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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Equal Pay Day 2009

About two decades ago, I was doing an independent study comparing the Women's Rights Movements in the 1870s in Scandinavia to the 1970s in the U.S. It was encouraging to see that women had gained the right to vote in that century, but I wonder how long it will take to earn the same salary for the same work. According to Encyclopeadia Britannica Online, women earned 45% less than men when the 1963 Equal Pay Act was passed(1). This year, women have reached 22% less(2). Will it take another sixty years to reach equality in pay?

I think the era of the invisible housewife is ending, although women still receive no wages for homemaking. When divorce or retirement occur, there are no provisions for their financial well-being. I finished reading a book called The Economics of Being a Woman this year. It was written in 1970 by Dee Dee Ahern with Betsy Bliss. Sadly, most of the problems they cited in the book have been exacerbated by the long slow inflation of the last few decades. My mom, who was a part-time nurse, received social security benefits on her underpaid, underemployed income until my dad died, when she was able to receive his instead of hers. She lived on a small investment that had grown over the years until last fall.

Divorce provides more support for the lower wage earner these days, but it is still dependent on the good will and honesty of the person court-ordered to pay maintenance and support, unless the custodial parent is on welfare or wealthy enough to go to court repeatedly (in which case, there would probably be no maintenance).

My grandmother lived on social security for twenty years, a figure that amounted to about $150 a month. She would serve us meat every day for a week when we went for a visit, but could not afford to eat it herself. My inheritance from her consisted of a couple of handmade quilts and wooden canisters (which I treasure).

When I think about retirement, I think about spending my time working for just causes, and this is certainly one I value. My mother's generation was able to devote time and attention to volunteer work all their lives, but my generation may just change the meaning of retirement for all women...if we have enough to live on.

(1)Equal Pay Act. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 28, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:

(2)Falling Short in Every State:
The Wage Gap and Harsh Economic Realities for Women Persist(2009).

Retrieved April 28, 2009, from National Women's Law Center: