Bridging the Gap

38469360_l

 by Noor Ashouri // from the June issue of 904 Magazine

For every dollar a man makes in Florida, a woman makes 84 cents. This difference may seem like only a handful of pennies but collectively, the wage gap amounts to 56 weeks of food, seven months of rent, five months worth of mortgage payments, nearly 2,000 gallons of gas and over $17 billion dollars of income a year, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF).

“This number represents a loss to women, their families and their ability to put food on the table and save for retirement,” says Rachel Lyons, senior government affairs manager at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Florida’s wage gap is slightly smaller than that of other states. On a national level, women make 77 cents for every dollar men are paid. Lyons says every state has its own dynamics and the differences in wage gap from state to state are affected by the dominant industry. In Florida, the service sector economy accounts for a large proportion of employment.

“A lot of retail and hotel based jobs are female dominated jobs and pay less,” says Lyons.

Judy Neufeld, program director for the Florida Institute for Reform and Empowerment, says Florida’s wage gap is slightly smaller than other states because of the low pay point of workers in Florida.

“Many of our workers are paid minimum wage or are low wage earners. That tends to be more of an equalizer,” Neufeld says. “As folks advance in their careers, there is more of an opportunity for a broader and wider wage gap.”

While Florida is predicted to be the first state to close this wage gap, it likely will not happen until 2038, according to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. This is nearly two decades earlier than the national average prediction.  But Lyons says women have already been waiting too long.

“That’s a long time to wait; our children will be seniors at that point, no longer in the workforce. We need to take action now,” says Lyons.

Women are the primary or sole breadwinners in almost 40 percent of US households, according to the NPWF, making the wage gap a concern for not only women, but families. But it isn’t just families suffering as a result of this disparity.  Limiting the spending power of women also limits economic activity.

“Women are losing out on building their economic independence,” Neufeld says. “[Wo-men] are consumers in our economy so we are losing out on billions.”

While the discrepancy in wages won’t be disappearing overnight, the public should not passively wait for change to occur. Lyons says it’s going to take pushing the national legislation for change to occur more rapidly. The Paycheck Fairness Act prohibits gender discrimination in wage payment. Employees will have to prove wage differences based on other factors such as education or experience. In addition, the legislation would prevent employees from being able to punish employees for inquiring about their wages. The Act will reward employers who make a valid effort to eliminate wage disparities between genders and penalize those who refuse to pay equally. Sixty-two percent of voters said they supported the Paycheck Fairness Act, according to a 2014 survey conducted by The Feldman Group & Anzalone Liszt Grove.

Neufeld says legislators must lead the way on this pressing issue. “I would like to see our legislators ensure that companies, small businesses (and) lots of our hot tourist destinations are paying men and women equally and fairly,” she says.

“The wage gap persists across education levels, from folks that are just graduating from high school to folks with bachelor’s degrees,” Neufeld says. And beyond a bachelor’s degree? On average, women with a master’s degree earn 70 cents to every dollar paid to men with a master’s degree, according to NPWF.

For women of minority, the gap is even greater. African American women are paid 64 cents and Latina women are paid 54 cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic, white men, according to NPWF.

The wage gap has remained relatively stagnant over the past 10 years. Without any action from the public, the wage gap will take time and patience on behalf of generations of women. A public push will demonstrate to legislators how severe the chasm is.