TODAY IS International Equal Pay Day, an observance on those international calendars that draw attention to worthy causes. Unequal pay for women, minorities, immigrants, refugees and the elderly is one of the most prevalent prejudices found all over the world. It’s an issue we most often associate with women, but the problem of having less money to make ends meet has a profound effect on children of single mothers.
International statistics highlight the extent of this problem. Last week, the New York Times reported that poverty among children in the US more than doubled last year as the cost of living soared and federal pandemic aid programmes ended. The overall poverty rate rose to 12.4 per cent in 2022 from 7.8 per cent in 2021, making this the largest one-year jump on record in the US.
As sobering as those statistics are, it’s important to remember that they don’t tell the complete story because they don’t include illegal immigrants who struggle to take care of families either in the country they fled or in the new country they call home. They most often do work nationals don’t want to do in construction, agriculture or as domestic servants and they do it below minimum wage.
Even when hourly wages rise, the increase never seems to filter down to the poorest people in a country. Again, in the US, the Economic Policy Institute reported an overall nine per cent wage increase from 2019-2022. But it did not keep up with rising costs that resulted from the covid19 pandemic in 2020.
The report said, “Unfortunately, despite this recent period of growth, wage levels for US workers at the bottom of the earnings distribution remain low, making it difficult to make ends meet...”
That same report also pointed out that the gender pay gap widened. Black and Hispanic women fared the worst in pay discrimination. In 2019 (before the pandemic), women, on an average, were paid 20.3 per cent less than men. In 2022, that gap widened to 22.2 per cent. Men’s wages continued to rise over this period.
But wage inequality is not confined to the poor. In the high wage bracket, women in the US are paid US$15.05 less an hour, or 23.1 per cent less than men at the 90th percentile.
On an internet site called Paylab, which says it is a place for prospective employees to check for average salaries, the average pay in TT is said to be $9,765 a month for men and $8,924 for women.
Even without statistics, it’s not difficult for any of us to realise how the covid19 pandemic has affected poor people in this country. This should set off alarm bells, spark government policy decisions and wake up the business community, because the culture of violence originates in the culture of poverty.
Those same single mothers working for paltry wages struggle to provide food, clothing and medical care for their children. They find it difficult to keep up with school expenses. These children have less chance of staying in school and getting a good education because they often feel pressed to earn money to help their struggling mothers. I know this because teenagers and young men in prison have told me this.
Poor people, who are poorly educated and work menial jobs, find it impossible to break out of that downward spiral. The economically challenged look for ways to make ends meet, and that often means turning to crime. The privileged in society feed the problem by turning their backs on it.
Unequal pay is a pernicious prejudice that society refuses to fix and it wreaks havoc on families and social order. On a personal level, it erodes confidence. For many people, upward mobility is never an option.
But then we keep coming back to the problem that well-educated women in top jobs suffer pay discrimination in most countries too. Gender prejudice in the workplace exists almost everywhere, but the poor bear the brunt of it because their pay is so low they can’t make ends meet.
It’s baffling how the blatant prejudice of unequal pay continues and puzzling why no one seems to connect it to the problems that erode our personal and social well-being.
Today, International Equal Pay Day, exists as a lofty intention on an international calendar – something for us all to think about and ponder how to fix. We are horrified when we look back at the problem in history, but unconcerned that it still exists.