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Unequal pay

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POTSDAM - What would you say if someone proposed a simple and quick fix to the economy that would reduce the costs for counties and states to provide supplemental help for food, energy and medical care for vast numbers of working families who are caught in our ever-fraying safety net?

A fix that only requires simple legislative action to relieve the financial burdens pressing hard on local and state budgets? A solution that lifts millions out of poverty and into self-sufficiency?

Our legislators would be irresponsible not to enact such a law and give everyone and society such a break, wouldn’t they?

That simple legislative solution is to finally and completely close the gender wage gap which would significantly improve the finances of millions of American families. Closing the wage gap would go along way toward moving women and their families out of poverty.

In 2011, women were more likely to live in poverty and were more likely to rely on public benefits like Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and housing assistance. Bringing women’s earnings in line with men’s earnings would greatly improve the economic situation for women and their families.

Equal pay for equal work for women would mean an additional $11,084 in earnings per year for their families, on average. That money would stretch along way. It is enough to pay the median cost of rent and utilities for a year and one month with almost $100 to spare, or to meet the median mortgage payment and utilities for almost eleven months.

In 2012, more than 1.8 million properties nationwide defaulted on a mortgage. Those lost earnings due to the wage gap could have helped many families stay in their homes.

That $11,084 lost to the wage gap could feed a household of four for a year-and-a-half with more than $70 to spare.

In fiscal year 2011, female-headed households made up 52.1 percent of all households with children receiving SNAP (food stamp) benefits, compared to 27.0 percent of all households with children.

In 2012, more than 46.6 million children and adults received assistance on average each month, an increase of over 1.9 million. Those lost wages would have taken a big burden off counties and states.

That $11,084 lost to the wage gap could pay for a year and five months of full-time child care costs for a 4-year-old with more than $300 to spare.

Child care expenditures take a big bite out of family earnings, especially for low-income and single mother families. In fact, families below the poverty line spend 30 percent of their monthly income on child care, compared with 8 percent among other families.Closing the wage gap would move more of those families to independence, taking the burden off the state and counties.

That $11,084 lost to the wage gap could have paid for two years and nine months of family health insurance premiums in an employer-sponsored health insurance program, with almost $190 to spare.

Women spend a substantial amount of their income on out-of-pocket health costs and health insurance premiums, and they are more likely than men to experience serious financial hardship as a result of medical bills. Closing the wage gap would provide essential help for women to pay for their medical expenses without resorting to county help.

That $11,084 lost to the wage gap could pay for three years of student loan payments with more than $60 to spare.

In 2011, it is estimated that two-thirds of college seniors graduated with student loan debt. The average debt was $26,600.36. Closing the wage gap would enable women to pay down student loan debt much faster.

The wage gap impacts women as soon as they enter the labor force, and expands over time, leaving older women with a gap in retirement income. The typical 45-64 year old woman working full time, year round is paid just 72.8 percent of what her male counterpart is paid. For women still working at age 65 and older the figure is 72.1 percent.

The typical woman who works full time, year round loses $443,360 in a 40-year period due to the wage gap. This woman would have to work almost 12 years longer to make up this gap. As a result of lower lifetime earnings and different work patterns, the average Social Security benefit for women 65 and older was about $12,700 per year, compared to $16,700 for men of the same age in 2011.

Equal Pay Day 2013 is April 9, the day it takes a woman’s earning from the year before to catch up to what a man was paid in 2012.

The wage gap is no laughing matter to a woman, to her family or to society at large. Unequal pay robs a woman and robs the society that must find a way to make up the difference through the social safety net. More pay in a woman’s pocket would mean more taxes paid, which would help counties and states meet their obligations.

So, the solution is simple, isn’t it? Let’s finally fix the gender wage gap and enact laws at both the state and federal level that give women what they earn with their work, give our economy an effective stimulus from the bottom up, and give our counties relief. Every time an employer shortchanges a woman’s paycheck, he shortchanges change society. It is time finally fix this problem.

Membership in the St. Lawrence County Branch is open to anyone who supports the mission of AAUW. AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research.

AAUW, with its nationwide network of more than 100,000 members, more than 1,000 branches conducting programs in communities across the country, and 500 college and university partners, has been a leading advocate for equity and education for women and their families since 1881.

For more information about AAUW in St. Lawrence County, contact President Jennifer Ball at 268- 4208 or jball@clarkson.edu or Public Policy Chair Kathleen Stein at 386-3812, kstein1@twcny.rr.com, or visit the branch website, www.northnet.org/stlawrenceaauw/index.html.

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