NEW YORK – For the first time in history, women account for half of America’s workforce, according to the recent Shriver Report. Yet women still earn only $.77 for every dollar earned by men, up a mere $.13 from 1963. In this recession, women are holding onto jobs better than men, but many low-income working women are walking a thin line between self-sufficiency and welfare, particularly due to the cost of childcare.
To address some of the effects of the recession on low-income and immigrant women, FI2W’s Valeria Fernandez acted as the moderator for a discussion about the ongoing problem of gender inequality in the workplace hosted by the Center for New York City Affairs last week.
The Bill Green forum, Marching in Place: The Great Recession, Low-Income Working Women and Economic Inequality, included five panelists: Page S. Gardner, founder of Women’s Voices; Irasema Garza, president of Legal Momentum; Mark Greenberg, the deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families; Sue Kelly, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives; and Maggie Sepulveda, a member of the NYC Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) Local 608.
The far ranging discussion touched on the income gap between women in general—$.77 for every dollar earned by men—compared to the larger income gaps experienced by immigrant women—$.62 for every dollar earned by men. Maggie Sepulveda, a carpenter, made the point that joining a union meant a significant pay raise for her, as a woman. When working in non-union workplaces, Sepulveda said she made much less than her male counterparts on construction jobs.
Page Gardner spoke movingly about the extra burden placed on unmarried women, particularly single mothers, who are disproportionately unemployed. Irasema Garza brought up the additional stress placed on immigrant women who are often exploited by employers because of their undocumented status.
Though there were disagreements on various policy issues, all of the panelists agreed that federal funding of childcare has been too stagnant, and is a much needed support for low-income families. Garza also said that mandatory paid sick leave would be a huge and direct help to female workers.