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More education fails to close the pay gap

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The average American woman cannot catch a break. And in today’s tough economy that has more and more families in trouble.

Nearly 50 years after passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women continue to earn only 77 cents on the dollar. In this recession, with women now making up half of the work force and more and more families relying on a woman’s paycheck to make ends meet, ensuring that women are paid fairly is more important than ever.

The American Association of University Women’s Behind the Pay Gap research shows that just one year out of college, a woman working full-time already earns less than her male colleague, even when they work in the same field. Ten years out, the wage gap is even larger.

According to a 2009 U.S. Census Bureau report, women are required to seek increasingly higher degrees, if they hope to equal the pay of their less-educated male peers. And we know that the cost of education has skyrocketed far beyond the pace of inflation.

We know from recent data that public and private colleges alike are increasingly dependent on tuition. A recent Government Accountability Office report found that net tuition and fees rose from 16 percent to 22 percent of total revenue at public colleges and universities, and jumped 11 points from 29 percent to 40 percent at private nonprofit institutions from 1999 to 2009.

That money is coming right out of the pockets of women and their families, as they attempt to increase their education level and upgrade job skills. And that task is getting even harder as many states are cutting back on support for public colleges.

President Obama has proposed an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund to address this problem. It would train 2 million workers for well-paying jobs in high-demand industries like health care, transportation and advanced manufacturing. The proposal, however, needs congressional approval, which seems unlikely during an election year.

A woman pays exactly the same for her college education that a man does. That debt load is especially hard on women. They earn less, yet have just as much, if not more, in student loan debt for the extra degrees they need to keep up.

Equal pay for equal work is not only an issue of fairness, but would go a long way toward helping women — and their families — break even.

Donna Seymour

Potsdam

The writer is communications director for AAUW-NYS, a member of the national AAUW-Voices Project and the St. Lawrence County Branch, AAUW.

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