As part of The North Carolina Justic Center's #WageWeek celebration, they invited partners to contribute to their blog series on the importance of raising the minimum wage. The below piece was written by Bronwen Wade with NC Women United and originally posted on Progressive Voices.
Women earn just 79 cents for every dollar paid to men for the same job at the same level of experience. Raising the minimum wage will play an important role in achieving equal pay for women—and ensuring that our country adequately values the work they perform.
Policies combating gender discrimination in pay are important, but must be complemented by an increase in the minimum wage. The pay gap is a persistent problem when women enter traditionally male-dominated fields. However, the unjust minimum wage and its disproportionate effect on women reflect a country in which we do not value traditionally feminine labor.
Establishing a fair minimum wage has two goals. The first is to ensure that workers can meet their basic needs and have a good quality of life; the second is to create an equitable distribution of resources in our country. The real value of the minimum wage has dropped over the last 50 years while the real value of executive pay has grown exponentially. The current minimum wage supports an economic system where women workers and their families live in poverty at extremely high rates in order to subsidize higher pay for a smaller pool of mostly male executives.
Raising the minimum wage can help free women from a cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck and being unable to invest in their future or provide for their children. It can also help break a tradition of distributing more of our economy’s resources to men and fewer of our resources to women of color and their families. Increasing the minimum wages is necessary both for improving women’s quality of life and for creating a more just economic system.
In the United States, poverty has increasingly become a women’s problem. Across every racial group, women are more likely to live in poverty than men. Most impoverished families are single working mothers of color with children, many of whom are working minimum wage jobs. The minimum wage does not provide enough income for these families to survive on; and Black and Latino women and children continue to bear the brunt of growing income inequality.
Since the 1960’s, women have increasingly moved from the informal sector, where they often took on the role of homemaker and primary caregiver, to the formal job market. However, moving into a paid labor force has not caused our society to begin valuing traditionally “feminine” work. A 2014 study showed that women make up almost two thirds of the low-wage workforce even though they represent less than half the nation’s workers. Poor women most frequently work as maids, cashiers, childcare workers, food service workers, and home health care aids. These jobs often pay minimum wage and reflect the roles that women have traditionally taken on, such as caring for children, supporting ill family members, performing housework, and childcare. While women increasingly receive income for their work, our economy still treats traditionally “feminine” labor as being worth less.
The wage difference by gender is not caused by differences in work experience or education, either. Traditionally “masculine” jobs with no education requirements, such as manual labor, still earn more money than traditionally “feminine” jobs. Women’s work is disproportionately paid as little as legally acceptable. The minimum wage is not enough to build a life or family with, so single women and families continue to be trapped in a cycle of poverty. It deprives women of their basic needs, their economic independence, and continues our country’s longstanding tradition of treating women as though our labor is not as valuable as men’s.
North Carolina’s economy will only thrive when everyone’s work is valued, regardless of gender. Raising the minimum wage takes an important step forward towards a future where women receive equal pay for equal work.