You Better Pay Me, Or Else—
As a little person I thought Labor Day meant giving birth to a baby when a woman’s tummy got so big she had to be rushed to the hospital. I wasn’t completely wrong. For American women in 2021, Labor Day symbolizes an overdue pursuit of equal rights regardless of sex.
Women won the right to vote in August 1920. A century later we haven’t passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). We don’t earn equal pay. We don’t have a national paid leave policy. And we have not implemented universal child care.
The pandemic has shown us that in our country we treat women as a social safety net. This attitude would set us back years in the fight for equality and erase important middle-class income gains that largely depend on women in the workforce. Women earn 67-82 cents on the dollar today for doing the same job as men in nearly all occupations.
Of the three million job losses for women since the pandemic began, many have been concentrated in service sectors—leisure, hospitality, education, childcare and health— industries where women earn less and account for the majority of employees. The owner of an independent day care center reported she can’t keep employees because they can earn as much ringing a register at Burger King.
Last week Congress passed the American Families budget resolution that would invest trillions to boost the social safety net for families through expanded child tax credits, child care benefits for working parents, universal pre-K and higher wages for day care workers.
An error last April (2020) reported mothers were losing their jobs three times faster than fathers. But according to an August 2021 analysis of new census data in the New York Times, by last winter enough mothers had returned to paid positions that the decline was about equal. “Childcare and household responsibilities didn’t diminish, though, and there was all that work to be done,” an opinion editor wrote.
“I wear 40 hats,” a woman told a local TV anchor on the street in Birmingham. “My job pays more than my husband’s and I’m more responsible for running the whole show. We have three kiddos. My husband might help me with the laundry but it’s my responsibility to make sure the detergent doesn’t run out and the dirty clothes make it to the laundry room.”
The Breadwinner Arrangement
Never mind inferior pay and the pandemic, nearly half of American women are breadwinners earning up to 80% of total household income. The mere fact of this, apparently, implies deep complexities for dual-earning couples mired in tradition.
Experts observe many modern couples still project a June-and-Ward-Cleaver facade—ultimately denigrating female achievement to preserve male ego. The result is an arrangement, they conclude, a more nuanced, personal kind of inequity at home. The rules are different between spouses than colleagues.
Another Labor Day is approaching and still no official federal recognition of change. The societal pressure mentioned earlier, compelling heterosexual couples to feign a man’s provision while a woman earns pin money, is fairly amazing considering the times we live in and our female role models.
It is true that even when women have the leverage and moxie to push for more generous compensation, they are three times less likely than men with the same offers to reach an agreement, according to CBS. It doesn’t matter if the negotiator is male or female.
Still, there are inspiring stories we hope to hear more often: Actor Jessica Chastain turned down a role over a gender wage disparity but later renegotiated equal pay for herself and Octavia Spencer.
When Robin Wright asked to be paid the same as co-star Kevin Spacey on Netflix’s “House of Cards,” she told executives, “You better pay me or I’m going to go public.”
And Chadwick Boseman donated part of his salary for the action thriller “21 Bridges” to increase co-star Sienna Miller’s compensation for the film. Miller told Empire, “Chad said that that was what I deserved to be paid.”