The 2009 US Census data is in! The headline, according to the AP, is that the number of people currently married has dropped to a record low of 52%, down five points from 2000. The Census isn’t geared toward finding the reason for this, but we can guess that a large part of it is economic.
Here’s a stat that interests me:
Women’s average pay still lags men’s, but the gap is narrowing. Women with full-time jobs made 78.2 percent of men’s pay, up from 77.7 percent in 2008 and about 64 percent in 2000, as men took bigger hits in the recession.
Yay for women, we’re closing the gap!
Hang on a minute, sister. Are women’s wages going up, or are men’s going down?
In tough economic times, companies look for ways to trim their expenses. One of those expenses is labor. They start by looking at who’s costing them the most. That would be senior employees who have been with the company for a long time. Bye-bye, veteran employees! The young things without as much experience or heft get to stay. They work their way through the hierarchy.
Oh, look. Sally and Jim are doing the same job, in the same department, for the same amount of time, but we pay Jim more.
This isn’t fair to Jim or to Sally. They were doing the same work–all else being equal, only gender set them apart. There’s no good reason for him to earn more just for being a man. They should have received the same pay for the same work. When it came time to thinning the staff, the decision could then have been made based on competency and the value of each individual. Maybe Jim is better with customers while Sally is a whiz at persuasive reports. The company would then have to decide which of those skills is more necessary, not which employee they can more easily take advantage of.
Jim, now laid off, has been cast into an impossible job market. He will now be competing against record high numbers of applicants for every position. And you can bet some employers will look at him–he who is a him–and know that they will ultimately wind up paying him more than if they hire a woman, or an immigrant, or someone of another race. They won’t do anything overt, because that would be illegal, but the scale is already tipped against Jim. Jim will be forced to low-ball his salary requests, shooting for less than what he (and Sally) are worth. Consequently, the common wage for that position will drop, hurting everyone except the companies obsessed with their bottom lines.
Meanwhile, Sally is left at the firm to do her work and Jim’s. She may even take a pay cut. And she’ll be told to be grateful she still has a job.
Everyone loses in this scenario.
I hope that this isn’t what’s happening, but I fear that it is. Lets hope someone does their own data collection on the topic.
More on this topic: Male Panic!: Women Get Jobs, Men Get Depressed?