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Washington, D.C., February 24 -- The average working family loses more than $4,000 each year because of the wage gap between women and men, according to "Equal Pay for Working Families: National and State Data on the Pay Gap and Its Costs," a new study released today by the AFL-CIO and the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Overall, America's working families lose a staggering $200 billion each year.
The national AFL-CIO also launched a campaign to introduce new equal pay legislation in over 22 states this year. The legislation is designed to close the wage gap between men and women as well as workers of color.
"Equal pay would make a world of difference for working families. For many families, it could mean living above the poverty level, decent health care, a college education for the kids, and a secure retirement," said Linda Chavez-Thompson, AFL-CIO Executive Vice-President.
According to Heidi Hartmann, President of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, working families in Ohio, Michigan, Vermont, Indiana, Illinois, Montana, Wisconsin, and Alabama pay the heaviest price for unequal pay to working women, losing an average of roughly $5,000 in family income each year. Family income losses were calculated taking into account differences such as education, age, annual hours worked and geographic location.
Statewide family income losses due to unequal pay for women range from $326 million in Alaska to $21.8 billion in California.
Over 50 percent of two-earner and single mother households across the country would be lifted out of poverty if equal pay were enacted and enforced at the state level.
The analysis found that both women and men who work in "female-dominated" jobs (those in which at least 70% of the workers are women) pay a steep price -- a total whopping $113 billion annually. The 26.5 million women who work in traditionally female-dominated jobs lose $88 billion and the four million men working in these jobs lose $25 billion each year.
Looking simply at annual earnings for full-time workers, women are paid the least, compared with men, in Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming -- where women earn less than 70 percent of men's weekly earnings. Women of color fare especially poorly in Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming -- earning less than 60 percent of what men earn.
The study found that even where women fare best compared with men -- in Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island -- women earn little more than 80 percent as much as men. Women earn the most in comparison to men -- 97 percent -- in Washington, D.C., but the primary reason women appear to fare so well is the very low wages of minority men. For women of color, the gender pay gap is smallest in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Florida, New York, and Tennessee, where they earn more than 70 percent of what men overall in those states earn.
"One of the best ways to help close the wage gap between men and women is to join a union," said Gloria Johnson, President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
Unions help raise wages for their members. On average, full-time women workers represented by unions earn 38 percent more per week -- $157 -- than non-union women. Unionized minority women also earn 38 percent more -- $135-- than women of color who don't belong to unions. Minority men who are represented by unions bring home a hefty 44 percent more -- $177 -- each week than non-unionized men of color. Gender and minority wage gaps are smaller, too, among unionized workers: women represented by unions earn almost 84 percent as much as union men, while unionized workers of color make about 81 percent as much as unionized white workers.
Equal pay is one of the key legislative priorities for the AFL-CIO in 1999. In addition to working to pass state equal pay bills, the AFL-CIO supports both the Fair Pay Act, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia), and the Paycheck Fairness Act, sponsored by Senator Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut).
"Over the next two years, we are going to work hard to make sure elected officials and candidates hear from working families at the state and federal level and take real action on equal pay," said Karen Nussbaum, Director of the AFL-CIO's Working Women's Department.
In September, the AFL-CIO launched a new website [www.aflcio.org/women/equalpay.htm] which allows users to find out how much unequal pay costs them over the course of their careers. The average 29-year old woman with a college degree will lose almost a million dollars throughout her lifetime.
For more information on the national report and state-specific data, please call Naomi Walker in the national AFL-CIO Public Affairs office at 202/637-5093.
Naomi Walker, AFL-CIO 202/637-5093
Amanda Gordon, IWPR 202/785-5100