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Pay Equity: An Even More Elusive Goal for Unmarried Women and Mothers

April 17, 2012

It is Pay Equity Day again – the day that marks how far into 2012 a woman has to work to earn what a man did in 2011.   The ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly full-time earnings rose by one percentage point since 2010 and reached a historical high of 82.2 percent. However, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the narrowing of the weekly gender earnings gap from 18.8% to 17.8%, “is solely due to real wages falling further for men than for women.”

However, the news that’s not being covered today is the even wider gap between unmarried women and married men which is 65 cents according to the latest data available.  And the story that still needs to be told is about the marriage gap — the large and widening disparity in wages and economic security between married and unmarried women, the fastest growing demographic group in America today.

Unmarried women – women who are divorced, separated, widowed or have never married — are even more adversely affected by the wage gap than married women.  In 2010, unmarried women earned $31,928, compared to unmarried men who earned $34,216. Unmarried women earned almost $6,000 less than married women ($37,804) and a whopping $16,900 less than married men ($48,828).

And, according to the Center for American Progress’ examination of “Pay Equity and Single Women of Color,” the wage story is worse for single mothers:

“They make less than men, less than married women, and less than women without children. Adding race to the equation, single mothers of color are hit hardest by the wage gap. Studies show that single mothers of color are much more likely to live in poverty and face significant barriers to creating wealth…

Poverty rates are higher for single mothers of color compared to white single mothers and two parent households. In 2010 Hispanic and African American single mothers had poverty rates of 50.3 percent and 47.1 percent respectively—significantly higher than the national poverty rate at that time of 15.1 percent.”

The disparities go deeper.  A survey released late last year by the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) made it painfully clear how tough this economy has been on unmarried women:

  • In the year to October 2011, 66% of single mothers reported having trouble paying a bill on time. Only 40% of married mothers reported such an issue.
  • In the same year, 44% of unmarried mothers had difficulty paying their rent or mortgage.  About a third of married mothers report the same challenge (31% of married mothers).
  • 43 percent of unmmaried mothers compared to 29 percent of married mothers report not filling a prescription in the last year because they could not afford it.
  • 16% of unmarried mothers, compared to 9% of married mothers, reported going hungry in the same year because they could not afford food.

These facts of life give truth to the lie to attacks on unmarried mothers as the new welfare queen, so comfortable and “cushioned” by government largesse, she would prefer to go without food, medicine and shelter –and get paid less in the bargain.


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