MADISON, Wis. — According to national research, a 22 percent gender pay gap makes today Equal Pay Day for women, recognizing the extra days and months a woman must work to earn a 2016 salary equal to a man. One Wisconsin Now Program Director Analiese Eicher noted that the gender pay gap highlighted today also means greater student loan debt burdens for women as a percentage of their income and longer repayment terms.
“That it takes a white woman on average over four months longer for her annual pay to reach the same level as a man is appalling,” said Eicher. “And the economic ripple effects of this shameful disparity include women being even more burdened by the student loan debt crisis.”
The Economic Policy Institute research found a double digit wage gap exists, even while controlling for factors that also may affect earnings like race and ethnicity, education, experience, and location. Research further shows that women are paid less than male counterparts even in occupations that have traditionally been filled by women. And women with advanced degrees are still, on average, paid less than men who have only earned an undergraduate degree.
According to data analyzed by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), gender pay disparities also resulted in student loan debt repayment disparities. Men who graduated from college in 2008 paid off over 40 percent of their student debt between 2009 and 2012, while women barely topped 30 percent. That disparity exists despite significantly larger percentages of women than men, 53 percent versus 39 percent, devoting a percentage of their income to paying off their student debt that is more than what an individual could “reasonably afford.” AAUW also found even larger pay gaps for women of color, meaning even more struggles in dealing with their student loan debt burden.
Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature repealed a state equal pay law, leaving Wisconsin as one of only five states in the nation without one. Under the provisions of the law women could have sought redress in state courts for being paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same work.
Eicher noted that the higher education policies of Walker and the GOP are also doing women no favors in trying to close the student loan debt gap. Wisconsin under Walker is in the top five in the nation in percentage of college graduates with student loan debt, and that debt is, on average, nearly $30,000. Among the factors driving student debt higher are Walker and the GOP’s cuts to the University of Wisconsin and technical colleges of nearly $1 billion, double digit tuition hikes and woefully underfunded financial aid that leaves tens of thousands of eligible students without any help.
In addition, legislation that would help women and men lower their student loan debt payments by helping them refinance their loans, just like you can with a mortgage, has been blocked by Walker and the GOP controlled legislature.
She concluded, “Women and their families ought to be able to expect that they’ll get the same pay for doing the same work as men. And we ought to be able to expect the hard work and personal responsibility it took to get an education results in a fair shot at the middle class. On both counts Gov. Walker and the legislature that supports his backwards policies are failing Wisconsin women.”
One Wisconsin Now is a statewide communications network specializing in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.