Here in Chicago, nearly one in three employed women is working a low-wage job compared with one in four men.
There are plenty of causes: discrimination in hiring, pay and promotions; women being crowded into just 21 of 500 lower-paying occupational categories; and the widespread view that once women become mothers, they aren't good candidates for advancement. And as a society, we simply undervalue the work that women do, especially care-giving. Should parking lot attendants really be paid more than child care workers?
It isn't only a question of fairness. Women's earnings are crucial to the financial stability of families and our economy. Two-thirds of mothers are co- or primary breadwinners. In 2012, Illinois lost approximately $20 billion in income due to the wage gap, which comes out to $11,000 per year per woman.
The wage gap is not a law of nature; it is a product of decisions that individuals and employers make. And it says something about our values. We can certainly make decisions that would accelerate progress toward fairer pay and close the wage gap.
One way to do that is for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced half a decade ago, to strengthen and modernize the Equal Pay Act.