8:00pm February 3, 2012

From Lilly Ledbetter to Broadband Access: Reframing Women’s Equity


Last month, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act celebrated its third anniversary as the first piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama.  The Act was initiated by Lilly Ledbetter who realized that she was unfairly compensated for doing the same work of her male counterparts.  Expanding the statute of limitations on fair pay lawsuits for women, the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act marked a significant step in addressing ongoing wage disparities that exist between men and women.  According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, women made 77.4% of what men make in 2010, with women’s average earnings amounting to $36,931 compared to men’s average earnings of $47,715. In the same study, African American women made an average of $32,290. The unfortunate reality is that more is at stake for women when they earn less, particularly their ability to care for their children, parents, and possibly dislocated spouses.  Further, the lack of access to learning opportunities and career management tools make it harder for women to advance in our new economy, making advances in pay futile if women are unable to secure competitive jobs.

Pay issues are but one of several inequities that exist between men and women.  Recent research suggests that women, on average spend more on health care services.  An article in Modern Physician found that in 2004 women spent $6,000 per capita on health care services, while men only spent $4,540. According to the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, “the number of working-age women who spent 10 percent or more of their income on premiums and out-of-pocket costs rose from 25 percent in 2005 to 33 percent in 2010.” Due in part to the crippling recession and rising health care costs, approximately 27 million women of working age also did not have health insurance as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.  For African American women who are more susceptible to chronic diseases that include heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, the lack of access to health care can be fatal, and it’s unfortunate that unfair pay exacerbates these trends.

Child care costs can also be a substantial burden to women that earn less, and impact their ability to effectively maintain employment.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, the average percentage of monthly income spent on child care expenditures for a female, single parent ranges from 11.7 percent to 12.6 percent.  In compensating for these significant costs, women are sometimes forced to put off long term educational goals due to child care issues or delay starting a family.  Missing work for even legitimate child care reasons can often prompt a pink slip for women, especially women of color without a backup plan.  In most cases, equitable pay makes it possible for women to engage more fully in the workforce, advance their skills, and alleviate the immediate and often urgent concerns of their households.

Further, women require the tools to be competitive and nimble in the nation’s emerging information economy.  More job prospects have migrated to the web, altering search strategies.  Access to preventative and diagnostic health care applications are increasingly present on the web.  Many times information that supports learning opportunities is available exclusively on the Internet.  Networks among women who have experienced the joys and challenges of caring for children and elderly parents are populating the web in record numbers. While many women struggle to make ends meet, the virtual world offers opportunities and access that can quite frankly advance their careers, and simplify their lives.

In a time where broadband Internet is rapidly changing how we live, learn and earn, the need to ensure that more women have adequately adopted broadband is immediate.  The good news is that women in general and more so women of color are increasing their use.  Recent research from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that 69 percent of African American women regularly go online to access health, education, and employment information, a promising trend of broadband use in the African American community.   And, more women are turning to mobile technology to assist in real time response and management of their work responsibilities and personal duties.  When income and educational attainment are added into the picture, the unfortunate reality is that low-income women often place broadband access as the lowest priority as they work to make sure their family’s basic needs are met.  Choosing food over a broadband connection is a pretty simple decision for low-income women.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 is addressing one of the most critical inequalities experienced by women today – the inability to make comparable and livable wages as their male counterparts.  However, higher wages for women are not just about principle.  Having the money to effectuate every aspect of one’s life from health care to child care to broadband access helps level the playing for women, and removes the undue stress and possibly death associated with our lifestyles.  Understanding the intersection of fair pay with other inequalities, and identifying the tools required to compete in the nation’s new economy will be essential to women’s future livelihood.

About the Author

Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee
Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee
NICOL TURNER-LEE, PH.D. is Director of the Media and Technology Institute for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.



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  1. Male Matters USA

    Re: "The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 is addressing one of the most critical inequalities experienced by women today – the inability to make comparable and livable wages as their male counterparts."

    What's stopping them? Which women are you talking about? Name them. Why haven't you helped them in a lawsuit? Why haven't these women themselves sued under the 40-yr-old Equal Pay For Equal Work law?

    No legislation to date has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap), not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act…. Nor will a "paycheck fairness" law work.

    That's because pay-equity advocates continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

    Despite the 40-year-old demand for women's equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Women," stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. "In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at http://tinyurl.com/6reowj, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.” (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier….” at http://tinyurl.com/qqkaka. If indeed more women are staying at home, perhaps it's because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working if they're going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman. If "greedy, profit-obsessed" employers could get away with paying women less than men for the same work, they would not hire a man – ever.)

    As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Because they're supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home.

    Feminists, government, and the media ignore what this obviously implies: If millions of wives are able to accept no wages and live as well as their husbands, millions of other wives are able to accept low wages, refuse overtime and promotions, work part-time instead of full-time (“According to a 2009 UK study for the Centre for Policy Studies, only 12 percent of the 4,690 women surveyed wanted to work full time”: http://bit.ly/ihc0tl See also an Australian report: http://tinyurl.com/862kzes), take more unpaid days off, avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining (http://tinyurl.com/3a5nlay) — all of which lower women's average pay. Women are able to make these choices because they are supported or anticipate being supported by a husband who must earn more than if he'd chosen never to marry. (Still, even many men who shun marriage, unlike their female counterparts, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap. If the roles were reversed so that men raised the children and women raised the income, men would average lower pay than women.

    See "Will the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Help Women?" at http://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/wi

    By the way, The Next Equal Occupational Fatality Day is in 2020. The year 2020 is how far into the future women will have to work to experience the same number of work-related deaths that men experienced in 2009 alone. http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2010/04/equal-occupat

  2. [...] by Nicol Turner-Lee, Ph.D. originally published at Politic365 [...]

  3. [...] cents and Latinas earned 53 cents to every dollar earned by a white male. As Dr. Nicole Turner-Lee notes, fair pay has real implications that extend well beyond pride. “Having the money to [...]

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