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Liz O Donnell's picture

Data from the U.S. Census released this week revealed the sobering fact the gender wage gap is not closing; the 2011 data is not statistically different from the 2010 data. Last year, the median earnings of women who worked full time, year-round was 77 percent of that for men working full time, year-round. That gap translates into approximately $10,000 less per year in median earnings. For women of color, the gap is even larger.

On top of the gender-based gap, women’s wages are threatened by the “mommy penalty.” A report published by The University of Chicago Press highlights two studies which “find that employed mothers in the United States suffer a per-child wage penalty of approximately 5%, on average, after controlling for the usual human capital and occupational factors that affect wages,” and additional research that shows, “for those under the age of 35, the pay gap between mothers and non-mothers is larger than the pay gap between men and women.”

Considering the fact more than half of American women who work are breadwinners contributing at least some part of the necessary income to maintain their households, the gap is quite disconcerting. And for me, a primary and sole breadwinner, it’s personal.

As equal pay champion Lilly Ledbetter said at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, “Those pennies add up to real money. It's real money for the little things like being able to take your kids to the movies and for the big things like sending them to college. It's paying your rent this month and paying the mortgage in the future. It's having savings for the bill you didn't expect and savings for the dignified retirement you've earned.”

Exactly. I don’t suffer the working mother guilt I often read about in magazines. I know my kids are well cared for during the day and I feel good about providing for my family. What does give me pause however, is when I wonder if my family is shortchanged $10,000 because mom’s gone from 9-5 instead of Dad. Would my kids have more opportunity if the roles were reversed? Would I say yes more often when they ask to do things that cost money? Would they be better global citizens if we could afford to travel? Would their minds be exposed to more if I could send them to camp or give them music and art lessons? Would their college plans be more solid and their tuition funds more full?

It’s one thing if I were shortchanged – unfair, absurd, inequitable. But to shortchange my family – that would be intolerable – and even more so for families who are struggling. The gender gap doesn’t extend to the mortgage, the grocery bills, the cost of childcare, school fees or medical bills. A gallon of milk and a box of diapers don’t cost .23 cents less when mom’s check pays for them instead of dad’s.

Fair pay is not a woman’s issue; it’s a family issue. The Paycheck Fairness Act would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who share salary information. The legislation would also establish training groups to help women strengthen their negotiation skills and require the Department of Labor to offer outreach and training designed to eliminate wage disparities.

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