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Today is Equal Pay Day in the U.S.

Nationally, women working full time, year round are paid just 77 cents for every dollar paid to all men. African American women are paid 62 cents and Latinas are paid just 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.”

Unfortunately, despite statistics, there are people out there who are against changing the wage gap. There are people who believe that the fact there is a wage gap is a lie. They don’t believe that women make less than men and argue that women leave the workforce to have babies and take care of children and when they go back to work, the men have surpassed them because of time and experience in the workplace.

Certainly, it’s a factor that women take off time to have children. But it doesn’t account for women being paid so much less overall and it doesn’t explain why so few women are in positions of power in corporations and in government.

Women have not been in these positions of power because over the years, they have been reserved for men. Look at the Masters Golf Tournament this year- Virginia Rometty, president and CEO of IBM was unable to be a member of Augusta National Golf Club because she’s a woman, when traditionally Augusta National gave a membership to IBM’s CEO. The Masters has been going on since 1934 and this hasn’t been an issue that a CEO not be given membership until 2012. Why hasn’t it been an issue? Because there hasn’t been a woman CEO at IBM. There haven’t been women in those high level positions throughout history.

Right now in 2012, men hold the vast majority of positions of power and correspondingly, of greatest compensation in the United States. Here is a table by Catalyst that shows the percentage of Women and Men in Positions of Power in the United States just last year in 2011.

Women Men
% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 3.4% 96.6%
% of Top Earners in the Fortune 500 7.5% 92.5%
% of Executive Officers in the Fortune 500 14.1 % 85.9%
% of Board Seats in the Fortune 500 16.1% 83.9%
% Working in Congress 16.8% 83.2%
% Working in Senate 17.0% 83.0%

There are plenty of women who have not taken time off work to raise their children as stay at home caretakers. The interesting thing is that it seems when a mother decides to stay home, she is praised for being a good woman, but if she returns to work right away, she is seen as not as good of a woman or mother (this is changing because of necessity and the economy). Of course, taking off from work to raise a child or two isn’t something all women can do financially and often leaves families in more debt.

But for those who are able to work as stay at home mothers, they often head back to work when the child or children are in school. At that point, the women may have to start from a lower position or with lower pay than they would be in if they hadn’t left.

They have been working, but not for a paying entity.

So, why should that paying entity care if a woman left her outside-the-home-paid-position to go home and care for the future of our world? They shouldn’t, but the government should. Work as a parent is hard and arguably more important than any other job.

As a parent, you are directly addressing a child’s attachment issues, independence, mastery, learning, love, emotions, expression of oneself. Those are huge and they are are intertwined with the day to day tantrums, feeding, screaming, hugs, reading books, painting, climbing, napping, crying, laughing, child pulling the dog’s tail, child throwing soil out of plants, bathing, pooping, more laughing, child dumping out toys that were just put away, child dumping out food they were just given, child losing the batteries in the remote control, teaching…. It’s amazing and wonderful, but it is anything but easy.

How you deal with all of these things affects what kind of person they will grow up to be. Not whether or not they are liberal or conservative necessarily or whether or not they are rich or poor, but whether they are successful, happy and can stick up for themselves but not bully others, whether they feel good about themselves and whether they can be well adjusted functioning people in our society.

Whether you are a full time mother or father, this is a Huge job.

The thing is, if a family decides one parent can and should stay home to be with the children, because of traditional gender roles that are supported by the wage gap, most women stay home with the children and most men stay at work. The gap in pay, which the national average is 77 cents to the dollar men make, encourages women to be the ones to stay home and men to be the ones to go off to work. It encourages the stereotype that women should be in the house and men outside of it. This translates to more men in government making laws for all of us without input from women.

As an example, I looked at Texas’s Wage Gap. It is current- April 2012.

In Texas, the median pay for a woman working full time, year round is $33,689 per year, while the median yearly pay for a man is $42,044. This means that women are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to a yearly gap of $8,355 between full-time working men and women in the state.”

“Women of color experience even greater disparities.”

African American women who work full time in Texas are paid just 76 cents for every dollar paid to all men, which amounts to a difference of $10,017 per year.

Latinas are paid just 58 cents on the dollar, or $17,851 less than all men per year of employment.

So the wage gap is not only across gender, it is also across race. This reinforces the structure of the system that dictates a racial hierarchy, paying people what they consider them to be worth, not allowing women of any race and people of color to truly get ahead.

I want to stress, this is not to blame anyone for the system. It’s to say, we will all be better off if the system changes. It will be better for families across the board and for our nation.

What Does the Wage Gap Mean for Women in different states across the nation? To check out the pay gap and how it affects women, men, and children in your state check out the National Partnership For Women and Families map.

Back to the example of Texas.

As a group, full-time working women in Texas lose approximately $29,200,875,390 each year due to the wage gap. If the wage gap were eliminated, a working woman in Texas would have enough money for approximately:

* 77 more weeks of food (1.5 years’ worth)
* Six more months of mortgage and utilities payments
* 10 more months of rent;
* 22 more months of family health insurance premiums (nearly two years’ worth)
* 2,178 additional gallons of gas.11

It’s pretty clear how equal pay would benefit families. It would also take the burden off of men having to be the one who goes and works outside the home.

There is also the issue of entire professions that are paid low wages and are made up mostly of women. Example: most teachers are women. Teachers are paid very little. Most social workers, nurses, child care workers are women and overall, not paid high wages.

It isn’t an easy issue and clearly not quickly solvable as Equal Pay Day has been going on since 1996 when it was started by the National Committee on Pay Equity, but closing the wage gap would move our society toward more equality between men and women and could really make a difference for struggling families.

Wear Red today to support it and when you see people wearing red, ask them if they are supporting Equal Pay Day and why. Have the conversation. Talk can bring us all closer together.