This Mother’s Day, it is important to remember the economic needs of women, especially mothers who support families. Even as women are close to half of all employees, and are the main bread winner in almost four out of ten families, their ability to support their families is hampered by the gender wage gap.  For a full-time week of work, women’s median earnings are still only 80.2 percent of men’s. This wage gap cuts across all range of occupations – on average women earn less than men in the highest paid occupations, the lowest paid occupations, and the most common occupations. Women of color are even more harshly impacted by the gender wage gap, as IWPR’s Fact Sheet shows.

Why do Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers (who are almost exclusively female) have median earnings of $614 per week, and highway maintenance workers (who are almost exclusively male) have median weekly earnings of $766? And why do child care workers – employed in an occupation that is overwhelmingly female – rank in the 10 lowest paid jobs for women? Why do female elementary and middle school teachers earn only 85.7 percent of the median earnings of their male colleagues?  More information on the gender wage gap in different occupations can be found in this Fact Sheet.

Disturbing as it is, this weekly wage gap looks rosy compared to earnings differences over the longer term. IWPR’s 2004 report, Still a Man’s Labor Market: The Long-Term Earnings Gap, found that over a period of 15 years, women earned only 38 percent of what men made, primarily because women continue to be more likely than men to take time out of the paid labor force to care for children. Lower pay for women, combined with the lack of quality affordable child care, often makes it unfortunately logical for the mother, rather than the father, to take time out to care for kids in dual earner families. 

This Mother’s Day, women and their families need quality child care, based on quality child care jobs, and the tools to challenge unequal pay head on.

The Paycheck Fairness Act strives to help women move toward pay equity by collecting better data on male and female earnings, allowing women and men to discuss what they earn without fear of retribution, and strengthening enforcement mechanisms and penalties for violating equal pay laws. 

IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Discusses the Gender Wage Gap on NBC Nightly News
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NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., discusses the gender wage gap and the impact it has on women’s earnings in relation to the class action lawsuit many female employees filed against Walmart.