It’s time to reconsider and pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
The last attempt failed even though the amendment was given more time by Congress. Because of the rejection of the Equal Rights Amendment, sexual equality, with the notable exception of when it pertains to the right to vote, is not protected by the US Constitution. In every genuine democracy today, majority rule and minority rights are endorsed in its constitution. In the US, the largest minority is women. The fact that their overall economic security, their “equal rights” are fragile, at best, may come as a surprise to many. The Economist, in its yearly analysis, ranked the US 18th out of 29 countries on the best and worst countries for working women.There are few who are not aware that women in general earn less than men even thought, on average, they have higher levels of education, but beyond that, the general economic condition of women is largely unknown (except to women themselves). Recent research by academic institutions and government agencies highlights the extent to which women in the US are second class citizens in their own country.
Using the percent of seniors that are in poverty (9.2 percent) as a baseline, we can see the extent of female poverty. Compared to seniors, 35 percent of single women with children live in poverty. Women are 80 percent more likely to face poverty in retirement. Aside from unemployment, the biggest contributor to female poverty is the fact that women are still being segregated into low-paying jobs. Today women make up 50 percent of the labor force, but they hold 60 percent of the lowest paying jobs in the nation.
Women reach their average peak earnings at 44 while men’s income increases until 55. Women’s wages drop after having a child, while men’s do not. It’s well known that women earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, but most people don’t realize that women, in terms of wealth, own only 31 percent of the nation’s total wealth compared to 69 percent owned by men. The median net worth of single white women ages 36-49 is $42,600, for single women of color in the same age group have a median wealth of just $5, as a result, women, on average, retire with two-thirds the money that men do.
Women make up the majority of the labor force in the hospitality, food service, and retail industries, industries most at risk to layoffs during a recession. But, in many states today, unemployment insurance is limited to full-time workers, this leaves part-time workers, who are overwhelmingly female with no assistance. Recent Department of Labor statistics highlighted the fact that 750,000 women had dropped out of the labor force due to the pandemic or childcare that is either unavailable or unaffordable. This same lack of concern for childcare can be seen in the fact the women in low pay service jobs frequently do not have paid sick leave which means that taking care of a child with an illness will result in a substantial loss of pay, and virtually no women, poor or otherwise, in the US have substantial amounts of paid maternity leave. The financial situations of single women of color are so precarious, the study found, that just one unpaid sick day or appliance repair would send about half of them into debt.
The unequal treatment of women extends beyond wages and employment. In 2016, 56 percent of men had health insurance coverage compared to only 49 percent for women. In the same year 33 percent of men had pension coverage as compared to only 30 percent for women.
Single women pay more for mortgage loans and are denied them more frequently than single men or couples.
To address these inequities, Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor, suggests a broad menu of solutions that addresses income and wealth, on the income side that means pushing for pay equity, affordable childcare and paid family leave. On the wealth side, we can start by tackling two key challenges, retirement savings and tax benefits. Limit the mortgage interest tax deduction and use the revenues to provide a credit for first-time home buyers. Establish automatic savings in retirement plans.
But by far the one piece of legislation that would go the farthest at leveling the economic playing field for women would be the passage of an equal rights amendment. Piecemeal legislation will only take us so far, and cannot correct for problems in the future that could not be foreseen today. With an equal rights amendment to the Constitution, unequal treatment of women would be prima facie evidence of unlawful discrimination unless proven otherwise.