With its varying hours and nearly 30-mile commute, Kim Cherry’s job working for a printer in Saratoga County does not do much to help her move off the cusp of poverty.
The 49-year-old woman makes $9.25 per hour and sometimes finds herself marooned at work if her hours keep her there later then the last CDTA bus heads south after midnight. Her plight is difficult for her to stomach, even before factoring in the notion that her male counterparts earn a significantly higher hourly wage.
“They do the same work I do and they make $4 an hour more,” she lamented Sunday at the YWCA on Washington Street, where she now lives.
Cherry is not alone either. Many of the women staying at the facility find themselves earning close to the state’s minimum wage, which just recently increased to $8 per hour, 75 cents more than the federal standard.
The disparity between wages for men and women coupled with a low minimum wage is a one-two gut punch to the higher aspirations of the nation’s working class, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko said during a discussion at the YWCA of Northeastern New York. He said the United States also lags behind in the benefits it provides to working families, making it the only industrialized nation that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave for new mothers.
“These low wages have sapped the economic mobility of Capital Region families and have kept them out of the middle class, if not reversed and pushed people down and out of the middle class,” said Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
Tonko accentuated this point by rolling out some harsh statistics. The gender gap means women in the Capital Region earn on average 84 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts.
Nationwide, the difference in pay is even worse, with women earning 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. The figures are even more stark for minority women: Black women earn 69 cents and Hispanic women 57 cents.
The statistics, which are disputed by some political groups as being too high and others stating they’re too low, were provided by Tonko.
A recent study also indicated an age disparity, with young women’s earnings much closer to their young male counterparts’ earnings, and older women earning significantly less than older men.
The minimum wage also hits women in the workforce hard. Tonko said roughly two-thirds of minimum wage earners are women and with the rate in New York, they earn about $16,600 per year.
Tonko said three separate bills aimed at correcting these issues are already proposed in Congress and have broad support among members, with 120 to 207 co-sponsors.
The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act would put into place workplace protections against gender discrimination in wages and would authorize grants for skill training programs.
Another bill supported by Tonko would boost the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
And the Healthy Families Act would permit workers to earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours work. Workers in 145 countries have the ability to earn paid leave days they can use after child birth, he said, but no such policy exists in the United States.
“When women succeed we all succeed,” Tonko said. “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
Yet all three bills have languished in committee and appear no closer to being moved to the floor for an “up or down” vote, Tonko said. Now, he’s trying to rally support for them among constituents and colleagues so that all three can be addressed by Congress.
“These bills are noncontroversial and only serve to fix long-overdue inequalities in the gender pay gap,” he said.
YWCA Executive Director Rowie Taylor said she sees the struggle of low-income women first-hand and how the facility’s residents struggle to make ends meet. She described the tenants as proud and willing to work, but facing circumstances that almost seem insurmountable considering their low wages.
“It’s heartbreaking that we’re still sitting down to have this conversation,” she said.