We Still Earn Less

Rachel Maddow appeared on Meet The Press this past Sunday, where she tried to open a discussion about creating a policy nationwide to deal with the discrepancy between the wages women earn and those that men do. Unfortunately, Republican Strategist and CNN Contributor Alex Castellanos didn't want to discuss policy on an issue he didn't believe was occurring. I sat there horrified. When I was on the affirmative action committee of my union, The Writers Guild of America, more than twenty years ago, we were struggling through the process of suggesting "sat asides" to help remedy the situation in our industry. We wanted one job for a woman and one for a member of the black or Latino minority to be "set aside" within each production company to help equalize a very unequal situation. No one could argue with the actual facts because the WGA had commissioned a report to assess the situation so that we would all know what was "real." Our committee was comprised of men and women, white, black and Latino as well as young and old, so we believed we were a fair representation of union members and could come up with useful solutions to an industry problem.

Nonetheless, one afternoon, three older liberal white male members of the Guild came to the committee meeting to address us. They tried to persuade us that such a radical solution wouldn't help matters. It would enrage studio executives as well as the CEO's of the very production companies that hired us to work for them. They suggested the situation wasn't as bad as we thought it was, and that besides, a more moderate result would go further because we wouldn't alienate anyone. Although Maddow did not offer statistics on my particular industry on Meet The Press, she aroused my own curiosity. I called my Union to see if The Bielby Report had been updated. As it turns out, the executive at the Guild informed me that the report is updated every couple of years, the latest one produced in 2011. He sent me the link. The earnings gap between women and men in television increased between 2007 and 2009 by 84%. In film the gap has decreased, but it is still there in a big way. As for minority hiring: the minority share of industry jobs is 10%, up by 1%. Should we cheer that 1% increase?

On Sunday's Meet The Press program, Alex Castellanos was not only condescending about this being a manufactured issue, he was dead wrong. And here I sit, in a new state, working on a new novel, nonplussed by the news that had I remained in Hollywood, I would still be earning considerably less than my white male counterparts over twenty years later. I can imagine the statistics for a black female writer in Hollywood, and my imaginings make me cringe. Mr. Castellanos is a white male, so I'm sure he believes this is a non-issue. I have worked my entire adult life and am fortunate to own a home without a mortgage. But I have also lost savings because of the fiasco on Wall Street, so it doesn't seem a non-issue to me. Despite how hard I have worked, I have newfound concerns about supporting myself through the end of my lifetime, though I have been a saver my entire life. I am not profligate with the money I do have, nor have I ever been. And yet in some part, due to this "non-issue," I wake up every morning counting dollars and wondering if my kids will have to take me in if I live to my nineties. The fact that women and minorities earn less than white males and have for generations is very real to our children and to us. I happen to have two daughters who are affected by their earning power -- as are their husbands, for that matter. Should I be relieved that my grandchildren both happen to be boys?

I would hope not. In truth, I am concerned about the many forms inequality takes in this country, and certainly do not think it is a non- issue or a fabricated one. Like Ms. Maddow, I intend to speak out about it, and to do so with passion. Women and men still earn less than white males at considerable peril to them and their families. Isn't it time that we as a nation did something about it?