A Quest for Parity in Politics and Pay in the 21st Century
S. E. Williams
Womens’ quest for parity in politics and pay in America has been protracted and onerous. There is no question 19th Century feminist reformer Susan B. Anthony had it right when she declared there would never be complete equality in the nation until women themselves are able to make laws and elect lawmakers.
In the 20th Century, after a bitter and prolonged journey, the struggle for suffrage prevailed—women gained the right to vote Anthony had fought for so aggressively; however, suffragist and civil-rights activist Jessie Ames gave a prescient warning about the idealism of the suffrage era, “We thought that when we got the vote the whole pattern of politics would be greatly improved and would be dominated by women.”
Today, well into the 21st Century, although the whole pattern of women in politics has evolved— progress has been both limited and slow, as has the quest for parity in pay.
Ratification of the 19th Amendment on May 19, 1919 gave women the right to vote; and today, 50.8 percent of America’s population is female. In America, women actually hold up more than half the sky; yet, almost a hundred years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, women hold only 19.3 percent of the seats in the U.S. House of Representative (the people’s house) and only 20 percent of seats in the U.S. Senate.
The history of women in the U.S. Senate is both interesting and patriarchal in nature—to date only 46 women have ever served in that capacity. More than 40 percent of them were appointed and fully half of those were chosen to hold the seats of their deceased husbands. In addition, there are only five female governors in the nation today.
At the state level in California, the number of female elected representatives is not too much better. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, there are 31 female legislators (19 in the Assembly and 12 in the Senate) of the 120 legislative seats in the state—a total of 25.8 percent.
When you look across all state legislatures in the nation, of the 1800 women serving in state houses, it appears Democrats are much more successful at electing women—60 percent of women holding seats in the states are Democrats.
When you consider elected female representation at both the state and federal levels it is apparent there is much more work to do.
America has lost ground in recent years on the issue of women in government. It now ranks 98th in the world for the percentage of women holding office at the national level—America was rated 59th in the world in 1998. Reports continue to show there is a strong correlation between more women legislators and more progressive policy on issues like the environment, economics, management, comprehensive support for families and individuals, violence prevention and incarceration.
In spite of 20th Century feminist idealism, optimism and its promises ‘to women by women’ of what could be accomplished with the right to vote there has been sluggish progress toward pay parity for women in America.
In 2015, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research published a report titled, ‘Status of Women in the States’. (The full report is available online at statusofwomendata.org/app/ uploads/2015/02/EE-CHAPTER-FINAL.pdf.) The report highlighted a blatant truth in a statistical and precise manner—women who work full-time in America earn only 78 cents on the dollar compared with what men earn for doing the same or similar work; and the gap is even worse for women of color— Black and Brown women earn only 65.4 percent and 53.8 percent respectively of the salaries earned by White men.
During the previous decade, though some marginal improvement was made in political representation, there was very little improvement in the quest to close the gender wage gap. Hillary Clinton may have put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling in 2008; however, that result had very little impact on women’s ability to secure parity in either politics or pay in this country.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act. Since that time, the gap between the earnings of men and women has narrowed by less than a half-cent per year. “At this rate,” according to California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, “American women will have to wait until 2062 to bring home the same salary as their male counterparts.”
According to the Status of Women in the States report, Florida will probably be the first state in the nation where women’s median annual earnings will reach parity with men’s. That is not expected to happen however, until 2038. California is projected to be the second state to attain such parity four years later, in 2042. The year 2042 makes the arch of parity appear long indeed but not nearly as long as the arch women in Wyoming face—that state is not projected to attain parity until the year 2159.
Pay parity is particularly important as it relates to earning a living wage— whether it’s a woman who lives alone; a single mother; or, a woman who shares household expenses her partner. Another key element of pay parity involves the issue of longevity. Women live longer than men—an average of more than five years longer—Social Security retirement benefits and pensions in general are based on income; as is the ability to save for retirement.
Pay disparity goes a long way toward explaining why older women are much more likely than older men to live in poverty. Last year the U.S. Census Bureau reported more than 12 percent of women over 65 years of age live in poverty in America compared to less than 7.5 percent of men in the same age group.
However, there is another measure of poverty called the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM differs from the official poverty measure in a number of ways to reflect available financial resources; when you compare the two measures for California, the poverty rate for the state’s elderly doubles from 10 percent (U.S. Census Bureau) to 20 percent (SPM).
Something must change in both political representation and securing pay parity in order for women to stand on more fiscally solid ground in America. If we continue at the same snail’s pace of progress, as the Nation Magazine reported, it will take another 500 years for women to achieve equal representation in government.
This week The Voice sought insight on this issue from two of the Inland Empire’s leading female voices, 47th Assembly District Representative Cheryl Brown and Mayor of the City of Fontana, Acquanetta Warren.