Once upon a time there was a lonely woodcutter who had two children. His wife died when the kids were just a little boy and a little girl. And though he was alone, the woodcutter did all he could to raise them well. He gave them every necessity but very few luxuries. Each month he would save the money he got from cutting extra wood so that he could send them both to college. He even kept them out of the woods so they wouldn’t get lost or steal gingerbread house trim for food or get baked in an oven by a wicked witch.
The woodcutter had read that these terrible things could happen to boys and girls and he wanted only the best for his children: for both his children. So he protected them and sheltered them until they finished school. The kids did very well indeed. Both graduated from engineering school and went on to live equally rewarding and productive lives.
Oh what am I doing? Fairy tales don’t belong in newspapers. CBS News recently had the real scoop on what happens when boys and girls graduate with the same degree in the same field. And CBS says that a male engineer makes an average of $17,000 a year more than an equally qualified and educated female engineer.
And what if our little Hansel and Gretel had really done the woodcutter proud and become neurosurgeons? The difference in pay would be even more horrific. According to the same report the median annual salary for female neurosurgeons is $150,000 less than their male counterparts. I guess anatomy really does matter in medicine, but I thought they operated with their hands!
The income gender disparity is so extreme that if Hansel and Gretel had both started their new jobs on Jan. 1, 2008, then the U.S. Department of Labor says that for Gretel to make what Hansel made by Dec. 31, she would have had to keep working until yesterday.
That’s right. Last year’s female earners would have had to work until April 28, 2009, to make as much as the average man did in 2008. A woman has to work 118 days longer than a man to receive “equal” compensation.
But the fairy tale gets worse. After all the woodcutter’s hard work, paying the same amount to educate Gretel knowing his daughter will reap only 78 percent return on his investment, the woodcutter has to accept the fact that Gretel is four times more likely than Hansel to be raising her children alone. Four times more likely to raise kids on her income — an income that is inferior to a man’s.
It doesn’t take a wizard with a crystal ball to figure out that the future looks bleak for each subsequent generation of kids being raised by the disadvantaged breadwinner.
But wait, no fairy tale is complete without a villain. Deep in the woods there are ogres who don’t like government programs such as Aid for Dependent Children, Food Stamps, and Section 8 federally subsidized housing — the safety nets that catch the disadvantaged income earners.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 18 percent of kids in the U.S. live in poverty. That’s about half the number of kids that live in single mom households. Someday someone ought see how those two subsets of American society overlap.
And if you’re some ogre who doesn’t like paying to provide other Americans with bare necessities, take 10 minutes today and write to your U.S. senators. Tell them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act — Senate bill number 182.
It’s not just sexist to pay women less than men; it’s bad for their children and it’s bad for our economy. Let’s say we pay women fairly and could thereby cut the expected increase for food assistance in half — not even cutting the current amount in half, just the projected increase in half. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says we’d reduce our food assistance costs by more than a billion dollars.
People don’t just “live happily ever after.” People in a fair society have a chance to live that way. It’s time for women to get that happy ending. Call your senator today.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.