You don't get the big picture by reading or watching the mainstream media accounts. The debate that rages is whether it's false equivalence to compare Rush Limbough's vitriol with Bill Maher's potty mouth. Liberals are torn between championing the hate machine's right to free speech and calling for its silencing. Reactionary politicians are trying to out-do each other in creative medievalism, turning routine ob-gyn visits into torture. There is not a little pornography in the current political discourse.
And meanwhile, American women are still only earning about 82 cents to the man's dollar -- an apparent increase from just a few years ago, when we got 75 cents to the dollar compared to men. However, that increase is mainly due to the fact that men lost more jobs during the meltdown; the hard truth is that everyone's wages have shrunk. Men's pay decreased by two percent, while women lost an average of .09 percent. Moreover, black women still earn only 70% of what white men get, and Latinas, just 60%.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, much vaunted by the Obama Administration as one of his signature legislative accomplishments, really has had nothing much to do with the very slight improvement in the pay scales of working women.
As a matter of fact, Lilly Ledbetter herself is having trouble making ends meet on her meager retirement benefits. In an interview with WNYC this week, she said her income has fallen by over 50% since her husband died in 2008. Despite her fame and her seat of honor at the State of the Union address, she is "just scraping by." You can listen to the interview here. Instead of contributing to politicians who are co-opting this brave woman for their own ends, you might want to purchase Mrs. Ledbetter's new book. It's called "Grace and Grit." As she says in the audio, income discrimination is not just a woman's problem -- it's a family problem. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing. It will open your eyes and make you mad as hell. You'll find out how she did all the work herself to get the law changed, and that she didn't earn a single extra penny as a result of her efforts.
Jenny Brown of Labor Notes writes that over her lifetime, the typical working woman loses $379,000 because of the continuing income gap. And as Lilly Ledbetter has experienced, this loss carries over into retirement. Social Security benefits are predicated on the amount of lifetime earnings. And then too, wage discrimination is usually built right into jobs that are traditionally held by women.
Hospitality and retail jobs are a big part in the "improving" employment statistics, because the increasing wealth of the one percent has given them scads more money to burn in hotels and restaurants and stores. So of course thousands more servants and lackeys are needed to meet the needs of the very rich. And service industries are dominated by low-paid female workers. The average wage for a restaurant server is only $2.13 an hour -- well below the legal minimum wage, but exempt from the law because tips theoretically compensate. Only they often don't, because employers don't make up the difference as they are required to do. Some bosses force the wait staff to pool their tips among the cleanup crews and even pocket their own cut.
Then there's the hotel business. The Hyatt Chain, owned by the wealthy Pritzker family, is notoriously anti-union and anti-woman. Management ordered heat lamps turned on striking workers outside the Chicago hotel during a heat wave last summer. At the Hyatt hotel in Santa Clara, California, bosses celebrated “housekeepers appreciation week” last September by grafting photographs of housekeepers’ faces onto bikini-clad bodies on surfboards. If Hyatt employees want health insurance, a $400 monthly premium is deducted from their checks.
Yet Hyatt heiress, Forbes billionaire and Obama bundler Penny Pritzker has a seat of honor at the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. That should immediately suggest that this hilariously named in-house lobby of CEOs and a few token, co-opted big labor leaders has absolutely nothing to do with jobs. When you hear the word "job creator" in Washington, it refers to an oligarch who not only wants to keep more of his/her hoarded wealth, but wants to make sure what little the rest of us have left is taken away through "shared sacrifice."
President Obama was happy to pose with Lilly Ledbetter at a few photo-ops, and never hesitates to use her name as a campaign talking point. But he also never dreamed of appointing her to his phony jobs council. She might have spoken too many inconvenient truths. She might have made Penny Pritzker uncomfortable.
The war on women is bipartisan. The Republicans just have an uglier and more vocal way of expressing it.
|A Study in Contrasts: Ledbetter (top) and Pritzker|