Pink-collar ghetto lives on

Photo by Daniel R. Burke

It’s been almost 40 years since the passage of equal rights and equal pay legislation, but women are still getting paid only three-fourths of what men get paid.

This is just one of the many statistics featured in “A Change of Pace: Accelerating Women’s Progress,” a new report published by Penn’s Alice Paul Center for Research on Women and Gender in collaboration with Womens Way and Solutions for Progress, Inc.

Researchers from these three organizations analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and conducted surveys and interviews. The report shows the cumulative effects of many forms of gender inequality in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and proposes concrete solutions to the problems of gender inequality.

According to Dana L. Barron, associate director of the Alice Paul Center, the report was written to bring women’s issues to the forefront of public attention and to change the way these issues are framed.

“Women’s inequality, although it might seem like a fairly narrow subject, is really about the economic security of all families,” she said. “Increasing numbers of families rely on women’s incomes, [so] men and children are also deeply affected by the lost income, the increased poverty rates, the vulnerability to violence, [and] the lack of influence.”

Some of the report’s most salient findings relate to the segregation of the labor market. While women are vastly overrepresented in caregiving jobs, only a tiny minority of women works blue-collar jobs. This sort of segregation has momentous implications because caregivers get paid much less than blue-collar workers, who often get unionized wages.

“What that means is that for men and women who don’t have the benefit of a college or post-collegiate education, the access to good-paying jobs is really almost exclusively for men,” she said.

The situation is particularly dire for childcare workers, whose extremely low pay compromises their ability to provide quality care. “We as a society say that our children are valuable, and yet childcare workers are the single lowest-paid workers in the entire economy. There is not a single worker that gets paid less than a childcare worker, and that’s shameful.”

According to Barron, this situation is neither fair nor sustainable in the long run. “What we need to do is make a public investment in care, and the only way to do that is to allocate public funds for that purpose. The market is not going to create surplus funds to increase funding for care work. We have to put our money where our mouth is as a society.”

A hard copy of the report can be picked up at the Alice Paul Center for Research on Women and Gender on the fourth floor of Logan Hall. The report can also be viewed online at www.sas.upenn.edu/wstudies/alicepaul.

Originally published on February 13, 2003