A thriving wage for everyone

Dear President Biden,

So the issue that keeps poking through and grabbing my attention when I have a quiet moment is the press conference you all had on Tuesday about equal pay for women. I read several articles about it and came away feeling a mix of emotions – hopeful, grateful, disappointed, frustrated.

The genesis of my hopeful/grateful feelings is probably pretty easy to guess at – you, Jill, and your administration are paying attention to this fundamental issue, and that’s a really good thing.

My disappointment and frustration is rooted in the lack of attention to how unequal pay affects lower wage working women and women who are heads of their households. It may be that you all did talk about how for many, many (many) women the lack of pay equity means they have to choose between paying for one basic need but not another, but if you did, the press didn’t include those comments in their coverage. I hope you all are tracking on such real world, tangible impacts on women and their families. What got covered instead were Jill’s comments about how it’s less about the money for her and more about how unequal pay conveys disrespect and the US Women’s Soccer team’s fight for equal pay and prize monies. Both these issues – respect and parity with male athletes – are important and should be talked about. Absolutely.

However, it’s critical that the incredibly impactful issues facing women who are barely getting by, or who, frankly, are not getting by, not be left out of the conversation. It’s super important that someone in your administration get on board with centering them. These women aren’t famous and don’t have mega-platforms from which to broadcast their cause and most of them are too busy trying to hold it together to organize or figure out how to get their needs in front of you or whomever you are charging to address unequal pay. So someone in your camp needs to be working to understand their needs and investing in getting those needs addressed.

Also, since I’m at it, I think it’s important to point out that there are two central issues pertinent to lower wage women workers: 1) women still earn less for doing the same job as men, and 2) the jobs that women tend to have that men don’t want or that are seen as “women’s work” are generally low-paying even though these jobs are essential to the well-being of the collective. Neither of these situations is ok and both are contributing to women’s poverty and to children’s poverty. The child tax credit is great and will help a lot of families, but it should in no way let US off the hook on addressing these fundamental fairness issues or dissuade US from figuring out how to bring everyone up to a living, no thriving, wage.

It may seem naïve to insist that we push for fair, living, thriving wages for everyone, but dang it, why not? Why shouldn’t everyone have their work respected and fairly compensated? Why shouldn’t everyone have enough financial stability to be able to thrive rather than setting the bar at bare survival? I would dearly love to hear you and folks in your administration talking this talk and showing US that you’re walking this walk. You have an opportunity to really take this on with your infrastructure package and your EO on equity suggests that you all are capable of infusing that package with norm-busting requirements that would start moving US in a much better direction. I hope you come through on this and I hope you start paying attention to those women for whom equal, equitable pay is a real, dire issue.

May we all be safe and sound.
May we stop thinking small.
May we see that we’ll all be stronger if we foster conditions in which we can all thrive.
May we stop accepting half-measures.

Tracy Simpson

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