MARTHA BURK: Scrimping on women’s pay
Republicans in the Senate blocked a vote on the minimum wage earlier this month — no surprise there. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee was the only Republican who stood aside. But don’t believe the issue is dead. Democrats will make sure that raising the minimum wage and reducing income inequality will be hot topics all the way to Election Day. President Barack Obama fired the first shot when he used his State of the Union speech in January to announce an increase from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers. Forcing GOP Senators to vote “no” for the rest of the country’s workers was another volley.
Conservatives claim that raising the minimum will destroy entry level jobs for new workers. You know, teenagers working for gas money and purple hair dye. Sorry — it just ain’t so. The great majority of minimum-wage workers are grown women, and that’s been true for years.
But now things are changing, according to news from the National Women’s Law Center. It’s one of those good-and-bad news situations.
The good news? Unlike men, women have actually regained more jobs than they lost in the recession. Our unemployment rate for April dropped to 5.7 percent, from 6.2 percent in March. The bad news is what we’re earning in those new gigs. Low-wage jobs are growing at a faster rate than decent-paying jobs.
And here’s what everyone should worry about — it’s a downward slide. About 40 percent of new jobs created last year pay less than $14 an hour, twice the rate we saw before the recession.
The researchers say both women and men are being pushed into bottom-rung jobs. But since the great majority of this lousy McWork is done by women, it’s a bigger problem for us than it is for men.
We comprise half the workforce overall, but have three-fourths of the low-wage jobs. Since the start of the recession, over 35 percent of women’s job gains have been in low-wage industries, like retail, fast food and housekeeping. Just 18 percent of men’s new jobs were in those fields.
April’s figures show that this imbalance is only getting worse — more than one in three of the new jobs women secured were in these low-wage industries, as opposed to one in ten for men.
That’s not all.
Not only are women taking lower-paying jobs at a higher rate than men, we’re getting paid less for that work. On average, women working the 10 lowest-paying fields make nearly 10 percent less than men working in the same fields, according to additional National Women’s Law Center research. And the gap can’t be explained away by taking into account any differences in the number of hours that women work compared with men.
Clearly, the GOP’s refusal to raise the minimum wage is just one more skirmish in the war on women.
Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics, and the Change We Need. Follow Martha on twitter @MarthaBurk.