Growing and strengthening west Michigan's middle class
GRAND RAPIDS March 23, 2015– The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), released a report this month detailing pay disparity between men and women in all 50 states, and Michigan’s disparity is worse than the national average.
In Michigan, women average 77.1 cents for every dollar men earn. The national average for women is 78.3 cents.
But while women make almost 23% less than men in Michigan, women in unions nationwide make 33% more than non-union women. (Source: AFL-CIO) The union difference is there, even though Michigan legislators and Gov. Rick Snyder have weakened unions through so-called Right-to-Work legislation.
For many women, they make less than men because of the professions that they’re steered toward in school. In today’s Detroit Free Press, IWPR director Cynthia Hess said, “A lot of the gender wage gap, or at least a big piece of it, has to do with occupational segregation. Women tend to go into one set of jobs and men tend to go into another set of occupations. And the jobs women tend to go into aren’t as high paying.”
From the Free Press story:
Women, [Hess] said, tend to choose careers in education and social work, and are less likely to pick higher-paid fields such as science, technology, mathematics and engineering.
“Some of it has to do with women not really getting the same sorts of encouragement to go into those fields, especially at an earlier age,” Hess said. “There are pervading stereotypes that boys are better than girls in math and science, and that plays a role. …The other thing is the lack of role models in those fields for women.”
Even among those who do choose higher-paying careers, the wage gap exists.
“When you compare women and men with the same educational level, the higher the educational level, the larger the gap,” Hess said. “It shows there’s a significant gain in a woman’s earnings, but it doesn’t eliminate the gender wage gap.”
But even though career choice often leads to lower wages for women, women who belong to a union while working in “predominantly female” occupations earn considerably more money than their non-union female counterparts.
In 2013, union preschool and kindergarten teachers earned 124 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, while for elementary and middle school teachers, the union wage advantage was 56 percent. In 2013, union librarians earned 77 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, while union social workers and counselors earned 22 percent and 52 percent more, respectively. (Source: AFL-CIO)
Belonging to a union makes sense for women, as well as the families who count on their paychecks. If politicians are serious about growing the middle class and empowering women, it doesn’t make sense to pass laws that weaken unions, lower union density or make it more difficult to organize a workplace.
Union women can be proud of the fact that they are closing the wage gap faster than any other group in the country.