Loved President Obama’s ringing endorsement of equal pay rights for women in his State of the Union address: he says 77 cents on the dollar for the same work is, in 2014, not only wrong, but an embarrassment. He went on to emphasize the need for working people of both sexes to be able to take off work to care for children or elders. The women in the audience smiled and “high fived,” but I doubt many corporate CEOs are paying much attention to either of these comments.
Solving the equal pay issue is going to take more than political rhetoric–it is going to take nerves of steel. We know that the vast majority of employers are paying women less for the same work and doing so illegally. Because this has been going on for years, there is potentially a vast class-action suit lying asleep in the payrolls of most American companies.
The problem of care looms very large. The bosses of the corporations have become increasingly brutal in their demands for long hours, putting themselves squarely at odds with the society’s need to have healthy families. Our populations are aging all over the world because fertility is dropping. People can’t afford to raise children on one income, yet our workplaces are “like something out of a Mad Men episode,” as President Obama very accurately remarks. So they increasingly choose not to have children at all. What this will mean for pensions and eldercare in the future–well, I don’t even want to think about it.
The situation is a leftover from the exclusive attitudes of 1970s CEOs, who begrudgingly let women into their companies (because they were forced by law), but did so under conditions they knew to be impossible. Those old buzzards sat there and dared us to let on we had children. What else were we going to do besides pretend we had it all (and hope no one noticed we were falling apart)?
Little has changed in this picture. Forty years later, it is just a new generation of old buzzards staring down families everywhere.