, I would, however, agree that men of color face rampant educational and pay discrimination as well, which is a related issue that deserves a separate discussion.)

Don't forget the full effects of earning less money: People who earn less have less money to save or invest. People who earn less generate less earnings in social security. People who earn less while working have less to live off of in retirement. Pay gaps today thus dramatically impact the quality of life of people not just today, but also tomorrow.

What does this say to me? If now's not the time to drop those silly feminist demands for fairness, I just don't know when is. Seriously! Maybe we should change the law so that only men get the day off on Labor Day, just to even things out a bit. Right? Women just waste it by parading around and complaining about inequality. (I know that was my plan, but now that women are equal, instead I shall use the day to return from a wedding in San Francisco.)

Whatever you do, I wish you a happy Labor Day, and I hope you can afford to enjoy a day off.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. She is also the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track, a fun book about unusual (and affordable) things to see and do in NYC.

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