Today's Montana Standard opinions page includes my Op Ed on Equal Pay Day.
This doesn't get a lot of play in Montana during election cycles, because it's fraught with boring statistics, and national averages of a particular group are not always the stuff that makes sexy TV commercials. However, it's an issue we should all concern ourselves with.
Here's the story in its entirety:
Equal Pay Day
Montana women come up short
By Jennifer Hensley - 04/25/2006
Today, Tuesday, April 25, is the national observance of Equal Pay Day, the day when women and men around the country recognize the wage gap between working women and men, and offer remedies to address pay inequity.
According to statistics released by U.S. Census Bureau, women in Montana are paid, on average, 76 cents for every dollar their male counterparts are paid — a gap of 24 cents — the largest gap in the nation. This is real data.
Women who work full-time, year-round positions compared to men working full-time, year-round positions. Part-time or seasonal work is not included in this statistic. This works out to be significantly more than chump change.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research calculated that a typical 25-year-old woman who graduated from college in 1984 and who was in her mid-forties in 2004 has lost more than $440,000 during that period.
With more women in the workforce, and more families reliant upon women’s paychecks for their livelihood, we must address the wage gap for the sake of our families and their financial stability. This is not a women’s issue or a man’s issue — it’s a family issue.
In reality, nearly 200,000 Montana women work two or even three jobs to make ends meet, to put food on their families’ tables, to perform as the heads of household and chief breadwinners for their families.
Women work to take care of their children when they’re sick and keep their houses warm during Montana winters. They work to buy school supplies and fill up their cars with gas. Women work to feed their families, get their kids through college and pay for health insurance.
I grew up on a farm where there was absolutely no difference in the sweat from a man and the sweat from a woman when there was a job that needed to be done. I find that to be true today.
A little more than half of the citizens in this state are female, and so I look to our elected officials to be aware of the plight of this large demographic. How are they doing?
Unfortunately, Montana Sen. Conrad Burns is too out of touch with the needs of Montana working families to understand our concerns.
I have written before about Burns’ suggestion to a couple of working mother flight attendants that if they lost their jobs to outsourcing, they could just stay home and raise their children. (Great Falls Tribune, Oct. 26, 2005. Burns has denied the remark.) Burns’ record shows repeated votes against working families, including voting against home heating assistance, against funds to help law enforcement combat the meth epidemic, healthcare, and education funds. Does this help working Montana women? Does this help their families?
Montana’s working women and families deserve more than Burns. We deserve lawmakers who understand the challenges working families face. We deserve a senator who’s on Montana’s side, instead of powerful special interests.
The bottom line in today’s Equal Pay Day is that women know that pay disparity exists. They know that men are paid more for the same jobs because they “have families to support.” They are questioned about their family lives in interviews, and their answers directly affect their compensation level. They are ignored, laughed at, or retaliated against when the topic of pay equity is raised.
Speak up, speak out. Pay secrecy hurts pay equity. Your public servants should address this issue for all Montana families.
—n Jennifer L. Hensley is a Butte resident, vice-president for membership of the Big Sky Democrats, and active in Montana politics.