‘Honey, I shrunk your rights.” With my electro-religious ray gun. Whoopee. Sincerely held corporate religious beliefs trump human rights, the Supreme Court has ruled. Use caution making whoopee.
Bosses are watching – right now, 82 companies, nonprofit groups and universities are looking to exclude contraception coverage from employer-provided insurance. If your boss objects to birth control, forget your right to reproductive health care.
Contraception – the separation of sex and pregnancy – changed human history every bit as much as the separation of church and state. Biology as destiny? Not anymore. Of course women’s remarkable strides in education, jobs and careers followed the widespread availability of safe, effective birth control. Absent control over pregnancy, it’s impossible for women to plan their lives. (Unless they give up heterosexual sex. So, straight guys, if you think Supreme Court decisions on birth control don’t affect you, think again).
According to University of Michigan researchers, “the Pill” – invented in 1954 but not available in all U.S. states to unmarried women until 1965 – has permitted millions of women to delay pregnancy, complete their college educations and join the workforce. Women – and, by extension, their families – enjoy a 2 percent to 3 percent wage premium for each year the first pregnancy is delayed. (In contrast, Mom, your first kid costs you more than $1 million in lost income over your working life.)
Women’s additional education and on-the-job experience compound over time so that by their 40s, women who’ve used birth control earn roughly $2,200 more per year than women who haven’t. It’s obvious that contraception is essential to domestic economies.
Doubling down on women’s insignificance, the high court justices say, “Honey, I shrunk your paycheck.” With my anti-labor ray gun. Hip-hip hooray. Public-sector union busting. And it’s just such a bummer that the wage-deadening, benefits-gutting effects are worse for women.
In the day, private-sector unions were more prevalent than public-sector unions. Back then, industries like construction, automobile and manufacturing were the labor movement’s core.
That’s no longer true. Today’s typical union worker is more likely to be a teacher, public safety officer, office worker or food or service industry employee. And there are far more of these jobs in the public sector (federal, state and local governments) than in the private sector.
Women hold 58 percent of full-time jobs in state and local governments, but only 42 percent of full-time jobs in the private sector. Among public-sector workers, 35 percent are unionized. Only 7 percent of workers in the private sector are in unions. These unions significantly improve women’s economic status.
Unionized women earn 27 percent more per hour than women who are not in unions ($24.68 per hour compared to $19.38). The impact of unions on women’s wages is strongest in the lowest-paid occupations, such as hotel and office cleaners, child-care workers and health aides. By raising wages at the bottom, unionization cuts the gender wage gap by nearly 50 percent.
Among union members, women working full time earned almost 91 percent of what their male counterparts earned. Their wage gap is only 9 cents. Among non-union workers, women working full time earn only 81 percent of what their male counterparts earn. This wage gap is 19 cents.
For women, the union bonus goes well beyond pay. Women who belong to unions are more likely than non-union women to receive health insurance through their jobs, participate in employer-sponsored retirement plans and have paid sick time, vacations and holidays. Make no mistake – public-sector union-busting is the latest weapon of mass destruction in the war on women.
“Honey, shrunk you.”
Susan Feiner is a professor of economics and women and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine. She can be contacted at: