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Nina Burleigh Headshot

Let's See That Paycheck

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A front page story in the New York Times on Christmas Eve about the pay gap between men and women completed the job on my indigestion that days of feasting and merriment had begun.

After gaining in the 1980s so that college-educated women made more than 75 cents for every dollar college-educated men made, women's pay not only stagnated during the last decade but we actually lost a penny, so that in 2006 we make 74.7 cents to every dollar equally educated men make.

It may seem peevish to get exercised about this lost penny while our fighting men and women are being blown up in Iraq, and our government's solution will be to send more flesh into the fray.

Perhaps, though, that's just the point. As the Bush plan to "Fight" (read: CREATE) "Terror" has consumed more and more of our national spirit and energy, social progress in America has stopped.

Women, among others, pay the price. Those quarter-dollars add up: When a man with a four year education makes 100,000 in a year, his equally educated female counterpart gets $75,000.

A combination of "discrimination and women's own choices" have caused the pay stagnation, according to economists cited in the article.

It is certainly true that women in my generation are finding it hard to be mommies and go to work at the same time. Without that extra $25,000 who can afford decent child care?

That $25,000 also means a shabbier house, an older car, credit card debts, lifestyle elements that add up, so that when younger women take a look at their older counterparts who head households, they see a relatively unappealing future. Where does personal choice end and discrimination begin for young women choosing to stay to home and let their mates bring home the extra money they won't be able to earn?

A recent article in Elle Magazine by Ruth Davis Konigsberg crisply laid out how a working woman earning more than her mate came home to find her husband doing substandard housework and childcare, grew bitter at her fate and ultimately gave up her job in order to restore domestic harmony.

Incoming Ivy League law school girls told reporters last year that their number one priority was going to be getting married and having babies.

The Elle article and the Ivy Leaguers' layette career plans reveal that something remains very amiss in the private politics of men and women.

I know many women who make more money than their husbands. Single motherhood is on the rise in this country, and not among teenagers. Grown women are choosing to have babies and raise them without husbands.

When women are the primary breadwinners, their families should not be penalized and forced to live at a lower standard of living than families financially headed by men.

It's time for every working woman in America to learn what the man in the next cubicle, in the next office, down the hall, upstairs, with the same years of education, doing the same type of work, is earning.

And then, it's time to take that number over to the human resources department, along with her own paycheck, and ask why the difference.