Equal Pay Day
Tuesday, April 8 marked 2014 Equal Pay Day in the United States. The annual day of awareness advocates for the equal pay for women and people of color as for white men. The date symbolizes the time since the beginning of 2013 that an average woman would have to work to earn the same amount of money for the same work that a man did only during that calendar year. According to the census bureau, women on average earn 77 percent of the pay of men, and the figure is even lower for women of color when compared to white men (Al Jazeera America, “On Equal Pay Day, many urge further action,” 4.8.14).
On this day, President Obama signed two executive orders intended to curb pay discrimination among federal contractors. He also called out members of Congress, particularly Republican members, for blocking similar bills during his term in 2010 and 2012 (BBC News, “Obama signs executive orders targeting gender wage gap,” 4.8.14). The orders mandate that contractors for the United States federal government must report salary information by demographic to the Department of Labor and prohibit contractors from retaliating against employees who openly discuss their pay (ABC News, “Obama challenges Republicans to support paycheck fairness bill” 4.8.14). The BBC reports that in his speech Tuesday announcing the orders, Obama said, “Pay secrecy fosters discrimination, and we should not tolerate it, not in federal contracting or anywhere else.”
However, the orders have been met with criticism from both sides of the aisle. On Twitter, online activists and citizens pointed out that the White House staff itself has comparable pay inequity, and that President Obama’s efforts largely gloss over the greater pay disparity and attendant struggles for women of color.
Also, the Republican National Committee expresses concern that the orders infringe on employer’s rights and may in fact negatively impact female workers. They argue that Obama’s orders for open salary information would restrict employers’ willingness to give merit pay to encourage workers, including women. They also contend that pay disparity will not be improved by the measures because women choose lower-paying jobs.
Both sides will be treading carefully as midterm elections approach this year and everyone vies for the female vote. The elections could change which party controls the senate, including during the last two years of Obama’s time in office. Next, Obama will urge Congress to support the Paycheck Fairness Act, a measure which would increase pay transparency across the board. Democrats in Congress will bring the bill to debate in the coming weeks, while many in the senate doubt that it will pass due to the Republican oppositions to its restrictions and mandates.
More Women Staying at Home
More U.S. women are staying at home full time to raise their children, according to a new Pew Research Center report released Tuesday. The number of stay-at-home mothers in the United States has risen since 2000 after decades of decline. The study found that 29 percent of mothers with children younger than 18—about 10.4 million women—stayed at home in 2012, compared with the historic low of 23 percent in 1999 (The New York Times, “Number of Mothers in U.S. Who Stay at Home Rises,” 4.8.2014).
The shift is most noticeable among women who are immigrants and who do not have college educations. Though both American-born and foreign-born mothers exhibited increases, 40 percent of immigrant mothers stay home to raise their children, compared with 26 percent of mothers who were born in the United States (The Washington Post, “More moms stay at home, new research says,” 4.8.2014).
The report points to stagnant incomes as a possible factor for weighing the cost of child care against wages and deciding it makes more economic sense to stay home. While clearly attitudes over the decades toward working mothers have grown warmer, “Most Americans continue to believe that it’s best for children to have a parent at home,” said D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer at Pew who worked on the report (CBS News, “Stay-at-home mothers on the rise in U.S.,” 4.8.2014).
“There surely is a slowdown in the meteoric growth of women working outside the home,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University who studies family issues. “From 1948 to 2000, the number of married women working skyrocketed. Now it’s plateaued, and it’s very hard to know exactly what’s causing it.”
One in five children in the United States today lives with a stay-at-home mother married to a working husband. In 1970, 41 percent of children did (The Washington Post, “More moms stay at home, new research says,” 4.8.2014).
Since 2008, about 70 percent said that a working mother is just as capable as an at-home mother of establishing the same “warm and secure” relationship with her children. But 60 percent of Americans in a recent Pew survey said children are better off when a parent stays home to “focus on the family,” compared with 35 percent who said children are “just as well off with working parents” (CBS News, “Stay-at-home mothers on the rise in U.S.,” 4.8.2014).