Today is not Equal Pay Day for half of all American women. While April 4, 2017 is the date that symbolizes how far into 2017 the average woman would have to work to earn as much as the average man did in 2016, the date when the pay of single women catches up to men’s pay is still months away. Today one out of every two women in the United States is unmarried — divorced, separated, widowed, or never been married — and for them, Equal Pay Day is May 31.
Fifty-four years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, women working full time are still earning 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. The earning disparities are even greater for unmarried women, who earn just 71 cents for every dollar a man makes, and 59 cents for every dollar a married man makes. This wage inequity varies widely from state to state:
The national earnings gap between single women and married men is growing. According to research done for the Voter Participation Center by Lake Research Partners, unmarried women have seen a steady three-year decline in their personal earnings compared to married men. In 2013, single women earned 64 cents to every dollar a married man earned, a nickel more than in 2016. Even in a growing and improving economy, single women continue to fall behind.
Instead of embracing and adopting policies like equal pay, higher minimum wages, and paid sick time that address the economic and diverse realities of women’s lives and recognize that marriage is no longer the national norm, conservative federal and state lawmakers are pursuing a very different, sometimes punitive agenda. Rather than craft and enact policies that speak to the lives women lead today, Republican lawmakers are pushing women — especially single women — to change the way they live, to live as conservative white men wished they did.
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s answer to the increasing poverty of unmarried women? Marriage. U.S. Senator and presidential contender Marco Rubio called marriage “the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty.” A panel of conservatives at the Heritage Foundation argued that marriage is the best path to economic security for women.
Last month, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said women wouldn’t have to worry about paying more for maternity care under the Trumpcare, as long as they’re on a “family plan.” It seems the administration believes only married women should have access to affordable maternity care and that if single women want basic reproductive health coverage, they should get married.
And in Iowa, Republicans introduced a bill that would have banned all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, but also required any woman under the age of 18 or any unmarried woman of any age to get her parents’ permission before getting an abortion. The bill was withdrawn and replaced with a 20-week ban, but the intent to control and alter the behavior of single women could not be clearer.
It’s not clear whether the motive behind this effort to limit the earnings and autonomy of single women comes from The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel by Margaret Atwood that envisions a future where women are stripped of their agency and reduced to child bearing vessels. Or maybe it’s nostalgia for a time when white men had more control over sex, money, and the political and social life of the nation, or fear of the increased competition from independent women for jobs, cultural influence, and political power.
What is clear is government policies can no longer presume women are married or that women will be living their adult lives as wives. Until unmarried women are backed by a set of policies that acknowledges their lives today — the fact that half of minimum-wage earners are single women, and many of them are mothers, that single women and mothers are the most likely Americans to live in poverty and the most in need of a raise in wages — the real Equal Pay Day for all women will be decades, maybe generations, away.