When you have young children, it seems paychecks often don’t stretch far enough to cover the costs of daily living.
Another new pair of shoes for the child who won’t stop growing.
But for many families in the United States, making ends meet often isn’t possible at the end of every month. One in six families with children under the age of 18 in the United States live in poverty, which is defined as having an income less than $24,339 for a family of four with two children. For these nearly 37 million families, the cost of raising children is an even greater stressor.
Families headed by single mothers make up nearly a quarter of this group. Nearly 40 percent of female-headed households with children under the age of 18 live in poverty.
But a new study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) points to a surprisingly simple solution to reducing the number of children and families living in poverty: decreasing the pay gap. Women currently earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, a disparity which causes millions of women and children to live in poverty, according to the study’s authors.
If women in the United States received comparable pay to men, the poverty rate would be cut in half, says researchers at IWPR. For all working women, the poverty rate would fall from 8.0 percent to 3.8 percent. The number of single mothers living in poverty would be nearly halved if women were to achieve pay equity.
While all women would benefit from receiving wages on par with what men make, the stakes are even greater for women with children. 43 million children in the United States live in families where the mother works. If these mothers were paid wages comparable to what men receive, nearly 26 million children would benefit, and the poverty rate in these families would be cut in half.
The reasons are complex. Women tend to work in industries that pay less than men do, but this doesn’t mean they've chosen to earn less. Women who work in male-dominated professions are not more likely to see a significant boost in pay. In fact, it’s the opposite. While there are exceptions, women on the whole will earn more in a female-dominated profession than a male-dominated one, even if male-dominated ones pay more.
The reason why women don’t automatically earn more working in a male dominated profession? Discrimination. Discrimination remains a significant factor in the wage gap. Even if men and women had the same career opportunities and the same levels of support for child-raising, the wage gap would not automatically disappear. Researchers estimate that up to 38 percent of the gap is attributable simply to discrimination against women.
While pay inequality is a significant obstacle for women and the children they raise, it has a broader effect on our economy as a whole. The United States would have produced $513 billion in 2016 if women were compensated at a rate similar to men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Having a tough time picturing what $513 billion injected into the economy would mean? That’s 16 times the amount that the federal and state governments spent on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families in 2015.
The effects of childhood poverty are real and troubling. Children living in poverty experience inadequate housing, health care, and childcare, and fewer educational opportunities. But the consequences of poverty go much deeper. Impoverished children are at a greater risk for poor academic achievement, behavioral and social emotional problems, physical problems, and developmental delays.
So where is the money that we aren’t paying women going? In large part, to combat childhood poverty. Economists estimate that childhood poverty costs the U.S. economy $500 billion a year through higher medical costs, increased crime, and reduced productivity and economic output.
Women are slowly but surely making progress in combatting pay inequality. Women now earn 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, up from 77 cents in 2002. Experts expect women to achieve pay equity in 2059. At that rate, today’s kindergarten girls will be celebrating their 47th birthday before they finally earn the same as men. In the meantime, another generation of children will be subjected to growing up in poverty.
Equal pay is far more than a “women’s issue.” Pay equity would do much more than just improve the lives of hard-working women. It would strengthen our economy and improve the lives of millions of children who depend on their mothers’ earnings. If we are truly serious about combatting childhood poverty, we need to first look at reducing the gender pay gap. Doing so could drastically change the future for millions of children.
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