Massachusetts residents have it pretty good.
We live in a state with world-class health care, world-class education and one of the best state economies in the nation. Even in our politics, a majority of us follow the path that leads to inclusivity and justice.
Bay Staters have it pretty good. We’re proud of that fact and rightly so.
It is in this vein that data released recently should do more than just give us pause. It should outrage everyone.
In advance of national Equal Pay Day, which was yesterday, the National Partnership for Women & Families released data on the toll taken by the wage gap on women and families in Massachusetts.
Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Partnership found that women in the Bay State who hold full-time, year-round jobs are being shortchanged to the tune of $22 billion every year, an average of $10,418 per woman.
To put these numbers in perspective, consider this, from the Massachusetts report. “If the wage gap were eliminated, on average, a working woman in Massachusetts would have enough money for:
- “Nearly 10 more months of child care;
- “Nearly one additional year of tuition and fees for a four-year public university, or nearly
the full cost of tuition and fees at a two-year community college;
- “Approximately 79 more weeks of food for her family (one and a half years’ worth);
- “More than five additional months of mortgage and utilities payments; or
- “Nine more months of rent.”
And this is on average. Things are much worse for minorities.
While the average full-time working woman in Massachusetts earns 83 cents for every dollar paid to men, Asian women earn 80 cents, black women 61 cents and Latinas 50 cents. That more than 319,000 households in the commonwealth are headed by women, and 24 percent of those households live in poverty, makes the problem more acute.
The wage gap exists regardless of education level, regardless of occupation, and regardless of industry. The wage gap may be discriminatory but itself does not discriminate.
All of this is occurring despite the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963, the exposure of the problem during the ERA era of the 1970s, and most recently the August signing of the state’s equal pay legislation, An Act to Establish Pay Equity.
“This analysis shows just how damaging that lost income can be for women and their families, as well as the economy and the businesses that depend on women’s purchasing power,” National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said. “Entire communities, states and our country suffer because lawmakers have not done nearly enough to end wage discrimination or to advance the fair and family friendly workplace policies that would help erase the wage gap.”
If you’re wondering why yesterday was national Equal Pay Day, understand that it represents that women must work more than three months of the year simply to catch up to what men are paid. It is estimated that at its current rate of closure, women will not reach pay parity until 2059.
This is unacceptable.
There is no silver bullet to the problems of a modern society, but addressing the wage gap comes close. It leads to better health, better education, more stable families and, for good measure, would generate roughly $1 billion in income tax while reducing the strain on resources needed by women and families dealing with the harsh realities of an unjust system.
Massachusetts has a long history of staking a leadership position on issues of social justice. Why is it, then, that the state ranks just 14th in terms of the wage gap?
Perhaps we need to realize the wage gap is not simply an issue of social justice. It’s also an issue of economics. Women are being short-changed every day, but as a society everyone pays the price.