Today is national Pay Equity Day, a day to raise public awareness about the gap between men’s and women’s wages. One of the most commonly cited statistics is that women working full time typically earn just 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. The gender pay gap should concern all of us, both because it’s an issue of fundamental fairness and because unequal pay hurts women and the families and children they support.
To close this gap, we need to go beyond the old adage of “equal pay for equal work.” We also need to recognize that many professions remain heavily gender segregated, and both men and women in female-dominated occupations are often paid less than men and women in male-dominated professions. If we want to reach pay equity, we must equally value and reward essential professions that are traditionally seen as “women’s work” –including child care.
First, some background on the pay equity gap. As demonstrated in a terrific report by the American Association of University Women, the pay gap affects women of all races, ethnicities, ages, and educational backgrounds. The gap has narrowed over time (in 1972, women working full time were paid just 58% of what men received), but progress has slowed in recent years.
The gender pay gap harms individual women, and it also hurts the many children and families that rely on female breadwinners. In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of families with children under 18 rely on women as the sole or primary breadwinner. A recent report from The Working Poor Families Project found that over half of female-headed working households—58 percent—were low-income in 2012. Attaining fair pay for women is a matter of equality, and it also make smart economic sense as a strategy to support families.
So how do we go about it? We need to ensure that all employers comply with the 1963 Equal Pay Act and award women equal pay for equal work. But we also need to recognize that women continue to remain concentrated in certain traditionally female occupations, like nursing and teaching. In 2010, for example, 91.1 percent of registered nurses and 81.8 percent of elementary and middle school teachers were women. In 2010, 94.7 percent of those employed in child care were women.
Child care offers a textbook case of inadequate pay in a female-dominated occupation. Early childhood educators serve children at a crucial moment in their lives, as research demonstrates. In addition to offering children the early experiences that lay the foundation for later success, child care professionals also make it possible for working parents to advance and thrive in their own work. Yet despite the importance of child care to families and our economy, the 2012 median annual pay for child care workers was just $19,510–compared to $22,970 for hand laborers and material movers, a field with a lower average education level at entry. Some of the other occupations that pay more than child care workers include retail sales workers ($21,410), food and tobacco processing workers ($25,780), and animal care and service workers ($19,970).
Even when early childhood educators achieve college degrees, their pay doesn’t keep pace with that of their peers. A recent report on the early care and education workforce concluded that “wages for college-educated ECE teachers and caregivers are much lower than for comparably educated workers in the overall economy.” It seems natural to conclude that those employed in the field of early care and education are being inadequately compensated for their important work.
At All Our Kin, we serve dedicated providers—both men and women—who work long hours and offer an essential service to children and their communities. This Pay Equity Day, let’s remember that adequately paying our children’s teachers is a matter of equity, as well as a smart investment in our future