By Donna Edwards, Special to the AFRO
This week, our nation marked the 22nd observance of Equal Pay Day — the day when women will make the same amount of money their male counterparts made the previous calendar year– four months into the year.
President Kennedy signed our first Equal Pay Day law in 1963 when women made just 69 cents for every dollar a man made. That number crept up to 74 cents in the year 2000, and 77 cents by 2014. The Pew Charitable Trusts found that by 2016 White, non-Hispanic women made 83 cents for every dollar a man earned. The landscape has always been more dire for women of color. Today, Black women make 66 cents and Hispanic women make 60 cents for every dollar a man earns. Progress has been slow at best.
Prince George’s County is ranked among the most affluent places for African Americans to live in America. Generally, women in Prince George’s County bring home higher earnings than their counterparts across the nation. Nonetheless, pay gaps persist within our region that prevent the women of Prince George’s County from realizing the benefits of their overall higher earnings compared to their national counterparts.
The Pew research showed that Prince George’s County is 1 of only 7 jurisdictions in the United States where women make more than men. Yet, for women who do not work in nonprofits or in government, the average salary is 23 percent lower than men, while almost 3 times more women are heads of their households.
The story does not end there. The pay gap can affect women in different ways depending on other external factors.
For example, women in Prince George’s County are carrying a heavier homeownership burden than anywhere else in the state. They also face lower rates of homeownership as the County has not recovered fully from the Great Recession of 2008. Prince George’s County was among the hardest hit jurisdictions in the nation, especially home property values which also have not recovered fully. Prince George’s County also has a higher rate of households without bank accounts than the national and state averages. Women are living on the margins — a one-third difference in pay could be the difference between surviving and thriving.
The pay gap and its attendant financial hardship can further complicate the ability of women to leave abusive relationships. Women in Prince George’s County are especially vulnerable. Heightened levels of domestic violence in Prince George’s County accounted for more than 22% of all domestic violence-related homicides in Maryland for the past 5 years. From my decades of work as a domestic violence advocate, I know that abusive partners often use family finances as a way to control and threaten their partner’s safety–limiting access to bank accounts, rationing funds and monitoring spending.
Within our own Prince George’s County government, we still have a lot of work to do to move closer to equal pay. Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the County paid a woman engineer less than what she deserved and less than her male counterparts, given her level of education and prior professional experience. Prince George’s County Government must do everything we can to take this anti-discrimination enforcement action seriously and model the kind of change we want to see businesses adopt.
We should begin by passing a $15 minimum wage to create a firm foundation for low-wage workers. We should recruit talent right out of our fantastic colleges and universities into jobs when they graduate. I am also committed to finding new and innovative ways to support women who want to start their own businesses — and, just as importantly, helping to provide the capital they need to make their businesses grow and thrive.
These ideas are not far out of reach. We just have to be willing to fight for them. These are all elements we all should consider when calculating how far we’ve come, how far we’ve yet to go and the path we must take to get there.
Donna Edwards is a former U.S. House of Represenatives for Maryland’s 4th district. She is currently running for the position of County Executive in Prince George’s County.