Friday, March 7, 2014

Women in the Workforce: Women's History Month

Saturday, March 8th, is International Women's Day and March is Women's History Month, times to celebrate and educate about the ways women contribute to society, to the workforce, to their families, to our faith communities, and to all walks of life. 

The PC(USA) Office of Public Witness is joining with faith partners to remind Congress that women are a growing and vital part of the U.S. workforce. It is time for workers to be able to support themselves and their families. 

A Job Should Keep You Out of Poverty, Not Trap you In It.

Despite High Participation Rates in the Work Force, Women Workers Continue to Struggle for Equal Pay for Equal Work and a Living Wage

March is Women’s History Month. This is a time to celebrate how women are contributing to society – to our communities, our labor force, our cultural heritage, and our communities of faith. With today’s new jobs numbers, we are reminded that women are a growing part of our labor force, but are still held back by unfair levels compensation and a low minimum wage.

The trajectory of women’s participation in the labor force in the United States continues on an upward climb. In 2009 women made up 52% of the labor force, as compared to 1965 when 35% of workers were women. Women’s participation in certain industries and in educational attainment continues to grow as well. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 36.4% of women workers attaining a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2010, as opposed to only 11.2% in 1970. Additionally, federal and local governments employed more than three times the number of women in 2011 than they did in 1964.

In the unemployment figures from the month of February, we see women holding steady at a 5.9% unemployment rate or 4.2 million workers total. At this time, women who are looking for work are slightly more likely to find employment than men, with the average unemployment among men growing slightly from 6.2% in January to 6.4%.

And yet, women are still paid less for equal work, especially in more lucrative careers. In 2011, female lawyers, for example, earned only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a male lawyers, according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Across fields, women make, on average, 82 cents to a man’s dollar. Women also comprise a considerable proportion of the low-wage-earning population (defined as less than $10.10 an hour), making up 77% of all low-wage earners, according to the National Women’s Law Center. As such, even though women who look for work are slightly more likely to hold a job than their male counterparts, they are less likely to be able to earn enough to support themselves, let alone a family. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s 2012 Women In the Labor Force: A Data Book indicates that women are more likely than men (7.5% as opposed to 6.7%) to be classified as “working poor,” (referring to workers who are making at or below minimum wage). Despite being fully employed, women still have a difficult time making ends meet.

This is because even though women have seen a growth in their overall employment, the jobs that they are able to attain are often insufficient for their needs. According to a report from the National Women's Law Center, 60% of women’s gains in employment from 2009 and 2012 were in the ten jobs that, on average, are most likely to pay less than $10.10 an hour. Only 20% of men’s gains in employment in the same time period were in these same ten jobs. Women of color are often hit the hardest, with 14.5% of Black women and 13.8%  of Latina women being classified as working poor in 2010, as opposed to 6.6% of White women. Finally, women who are single parents are more likely than their childless counterparts to live in poverty, at a rate of 29.7%, according to the Center for American Progress.

It is clear, then, that it is time to ensure that women who work do not have to live in poverty. We may do so by raising the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage is not only an economic issue, but a moral issue and a matter of supporting our families. Isabel V. Sawhill of the Brookings Institute estimates that raising the minimum wage would lift as many as one million families out of poverty, and increase earnings for 16.5 million people. As people of faith, we must pray for our legislators to do the right thing and send a message to the women of the United States that their work will be enough to not leave them and their children hungry. As Rachel asks in Genesis 31:14-15, “Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house? Are we not counted of him strangers? For he has sold us, and has quite devoured also our money.” Our collective faiths call for equality and justice for all workers, including women. Let us stand together and call for the right to equal pay for equal work, and to raise the minimum wage.

You can find DHN’s Jobs Statement of Principles at