Wage and economic discrimination against women costs our economy billions of dollars each year. The Wichita economy alone loses $176 million a year. The wage gap is hurts the nation as a whole, but it is absolutely stifling the Wichita and Kansas economies.
In the last half of the twentieth century, millions of American women began to earn college degrees, join the workforce and earn consistently higher wages. In fact, according to a report by the Council of Economic Advisers in 2015, the economy of the United States is $2 trillion richer than it would have been had women’s economic output stagnated at 1970s levels.
However, around the turn of the century, these new opportunities and economic gains stagnated - American women have actually lost ground. Even worse, in October of this year, the 2016 Wage Data Rule was suddenly and callously frozen by the White House. This rule compelled companies to submit employee data about wages across gender and ethnicity. With the rule gone, employers are free to discriminate - without scrutiny.
Unfortunately, the systematic disenfranchisement of women does not stop there. Many companies have rules requiring long, inflexible hours - such rules disproportionately affect women who are still expected to be primary caregivers as well as breadwinners. Women are forced to choose between the cost of quality childcare, employment or education. And the United States has still failed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment or any kind of meaningful, effectively enforced legislation to protect women in the work force.
These issues are only compounded if a woman becomes disabled, loses a spouse or otherwise suffers from economic insecurity later in life. Simply put, women’s participation is vital for economic growth; and yet, in 2017, huge impediments to their economic participation still remain.
While the situation is dire, there is a solution.
Guarantees for equal pay and protections for women caring for families while working must be passed - whether these are existing laws given back their teeth or new legislation with fangs. We, also, must ensure they stay in place even if the political will of those in elected office fades. Thus, it is hugely important that the E.R.A. finally be ratified.
Without a constitutional amendment to overcome our “two steps forward, one step back” approach to fixing the problem of wage discrimination against women, we will never make progress. Laws are easy to roll back, but constitutional amendments are much, much harder to reverse. Though a few have been undone in the past, with much fanfare and overwhelming support of the people, most weather the storms of change untouched. The passage of the E.R.A. is our best shot at righting the wrongs of the systematic discrimination faced by women.
When the E.R.A. finally passes and women are given equal footing in our economy, the missing $176 million in economic productivity will return to Wichita and it’s surrounding areas - and that benefits every single man, woman and child.