The Wage Gap: Of dollars and debates

As the presidential candidates gear up for their first debate next week there is no doubt that the single biggest issue on deck will be the economy. With the jobless rate increasing in five of 10 battleground states — including Nevada, which has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 12.1 percent — it looks to be a question of who can frame the issue better.

Is it glass half-full; we’re stemming the tide on job loss? Or is it glass half-full empty; we’re hemorrhaging so badly that we can’t even shore up battleground states (and their badly needed electoral votes)? We’ll have to tune in on Oct. 3 to find out who’s meme catches fire.

But one thing one thing I bet we’ll hear next to nothing about is the reality of pay inequality. The wage gap has stagnated at or near an average 77 cents that women earn for every dollar a man makes. That number gets worse depending on where you live and a woman’s race. But the cold fact is that in 97 percent of Congressional precincts, women get paid less than men for the same work.

Here in Nevada, the numbers are bleak. While women make an average of 83 cents on the dollar here, according to the National Women’s Law Center (PDF), that number drops to 63 cents for African American women and a paltry 51 cents for Hispanic women. And it gets worse, according to the same report, even as our state is facing a dramatically increased demand for safety net services including food stamps and Medicaid, many families struggle to make ends meet:

In December 2011, the most recent month for which data are available, Nevada provided food stamp benefits to almost 353,900 children and adults, an increase of over 29,200 from the previous year. For many low-wage workers, these programs provide crucial support to meet basic needs when wages aren’t enough. For example, for a full-time year-round worker at Nevada’s minimum wage, the annual pay is less than the poverty line for a family of three. …

In 2011, women made up about two-thirds of all workers that were paid minimum wage or less, totaling almost 2.4 million women 16 and older. In Nevada, the minimum wage was $8.25 per hour, equivalent to only about $16,500 a year for those working full time year round. The minimum cash wage for tipped employees in Nevada was also just $8.25 per hour. Nationally, women make up almost two-thirds (64.0 percent) of workers in tipped occupations. Raising the minimum wage would help close the wage gap for Nevada women.

Meanwhile, we’re more than three years in on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and women still have to work more than 100 days into the year to match the earning of a man in the previous year. When it comes to equal pay, we still have a long way to go. But with so many families struggling to put food on the table right now, there is precious little time to waste debating the merits of true wage equality. Indeed, it has been calculated that a woman’s missing wages could buy eight month’s worth of groceries!

In this election season we have heard over and over again how it is the economy (stupid). But I wonder if either candidate will address one solution that could have dramatic impact on women and families all over the country.

One thought on “The Wage Gap: Of dollars and debates

  1. Pingback: Debate night talking points: The ‘what you won’t hear’ round-up « The Sin City Siren

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