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New study shows gender pay gap worse than previously thought

Recent news stories have talked about how the gender pay gap has not changed much in the last 20 years, citing the statistic that women generally earn 80 cents for each dollar earned by a man. If this fact wasn't disappointing enough, a new study from the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) now shows that over the long term, women only make about 49 cents for every man's dollar.

The study assessed wages over a 15-year period to give a more inclusive representation of worker earnings. When looked at this way, a woman's average earnings are far less than a man's over the same period.

Penalties for parenthood

People have debated reasons behind the wage gap for years. For decades, employers blatantly and openly discriminated against women. If employers would hire women at all, they would not offer the same pay for the same work a man would do in that position. The Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act now protect women, as well as other classes of workers, against such discrimination.

These days, employers must be much subtler in their pay discrepancies. The most obvious trend among women who made less money was that they took time away from their careers, usually for family matters such as the birth of a child. These women made, on average, 39 percent less than women who took no time away from their careers over the 15-year period. Although men also suffer penalties for leaving the work force, their losses are generally not as high as a woman's. These negative consequences of taking time off are actually more severe than they were back in 1968 when the EPA was passed.

What can we do?

The take-away from this study is that women need more support in the workplace and at home to protect the progress of their careers. The IWPR refers to this as "strengthening women's labor force attachment."

  • Paid leave. Women often have a full year or more with no earnings because of time they take for family. They need stronger paid family and medical leave policies in the workplace. California is ahead of the curve here with its Paid Family Leave insurance law, which allows an individual to use unemployment disability insurance benefits to cover up to six weeks of leave.
  • Childcare. In addition, affordable child care plays a big role in a woman's ability to return to work. California, like many states, faces a childcare shortage reaching crisis proportions, especially for low-income workers. California is trying to expand coverage in this area, but still falls well short of the need.
  • Education. The IWPR stresses the need for Title IX enforcement in the education system to help women train for and begin careers in male-dominated fields.

This study shows that we have much further to go to close the gender wage gap than previously thought. If you believe your employer has discriminated against you based on your gender, you may have a legal claim. Women must continue to fight for the wages they deserve.

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