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5 Signs the U.S. Is Failing to Protect Women’s Rights in the Workplace

An unchanging wage gap and education cuts are examples of the obstacles facing women in the labor force.
 
 
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Photo Credit: SoumenNath

 

The prime minister of Morocco recently compared women to “lanterns” or “chandeliers,” saying that “when women went to work outside, the light went out of their homes.” His remarks, which ran counter to Morocco’s constitutionally guaranteed rights for women, promptly provoked both street demonstrations and an “I’m not a chandelier” Twitter hashtag.

But before we celebrate our culture’s moral superiority, perhaps we should stop and consider the fact that the prime minister’s remarks would not have been out of place in many of our own nation’s political and media conversations.

What’s more, our country’s bias against women in the workplace isn’t just cultural. As is true elsewhere, evidence for it can be found in both policy choices and economic data.

What’s a glass ceiling, after all, if not another place to hang a chandelier?

Here are five signs that much more needs to be done to ensure equal workplace rights for women in the United States.

1. Women are working more, but they’re still carrying most of the workload at home, too.

As a new report from the Center on Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) shows, the number of paid hours worked by the average woman rose from 925 hours per year to 1,664 hours between 1979 and 2012.

But, as the report also notes, a number of studies have shown that women continue to do about two-thirds of unpaid child- and elder care and at least 60 percent of routine housework.

2. The wage gap hasn’t improved.

Years after passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the wage gap remains unchanged. Why? The Ledbetter Act allows employees to challenge wage discrimination. But the Paycheck Fairness Act, which provides a toolkit for establishing wage equality, has not yet been passed. “Giving women my Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act without the Paycheck Fairness Act,” said Ledbetter herself, “is like giving them a nail without the hammer.”

“Congress and President Obama both need to stop resting on their Ledbetter laurels,” said Linda D. Hallman, executive director and CEO of The American Academy of University Women. The AAUW recently published a study which showed that the wage gap between men and women remained unchanged over a 10-year period. It still stood at 77 cents on the dollar as of 2012, the fourth year after the passage of the Ledbetter Act.

A major conservative talking point was challenged by the report, which found evidence of a pay gap even among women without children.

The study, which drew on government data sources, also showed that the pay gap can be found in nearly every profession; that it gets worse over time, as men and women age into increasingly different pay levels; and that it’s worse for women of color.

3. Austerity cuts are disproportionately harming working women.

Private-sector job gains are already far too weak, even in good months, to provide the employment gains our economy needs. Now, a new study by the National Women’s Law Center shows that public-sector job cuts have offset even these modest gains or women. “Women accounted for 40 percent of the 217,000 jobs added last month,” said the NWLC’s Joan Entmacher, “but their loss of 8,000 public sector jobs cut into their private sector gains.”

(A clip of our recent interview with Entmacher on The Zero Hour is available here.)

Long-term unemployment remain at record-high levels for both men and women. What’s more, May’s job gains for women were disproportionately in low-wage occupations.

As we’ve noted in the past, our political discourse celebrates the creation of private-sector jobs while ignoring, or even demonizing, the public-sector employees who teach our children, provide health services, or keep our cities moving. Politicians who boast about their plans for private-sector job creation are perfectly capable of bragging simultaneously about job-killing cuts to public services. That’s austerity economics in a nutshell.

 
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