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Alex Palombo Headshot

Fall Into the Gap

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In case anyone missed it today, I wanted to take the time to point people towards the Center for American Progress's fantastic interactive feature "The Game of Wages." It's fun, it's visually fantastic, and it drives home a problem that shouldn't exist: that in 2013, women are still getting paid less than men for the same amount of work.

From the Center for American Progress's report:

Of the 534 occupations listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn more than men in exactly seven professions. Together, these seven occupations account for about 1.5 million working women, or about 3 percent of the full-time female labor force. The remaining 97 percent of full-time working women work in occupations where they earn less than their male counterparts...

Education, success, and occupational prestige are not enough to protect women from the gender wage gap. While data show that American women are in more senior managerial professions than other OECD countries, these high-achieving women are still disadvantaged by an above-average wage gap. Managerial professionals, CEOs, and administrators all rank in the top 10 occupations in which women earn less than men.

I already had an idea of the disgusting wage difference between men and women, and the reasons to pay women less turned my stomach even more. The top reasons employers gave for wage inequality were pay difference in work fields, and gaps in job experience.

The fields of work that men and women occupy are part of the problem -- many of the traditionally female caregiver and clerical jobs pay less than engineering and administrative fields that men generally occupy. But the second reason for unequal pay is a doozy: many employers point to "lack of experience" as a reason to pay women less.

The "lack of experience" here comes from a uniquely feminine source: children. Women often leave the workforce for a few years to start and raise a family, something that most men do not do. Sure, men start families, but most do not leave the workforce to do so. Parenting has always been a very one-sided cultural pursuit, with the burden of child rearing falling on women -- women that leave the work force don't get paid when they do leave, and sometimes do not have their job waiting for them when they return. While many countries offer paid maternity (and sometimes, paternity) leave, the U.S. is still dragging behind. With the cost of living rising, most families need both parents to work, and when women go back into the workforce after having children, their experience gap puts them at a pay disadvantage.

And while women now outnumber men at colleges and universities, the Center for American Progress notes that a woman need a master's degree to make the same amount of money over her lifetime as a man with a bachelor's degree would.

Women's access to college and advanced degrees has not been enough to close the gap completely. Women need an additional degree in order to make as much as men with a lower degree over the course of a lifetime. A woman would need a doctoral degree, for instance, to earn the same as a man with a bachelor's degree, and a man with a high school education would earn approximately the same amount as a woman with a bachelor's degree.

How the hell is that fair?

Washington has prided itself for making progress in gender equality for years now - making strides to educate and employ more women, electing women to higher office in increasing numbers, and patting themselves on the back for approving the Lilly Ledbetter Act.

It's still not enough.

The causes for income inequality and the gender pay gap are many and varied, and the solutions should be the same. We, as a nation, cannot just pass one limited pay equality bill and sit on our hands, saying that we fixed the problem. Because we haven't. And we're not even close.

Furthermore, pay inequality disproportionately affects families. More than ever, women are the primary breadwinners in single-family households. If women cannot earn equitable and fair pay for their hard work, it makes it harder to raise families, leaving many women to work multiple jobs.

Together, we have to pass more legislation, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, and enforce it. We need to make it clear to employers that a woman's work is just as important and valuable as a man's work, and wages should reflect this equity.

Culturally, we have to make it easier for women and men to co-parent, and ease the burden on women who want both a family and a career -- no woman should have to have her earning potential penalized because she chose to start and raise a family. And we need to seriously look at our nation's laws regarding paid sick time, paid maternity (and paternity) leave, and other legislation that affects families and their earning power.

To be frank, wage inequality is an antiquated problem that we should have solved ages ago, and it's a national embarrassment that in 2013, we haven't rectified this wrong. This is a multi-pronged problem, and it needs a multi-pronged response -- and soon.