Closing the gap in earnings between men and women would cut the poverty rate in half for working women, according to a new report from Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.
Women still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, on average, a figure that hasn’t significantly changed in five years. For the report, economists Heidi Hartmann and Jeffrey Hayes of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research calculated that paying women who work full time, year round the same as men would boost their incomes by $6,250 a year on average. That extra money would cut their poverty rate in half, raising 3 million of the nearly 6 million working women who live below the poverty line above it. The extra income would also have a big impact on the economy as a whole, boosting GDP by 2.9 percent, or $450 billion.
The report notes that one in three women in the country either live in poverty or are “teetering on its brink,” coming to 42 million in total who struggle financially. In a poll conducted for the report, 90 percent of these women strongly favored addressing the gender wage gap, and the issue also got support from nearly three-quarters of the respondents overall.
But how to do it? Nearly 90 percent of the women struggling to get by said that paid sick days would be “very useful” to them, and it was in fact that number one policy they felt would give them a leg up, “even more than an increase in wages or benefits,” the report notes. But 40 percent of private sector workers don’t have access to paid time off when they or their loved ones fall sick given that the country doesn’t guarantee paid leave. (Although there are seven laws on the city and state level that do just that.)
Women living on the brink also supported expanding access to affordable child care. More than 7.5 million families with children under age 6 live on the financial brink, including four out of every five single mothers with young children. But when they’re able to work full time, year round, they’re twice as likely to have incomes that lift them out of that precarious situation. And it would impact the wage gap, given that child care assistance is associated with increased employment and higher earnings for these mothers. Expanding access to high-quality, affordable child care got support from nearly 80 percent of the poll’s respondents.
Paid family leave would also help increase women’s ability to stay employed and therefore boost their wages. But only about 12 percent of workers have access to it through their employers, and the country only guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid time off for those who work at companies with 50 or more employees. The FAMILY Act, recently introduced in Congress, would create a national system in which workers could pay into a paid family leave program through Social Security, costing them just about $1.50 a week. Such a plan garnered 85 percent of women’s support and 81 percent of men’s in the report’s polling.
The report also suggests increasing the minimum wage, given that women are two-thirds of the country’s minimum wage earners, strengthening public programs like food stamps, Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and child care assistance, and increasing women’s access to higher education and paths into high-paying fields.