After two decades of steady growth, weekly earnings for women who work full-time have dropped to just under 75% of men’s earnings, down from 77% four years ago.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 1979 and 1993, women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s rose from 62% to 77%. Economists disagree on the causes of the decline.
Economist Heidi Hartman, director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research said “Anywhere from half to three quarters of the closing of the gender gap was a result of men’s real wages falling … Now men’s wages are rising again, so to keep closing the gap, women’s would have to be rising faster.” Remarking on the widening gap between the rich and poor, she said low-skilled women are concentrated at the low end of the pay scale.
The Republican-appointed head of the Congressional Budget Office, June O’Neill, said that unskilled, unmarried mothers who have been forced off welfare are flooding the job market, thus lowering women’s overall wages. Liberal economist Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute agreed, saying that the result of welfare reform has been to drive down wages for the unskilled. “We’d predicted…it would lower wages for low-wage workers as much as 12%. If the point of welfare reform was to lower wages, this is a success.”