The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
On average, full-time working women are paid 80 percent of what men are paid, and for women of color, the wage gap is even greater. The data are clear: women with the same education and same work experience as their male counterparts are still paid less for the same work. And, once a woman faces wage disparity, recouping those losses may not be possible. The pay gap is just one example of pervasive gender discrimination that follows women throughout life.
While college graduation is not the first time a woman faces sex discrimination, it is an important diverging point when this differential treatment can be quantified. There are two important things to know to understand how this plays out: 1) currently in the United States, there are more than 44 million borrowers with $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, and 2) women represent 57 percent of those enrolled in American colleges and universities. The unfortunate reality, however, is that while women make up slightly more than half of college and university enrollment, they hold nearly two-thirds of the total outstanding student debt in the United States. How does this happen? Well, a man and a woman could graduate from college with the same amount of debt. But, in the woman’s first year in the workforce she will make on average only 82 percent of what her male peers will earn. This is a huge setback that immediately impacts her ability to pay back loans as quickly as her male counterpart, ultimately making it more difficult to become debt-free and achieve financial goals.
Frequently, employers determine salary offers based on prior pay, which puts women at a disadvantage and hinders the potential for upward pay mobility, further contributing to the pay gap. Legislation, like the Pay Equity for All Act (H.R. 2418), introduced by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-At Large) aims to reduce wage discrimination by prohibiting employers from requiring prospective employees to disclose salary history. This would follow similar bills that have been enacted on the state level, such as Massachusetts’ bipartisan pay equity law.
As women move through life, discrimination in the persists in the workplace, whether it is sexual harassment or other disparate treatment. The wage gap also influences women’s personal lives when it comes to the affordability of childcare and ability to support a family. While childcare costs have increased 70 percent since 1985, wages have remained stagnant.
When women are denied the pay they deserve for their skills and knowledge, their value is minimized and their potential to succeed without extensive financial burden is diminished. It’s not only common sense that women deserve to be treated with the same respect and regard as their male counterparts, Jewish tradition teaches the importance of creating a foundation that respects and honors the needs of families and society. We are taught, “A society and a family are like a pile of stones. If you remove one stone, the pile will collapse. If you add a stone to it, it will stand” (Midrash Rabbah Genesis 100:7). By treating women equally, we build to the pile of stones, strengthening society as a whole.