The gender pay gap really does matter

Feminism has evolved significantly in the last few decades. Gone are the milquetoast second-wave emphases on liberal equality. The newest approach focuses on the overlapping oppression suffered by all sorts of identity groups. As part of this shift, certain issues have been discarded, and others de-emphasized. For instance, the rather white upper-class concerns about the lack of women CEOs has, understandably, subsided: that’s not really an issue that gets at the problems of the overwhelming majority of women or people in general.

As positive as this move has been, some things have been de-emphasized which really should not have been. One glaring case is the wage gap. It’s understandable how such a thing could seem like the height of upper-class, white lady feminism because it played and still does play a big role in that feminist wing. The wage gap discussion, for whatever reason, conjures up ideas of well-paid professionals complaining about their $75,000 income. But, as with all things economic, the real pain of the wage gap is felt by the poor, and especially women of color.

An AFL-CIO and Institute for Women’s Policy Research study from 2000 detailed the impact of the wage gap better than any other study I have come across. The numbers are about 15 years old, but I imagine they are still reasonably telling. According to the report, closing the wage gap would reduce the single mother poverty rate from 25.3 percent to 12.6 percent. Closing the gap would also reduce the single women poverty rate from 6.3 to 1.0 percent.

It goes without saying that such an improvement would have many positive spillover effects on the children and communities most blighted by poverty, which are disproportionately non-white. A movement that is nominally interested in racial justice and class justice — as the avant-garde of feminism now is — should have the wage gap as one of its major emphases. However, as with most economic things, discussions of the gap seem to elicit positive lip service at best, and snide scoffing at worse. Despite its associations with the upper-class white lady feminism of yesteryear, the wage gap issue remains an important one that we should still be vigorously working on.