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Gender Pay Gap Hurts Us All

September 04, 2013 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

Gender bias that allows people to continue thinking about certain careers as “women’s work” holds back economic progress.

I had a great conversation with Camille Roberts and Brandon Nessen, SEIU Healthcare organizers, about how to eradicate this kind of thinking Monday at the Minnesota State Fair. Both Roberts and Nessen are helping home healthcare workers prepare for a vote on forming a union.

A big reason why home healthcare workers aren’t organized now is the fact most such workers have been viewed as “domestic workers” or servants in past decades and centuries, said Roberts. "They were mostly women of color," she said, although in Minnesota they were more commonly immigrants.

Before the civil rights movement started gaining political success, domestic workers were excluded from collective bargaining provisions of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 that spelled out rights and obligations for employers, employees and unions.

Nessen said healthcare officials and others estimate there are from 15,000 to 20,000 people providing home healthcare services in Minnesota. Exact numbers are hard to pin down because many are informally employed like yesterday’s domestic workers.

Recalling this is important because this year Labor Day followed the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s eloquent “I Have a Dream” speech. Then as now, jobs, civil rights, union bargaining rights, and access to capital and social safety nets were intertwined. When equality is denied, disparities among people grow.

Oftentimes through American history, immigrants were exploited. Consistently, however, a gender bias in workplaces worked to the benefit of exploiters by undercutting any semblance of labor market forces.

Gender bias continues in workplaces as revealed in a survey conducted for ELLE magazine and the Center for American Progress, released on August 19.

One statistical finding often cited and especially telling is about how gender is used to keep labor costs down while penalizing families dependent on working moms. That comes from women earning 77 percent of salaries and wages paid men, which researchers noted produce a lifetime income deficit of more than $400,000.

Hanna Rosin at warns us to take a deeper look at the numbers and the systemic discrimination behind pay equity gaps. First she argues when we take an apples-to-apples look for men and women doing the same job working the same amount of hours, what women earn might be closer to 81 cents in some studies and as much as 91 cents in others.

She argues if it was all about chauvinists bosses and outward discrimination, the pay gap would be a simpler problem to fix. But the issues that lead to the gap are much deeper. She points to a study that "tracked male and female MBAs graduating from the University of Chicago from 1990 to 2006." They start out at near the same salary, with women being being paid a little less. Researchers attribute that to women being less aggressive at negotiating starting salaries and lingering discrimination. 

But "10 to 15 years later, the gap widens to 40 percent, almost all of which is due to career interruptions and fewer hours..." Rosin writes. "It’s the deeper, more systemic discrimination of inadequate family-leave policies and childcare options."

Imagine how devastating this problem is lower down the income scale and how it contributes to widening economic disparities in an economy where women who are the main bread winners is growing.

The Institute for Policy Studies cites data showing the bottom 50 percent of Americans hold just 2.5 percent of total national wealth while the 50-90 percentile of Americans account for 26 percent of national wealth. Meanwhile, the 90-99 percentile has 39.4 percent of total national wealth while the top 1 percent has 50.9 percent of it.

Entrepreneurship is one recognized tool for making labor market corrections when inequities, barriers, flat-out discrimination and other constraints of modern business prevent people and groups from upward mobility.

An important voice encouraging women’s entrepreneurship is Kelly Keenan Trumpbour, founder and CEO of the See Jane Invest consultancy in the Baltimore-Washington area. In an extraordinary article for a bridal website, she explains what prompted her to start her own business, and encourages women to become entrepreneurs and business leaders.

“The workplace standards they design can impact health care, maternity leave, and minimum wage laws,” Trumpbour wrote. Wealth they create will lead to more women CEOs and women political candidates, she added.

More female policymakers and better male allies would help in making a strong case in Washington for raising the minimum wage. Leading up to Labor Day,'s Jason Notte wrote that  President Truman got Congress to nearly double the minimum wage from 40 cents an hour to 75 cents in 1949. None of the job losses predicted by business lobbies followed, as we hear again today. Rather, Notte wrote, “A two-decade boom followed.”

Minnesota should not wait for Congress to raise minimum wages; the time is now to put at least a $9.50 by 2015 wage policy on the books. 

Fair pay for all workers and entrepreneurs who are rewarded for paying living wages would move women and families several steps closer to fulfilling Martin Luther King’s “Dream.”

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  • wesmouch says:

    September 6, 2013 at 6:11 am

    The Progressives are geniuses. By increasing the minimum wage you will create more unemployment especially among minority groups. Can anyone say Progressive racism? Truman also had orange juice for breakfast and a two decade boom followed. The DFL will propose an orange juice subsidy program. You guys are geniuses (not) More like tools of the Public Unions

  • wesmouch says:

    September 6, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    If you work part time, loaf and have children you will make less than men. The real loafers are the government workers. As my Dad used to say: get a job in government and you will never have to work again in your life. Bloated pension benefits too. Just make sure your Union dues go into the DFL pockets.

  • tony says:

    September 9, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    See, Wes has those talking oints down pat. Never worked with a govt employee in his life & knows everything about them. Hitler said find a lie, a big one, and keep repeating it & eventually people will think it’s true. Notice how he is following the current GOP doctrine of anti-women. Calls them lazy, downgrades them cuz they have kids and egg men on so they will rape them & then blame the men. Use buzz words like lazy, unions, pensions & eventually hope that the middle class will turn against their own best interests. MN2020 is an excellent website that draws intelligent discussion on both sides that improves our lives. We do not have time for mindless hate-mongering…