Poverty divides us. Some great love stories have been inspired by social class differences.
Income inequality, however, is far from dreamy for women.
The distribution of money is systematic. The distribution of money has been stingy even as the cost of living has grown.
In helping my mother with a job application, I discovered that the minimum wage really has been minimal.
Over the years, the minimum wage at the federal level has kept growing at a stagnant pace. The 21st century started with a federal minimum wage of $5.15, which stayed constant until 2008. In 2007, when my mother got her first full-time job, she was making slightly above the minimum wage of the time. Granted she works in the cleaning industry, that money doesn’t seem fair– it certainly wasn’t fair a year later when she became a single parent.
The minimum wage of $7.25 that we know today was adopted in 2010. The state of Virginia has typically paid employees the minimum wage set in place by the government. In Georgia, an employee whose work place isn’t required to follow the Fair Labor Standards Act earns $5.15, the minimum wage of over a decade ago.
Clearly, American paychecks aren’t the highest, though this doesn’t mean people don’t enjoy big money.
Let’s just note that money goes into the hands of the powerful, and the powerful are often men, white men. A Harvard Business Review analysis from June 2014 by Deborah Ashton reveals the Black man and the Latino man earn less than the White man. Then there is the colored and white woman who still make remarkably less money than most men. In President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union, he announced that “women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.”
This should downright outrage people.
The income gap legitimizes a woman’s tasks as unimportant compared to a man’s work, and by default, her self-worth is viewed as no worth. Nanny in Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God articulates the situation as “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.” A world that doesn’t pay its women equally is a world that reduces its women, especially colored women, to labor machines. I don’t just mean in the sense of working, but in the sense of producing babies.
Claudia Goldin, a professor at Harvard University, has dug into research into the income disparity between men and women. Goldin argues that contrary to popular belief, women aren’t paid less for the same employment as men but are paid less because of different jobs. Her research has shown that the biggest contributor to the income gender gap is not discrimination but “temporal flexibility”: the need to work at a time convenient to an employee.
Let’s face it. Women have lives, complicated lives.
While society doesn’t put a gun to a woman’s head and tell her to get married and have kids, life does happen and women often take it upon themselves to be caretakers. What society does do is present care-giving as a role best completed by women. Even science shows that a mother is lured by that newborn baby smell more intensely than Daddy. Regardless at what the science says, baby-making is a two person’s game.
The weight of care-taking too often falls on mothers. As a result, women take on part-time jobs or jobs with more flexible hours in which options for a raise decrease. Part-time work in particular often means a basic job title. In fact, about 80% of cashiers in general merchandise stores are women. Till this day, there are more female nurses than female doctors. Not all careers are made equal.
There’s another factor that is important for money-makers: negotiation.
The world of Hollywood is a great place for negotiation, but some actresses neglect the process. Jennifer Lawrence spoke about her failure to negotiate her earnings for American Hustle in a blog post, saying “I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’ At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about [that].” Lawrence makes it clear that her take on negotiation is due to her personality, but it’s certainly a real problem for many women.
“I believe that women, who are responsible for the reproduction of our species, can outsmart the patriarch system.”
Research has found that employers have a bias against women who negotiate their salary. We aren’t used to bossy women. In a culture where sex sales, bossy women, or women who advocate for themselves, are turn-offs. Men don’t want to deal with a bossy woman. Anastasia Engebretson is one average woman who didn’t negotiate her salary. In 2010, Engebretson had recently graduated with a physics Bachelor’s degree, but was still paid less than her male co-workers, even those without a Bachelor’s. At her workplace, she was viewed as incapable of doing work and was also sexually harassed to the point that she would dress in “ugly clothes” on purpose.
Women have to get smarter about negotiation because the system can be outsmarted. I believe that women, who are responsible for the reproduction of our species, can outsmart the patriarch system. I also believe that men are capable of coming to their senses:
A woman who’s boss is really a breathtaking–perhaps sexy– image.
Featured Image: “Money in Hands” by 401(K) 12 under CC BY-SA 2.0