Driving To Distraction

Women are having a tough time in the present economy, and the situation isn’t made any better by the wage gap.  NPWF reports: ” In Nevada, on average, a woman who holds a full-time job is paid $35,484 per year while a man who holds a full-time job is paid $41,803 per year. ” (pdf)  This has some very real economic consequences for the state since 125,402 households in Nevada are headed by women. In 32,479 of those household the income is below the poverty line.  Thus 25.89% of those households are barely getting by.

Unequal Pay for Equal Work

Now we get to the “yeah, but” department.  Critics of equal pay legislation or enforcement of equal pay provisions already in statute assert that these numbers are relatively meaningless because women make different “life choices” than their male cohorts.  The numbers don’t support this contention.

The American Association of University Women sponsored a study reported  (pdf) which controlled for factors such as majors, hours, and employment sectors — and the conclusion? When these factors are controlled the pay gap diminishes but it doesn’t disappear.  The report graphs the results as shown below.

Gender gap wagesConsider that more men enter engineering and computer science fields, while women tend to be attracted to social sciences and education; or, that men tend to work more hours; or, that men and women may work in different economic sectors — run the regression analysis, and there is still a 7% pay gap between male and female college graduates.

The picture doesn’t get any better when we slide down the pay scale:

“According to an April 2012 fact sheet from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Women’s median earnings are lower than men’s in nearly all occupations, whether they work in occupations predominantly done by women, occupations predominantly done by men, or occupations with a more even mix of men and women.” [MMFA]

The pay gap has some very real economic consequences.   One analysis projects that if the pay gap could be mitigated, and more women could participate in the workforce, we could add about 3 to 4% to our national economy.

Children Are Expensive

If you are one of those social conservatives who have clutched the notion that a woman’s decision to bear a child automatically means she has accepted career interruptions and the concomitant reduction in earnings — stop reading now.   It is impossible to argue a “pro-life” position on abortion and birth control while at the same time contending that women have “chosen” to be lower wage and salary workers and therefore are not entitled to be heard on the subject of living wages and employment opportunity.  The child must be cared for, fed, housed, educated, and clothed.  Those things cost money.

If the feeding, housing, educating, and clothing of the little belovéd are consuming the “second salary” in the home then the family really isn’t making any progress toward saving for improved housing, more education, or more of anything else, like retirement savings.  If child care consumes approximately 65% of the family’s second wage, [OECD/WSJ] then we’re not encouraging increased participation in the workforce, and we are certainly not solidifying the stairs up the socioeconomic ladder.

There are competing interests which need to be addressed at this point.  On one hand we need to make child care affordable for working families, and on the other we need to contemplate the rationality of an economic system in which zookeepers are paid better than child care employees.  The BLS notes that the average annual wage for an animal caretaker is $21,550.  The average wage for a child care worker is $21,310.

Meanwhile, there are about 11 million youngsters in some form of child care in the U.S. while their parents are working, and about 90% of the total cost for child care in the U.S. is absorbed by the parents.  Worse still, parents are paying their money and taking their chances — the June 2012 report from Child Care Aware concluded that there was no support for the idea that children in daycare settings were being protected by state licensing and oversight regimes. [CCA pdf]

The numbers also don’t lend credence to the argument that single women are sitting at home with the “too many” kids and living off the dole.   There are approximately 23,363,909 children under the age of 6 in this country.  65% of them are living with both parents, in 58% of the homes both parents are working.  There are about 8,126,541 children under the age of 6 who are living with a single parent, and in 76% of those homes that parent is working. [CCA pdf]  A working parent needs child care services.

Center based care, such as Headstart or nurseries provide about 26% of the child care nation wide, with grandparents chipping in another 21%, 6% are cared for by other relatives, another 6% by family care centers, and about 8% by “others.”   Working a low wage job (or two) in Nevada?  Finding child care is problematic.

There are 23,350 women in Nevada’s workforce who as of the publication of the CCA report had infants under one year of age, another 88,348 women in the state have youngsters under 6.   There are 867 child care centers, 11% of which are accredited.  This for a state in which there are potentially 138,158 children whose parents are working and might need child care.  There are 403 family care centers, 1% of which are nationally accredited.  If we combine the two categories there are spaces for 76,608 children.  [CCA pdf] [Nevada Fact Sheet page 75 CCA pdf]

Thus far we have a situation in which the amount a woman can contribute to family earnings is diminished by the gender pay gap,  and children living with a single mother can expect to be in homes of yet more modest means.  What the woman can contribute is further reduced by the costs associated with child care services which in Nevada run from the $9,413 average for an infant under 1 to about $7,532 for a child under 6.  If the family can find child care services at all.

In short, the numbers reveal that  it doesn’t do to revile “stay at home welfare mothers” if child care services aren’t available, and affordable, should she attempt to enter the work force.

The Grinch Factor

While this situation for working mothers and working families frames the economy of most U.S. households, there are forces which are rendering a difficult situation worse.

In its fervor to protect the tax liabilities for the top 1% of American income earners, the Congress of the United States has voted to cut Headstart funding — with the Sequester cutting some 70,000 places for children nationwide.  Another 600,000 women and children could be cut from the WIC nutritional program. [ABC]  Families in Nevada will lose approximately $37 from SNAP benefits as of November 2013, [CBPP] and the House Agricultural Committee approved slashing SNAP benefits by $21 billion over the next 10 years in the last Farm Bill. [FRAC]

Working mothers may need child care to continue their employment — but child care funding is cut.  Working mothers (and two parent homes) may need to pinch pennies while balancing the requirements of child care costs and putting food on the table — but we’ve cut funding for the WIC and SNAP programs.  This isn’t a “War on Women,” it’s an assault on entire families.

The Assault on the American Working Family hasn’t precluded the radical right from launching it’s rendition of the War on Women, Democratic Style — somehow the perverse  peccadilloes  of such miscreants as Mayor Filner, and mayoral candidate Weiner are supposed to be indicative of a Democratic War on Women — really?  And this charge is supposed to vitiate the reduction in support for Planned Parenthood which provides health care services to 71% of their clients to prevent unintended pregnancies.   Again, it doesn’t do to attempt to argue that “they” are having too many children, and then vote to eviscerate programs that will prevent unintended pregnancy.

The Republican Party appears ready and willing to shut down all government unless the President of the United States is willing to repeal his signature legislation on health care insurance reform, allowing families to keep children on their health plans, and disallowing preclusions for “pre-existing conditions” like birth defects  — or perhaps to undermine the Social Security and Medicare programs — or whatever the last spokesperson has on offer.

Until the Washington media, and the nation by extension, come to understand how radical and counter-productive the current legislative regime is in the nation’s capital there is little hope for American families caught between the Scylla of rising food, medical, and child care costs and the Charybdis of stagnant and unequal wages.

Though the media may be distracted by the sensationalism of its own creation, the American public needs a full and comprehensive discussion of exactly how much do we really value our children and the working families with whom they live.   When we learn to ask better questions, such as do we have adequate child care, and are we doing all we can to encourage participation in the workforce — then we’ll get better answers.

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