Gender Gap not the problem – Income and Opportunity Gaps are

Efforts to close the gender gap have helped some women at the top of the socioeconomic scale. But not the majority of women.

Hillary Clinton | Image Hillary Clinton Facebook

NEW CASTLE, Pa., April 18, 2016 — The gender gap is quickly becoming a major issue on the Democratic side of the 2016 Presidential campaign. Depending on what numbers are used, the average woman makes as little as 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. This clearly indicates a problem exists, but aggregate statistics do offer the insights needed to identity the exact problems and provide viable solutions.

From a political perspective, rhetoric on “equal pay” and “gender gap” sounds good. More importantly, it is a way for candidates to appeal to women voters, who represent a slightly higher share of eligible voters and are more likely to vote. To boot, candidates can easily deliver on campaign promises to address the “gender gap” by passing laws that make it illegal to discriminate based on gender, whether or not it actually addresses the socioeconomic factors that are responsible for the inequality.

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All work, skills, and experience being equal, there should be no different in the pay between any two employees on the same level. To discriminate between two individuals based on an inherent trait such as race or gender is a poor business practice as it reduces incentives for minority workers to add to the productivity of the company. Paying a person with identical skill sets and experience less to do the same work as another is a policy designed around personal bigotry that seeks to disenfranchise women and minorities.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton - Caricatures by Donkey Hotey for CC -
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton – Caricatures by Donkey Hotey for CC –

To understand the issues behind the gender gap, however, it is important to recognize that social factors drive much of the gender gap. Thus, economic policies cannot successful address many of the issues involved. For example, the gender gap between women who never marry is negligible. Because unmarried women do not exit the job market, they tend to keep place with their male counterparts.

Looking at findings on “breadwinner moms,” from the Pew Research Center, four out of ten women are either the primary or sole earners for their families. A third of the ten are married women who make more than their husbands while nearly two-thirds are single mothers.

The income gap between these two groups is staggering. The median income for married breadwinner moms is around $80,000, as compared to $57, 000 for all families. For single mothers, the median income is only $23,000.  Clearly, efforts to close the gender gap have helped women at the top of the socioeconomic scale, but not the majority of women.

The fact children and unmarried women are more likely to live in poverty suggests the gender gap stems from the growing trend of income inequality that affects women and men alike. Income has decreased for those with less than a bachelor’s degree as well as the income of so-called “Generation-Y,” whose members face ”a less prosperous future” than their less educated grandparents across the Western world — all of which  reinforces such a conclusion.

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The ability of women to obtain advanced degrees is helping them overcome a legacy of discrimination. As then-Senator Barack Obama pointed out in his famous race speech in 2008, today’s racial- as well as gender-based economic inequality is largely inherited from a history of discrimination. As such, the most prevalent consequences of institutionalized racism and sexism are manifested in socioeconomic terms.

Unfortunately, the Civil Rights Movement has continually failed to address the broader injustice of inherited poverty that cuts across racial, gender, and cultural bigotry. The consequence of this failure has been the continued shadow of discrimination, in terms of the socioeconomic disparity, experienced by generations of poor minorities and women.

A diverse segment of the population has long been largely neglected by the economy, while the ranks of the poor continue to grow as well-paying jobs disappear and the broad consumer base, which brought about economic prosperity in countries like the U.S., dries up in an alarming number of communities.

On the other hand, those firmly situated in middle class and wealthy families will be better able to compete for the fewer, more lucrative financial opportunities are expected to arise, even as those who cannot compete will be consigned to the ranks of the working poor.

Inequality among middle class and wealthy minorities will disappear overtime, yet inequality will continue to grow among the economically disenfranchised. Poverty cannot, therefore, be addressed by simply spurring additional macroscopic economic growth and supporting education.

Disparity means most of the gains will go to those least in need. Consequently, the economy needs structural changes that afford the majority of individuals greater leverage over the economy.

Meanwhile, success in the modern economy hinges on an individual’s ability to function in line with employer and consumer expectations. As such, individuals seeking financial gains must have the resources to respond to the rapidly changing demands of the economy. Obviously, this is a serious roadblock that exists for the poor while government cannot hope to subsidize everything the poor need to succeed. In fact, doing so would only inflate the cost of those needs.

Political leaders need to focus their efforts on economically empowering all individuals and ensuring greater access to financial opportunities. Candidates must, therefore, focus on creating and ensuring greater access to viable financial opportunities for all.

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