The current moment could be pivotal in the ongoing fight for the reforms working women have been demanding for years.
For 56 years, concerned women have been fighting for pay equity — equal pay for the same work performed by men. We have cited statistics showing a gap that is bad for white women, worse for women of color and Hispanics and nearly unfathomable for Native Americans. Despite our best efforts, progress has been slow. Today, on average, women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same work, and it is estimated that we won’t catch up until 2093.
It’s very likely that the coronavirus, and the disruption to people’s lives and jobs, will push that date back even further. Our country is in the midst of a crisis that has left many workers, those who are not able to work from home or who are deemed “unessential,” wondering what their economic future looks like and how they’ll pay the bills. Women have been hit especially hard by the loss of jobs in the service industries and other low-paying jobs, as they make up the majority of staff at these jobs. Many are single mothers whose families depend on their income.
The federal government is responding to the loss of income with a huge financial plan that includes some short-term payouts, paid sick time for some people, an expansion of unemployment benefits and a bailout for some businesses, such as the airlines and cruise and hotel industries. Some of these measures will help struggling workers — but women who have never had paid sick time and have had to juggle bills from paycheck to paycheck to stay afloat in the best of times need more permanent solutions. These are people who do not fly or take cruises or stay in hotels but struggle every day just to live and care for their loved ones.
March 31 was National Pay Equity Day, and April 29 was to be Michigan’s Equal Pay Day. We won’t be rallying on the Capitol steps in April, but we will continue to educate about the need for equal pay, equal treatment and paid sick time through social media. Beyond that, we need to plan for what happens next when the quick fix dissipates, and the full extent of the crisis falls upon us.
Perhaps the pandemic that is sweeping the United States will open the eyes and ears of those who have refused to acknowledge the wage disparity that exists and the need for fairer treatment of all women.
Based on prior experience, the outlook is hazy. The current moment could be pivotal in the ongoing fight for the reforms working women have been demanding for years. This crisis is a wakeup call, and it’s on all of us to step up and respond.
Irma Glaser and Cathy Cantor are Michigan NCJW State Policy Advocates for the Michigan Equal Pay Day Coalition