MSNBC host Karen Finney roared out of the gate of her show Disrupt, asking me if Equal Pay is good politics or good politics. Both, I answered, a lover of living trapped between the hyphens, nuance, and teasing out the countless shades of gray before it became a pulp fiction blockbuster bestseller.
What women and men make varies depending on the agenda. Even before Equal Pay Day, the White House stated that for full-time workers, women make .77 on the dollar of a white man although figuring in part-time workers bumps it up to .84. Drilling down even further, the data reveal that women in their 20s have significantly narrowed the gap to .93 although yet another powerful variable to figure is the state where you live. On the opposite end are Latina working women who on average make .60 to the dollar, just 1 penny more than women overall were making when President Kennedy signed Equal Pay into law, which I previously stated on MSNBC.
In America, we may differ on the methods to ensure every one of us has equal access to opportunity to live a better life and build a brighter future. But fairness is something that gets all our goats whether you are a Tea Party Republican who believes: it's unfair freeloading poor, lazy people are being supported by my tax dollars. Then there's that person struggling to make ends meet who sees that the only ones who didn't see wages stagnate during the Great Recession are highfalutin CEOs.
This basic American value of fairness--even more for me than the fact that it's 2014 and not 1964--is why the income discrepancy is appallingly wrong. If job candidates have the same education, experience level, and technical competency needed to perform a series of work-related tasks, then why pay someone more or less because of her gender, race, or ethnicity? This is bad politics and worse policy with real life consequences that have little to do with the fear of frivolous lawsuits against employers who paid women less than men for no other reason than gender. The bazillion dollar boost to the GDP has been quantified so let's focus on kitchen table economics. How does paying women equally--not more or less--trickle down to local businesses in the form of more money spent at local restaurants, savings to buy a house, and weaning off of assistance programs to pay for housing, heating bills, and groceries?
Still, while a step in the right direction, Equal Pay measures do not address the socio-cultural factors with a huge economic impact. More women than ever are graduating from college and working, yet only 17% sit on powerful corporate boards, lead from the C-suite, or are successful negotiating higher pay. We know STEM fields are the lucrative careers of the future as The Wise Latina Club's Aundrea Gregg argues virtually every week in her education columns. Yet the culture in Silicon Valley, specifically in startups is one of the biggest Bro Fests that many times can be antagonistic to women. The question then becomes not how to reduce the gap in pay but how establish educational and economic policies and practices--including flex work schedules, affordable child care, pipelines tied to performance results and not billable hours--that will make Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Meyer not exceptions but the rule. This is not about affirmative action. Rather, it's about creating best business practices that boost the bottom line.
Which leads me to another hot topic we discussed: Mississippi's Teen Sex Education law. At issue is not what to teach, for example, sex education, abstinence only, or the so-called abstinence plus. Rather, one Oxford teacher used a Peppermint Pattie chocolate to teach what happens to a young woman when she has sex before marriage--she is soiled and dirty. This is not an isolated incident. In Texas, some teachers have compared teenage girls to toothbrushes--clean and unwrapped. More than offensive, I find this hypocritical because the underlying religious agenda criticizes our permissive, liberal society for allowing a hyper-sexualized pop and media culture objectify our young women (Selena Gomez, anyone?). Yet ,comparing them to a toothbrush or chocolate is no different since both reduce young women to static objects, doing little to strengthen values or self-esteem.
Which is what education does. Despite rummaging on search for hours, I couldn't find a link between teaching sex education and teen promiscuity. Rather, the data show that teaching sex education has reduced the rate of teen pregnancy, although a recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) report states that younger teens 15-17 are getting pregnant, with 1,700 a week delivering babies. The recommendation is to reach teens younger to prevent teen pregnancy and the accompanying negative outcomes including high school drop out, lower payer jobs, and dependence of assistance programs to make ends meet. Where are the teachers, superintendents, and the religious agenda to help these teens raise a child, not just for 18 years but for life? Interestingly, the alarm bells in Mississippi weren't sounded by liberals but by the business community that see how these negative outcomes are bad for business and Mississippi's future.
You can click on the links to watch our discussion on teen sex education in Mississippi, the continuing Republican investigation into the IRS scandal that targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for extra scrutiny, and Democrats' focus on voting rights to increase 2014 and 2016 election odds with panelists Slate's Joan Walsh, LeHigh University's Dr. James Petersen, The New York Times Josh Barro, host Karen Finney and I. Click on the video below to watch our Equal Pay conversation which aired on April 13, 2014.If it were up to me, I would lock my nieces in a closet until they are 25. How have you/are you broaching sex education with your teens?