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CSU community talks gender pay gap at panel Monday

Women across the nation make 79 percent as much as men do, according to The American Association of University Women and the Council of Economic Advisers Issues Brief, issued by the White House in April 2015. In Colorado, that number increases to 82 percent, according to AAUW.

In a collaboration between the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and Colorado State University’s Center for Women’s studies and Gender Research, a panel discussed the gender pay gap and the economic status of women at Colorado State University Monday.

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From left: Louise Myrland Nancy Hartley, representing the Women's Foundation of Colorado, CSU feminist economics professor, Dr Alex Bernasek, Colorado Center on Law & Policy's Michelle Webster, and Stephanie Slayton, program manager and advisor forProject Self-Sufficiency share information on the gender pay gap for women and possible solutions during a panel Monday night. (Photo By: Megan Fischer)
From left: Louise Myrland, Nancy Hartley, representing the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, CSU feminist economics professor, Dr. Alex Bernasek, Colorado Center on Law & Policy’s Michelle Webster, and Stephanie Slayton, program manager and advisor for Project Self-Sufficiency share information on the gender pay gap for women and possible solutions during a panel Monday night. (Photo By: Megan Fischer)

The gender pay gap is not only divided by gender, but also by ethnic background and racial identity, according to Louise Mryland, vice president of community  initiatives and investments at the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.

“The two racial and ethnic groups with the lowest earnings are Hispanic women, who earn an average of $30,000 annually, and Native American women, who earn $31,000,” Myrland said.

Caridad Souza, director for women’s studies and gender research, introduced the group of four panelists, which included members from the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, Colorado Center on Law and Policy, a CSU professor in feminist economics, and Project Self-Sufficiency.

“We know from much work that’s been done on gender equity in feminist theory and practice that when we begin with those who are the most marginalized, in this case women of various differences including race, stability, sexual orientation and rank,” Souza said.

Myrland said that Colorado ranks fifth in the country for the percent of women working in STEM occupations, according to a study that the Women’s Foundation of Colorado performed in October 2015 in partnership with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

“In 2016, our efforts are primarily thriving in the areas of improving economic security for low income, single mothers by ensuring they have opportunities to advance their education and training and invest in career opportunities,” Myrland said.

Nancy Hartley, a board of trustees member for Women’s Foundation of Colorado, moderated the panelist talk, with questions form the audience following the panelist discussion.

Dr. Alex Bernasek, a CSU professor of feminist economics, said that even though progress is being made, it is not progressing fast enough.

“I’ve heard these statistics for far too long, and the progress has been far too slow.” Bernasek said.

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Bernasek talked on the cultural devaluing of women and what that means in terms of their work becoming devalued as a result.

Video by Megan Fischer

“It is the unpaid work of care that they (women) are primarily responsible for within our society and the paid work that they do in the labor market as well,” Bernasek said.

Bernasek’s recommendation for a possible solution is to provide for women caring for children. She said that social care would achieve pay equity in the long-term.

“The key to pay equity and to equity in society generally, is to value that work of care, to truly value the work of care, economically, socially and politically,” Bernasek said.

The pay gap in Colorado will close just one year before the gap is projected to close for the U.S., which is projected to happen in 2058, if it continues to close at its current rate, according to Myrland.

“We are headed in the right direction to close the gender wage gap,” Myrland said. “But if progress continues at the current rate since 1960, women in Colorado working full-time, year-round will not earn the same as men until 2057.”

Michelle Webster, manager of research and policy analysis at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, talked about the increase of jobs, but mentioned that the jobs that were added to the economy are jobs making lower wages. and don’t pay self-sufficient wages.

“The median wage is still slightly down than before the recession began (in 2008), and if we look back even farther when adjusting for inflation, wages for the vast majority of workers in the state are still down,” Webster said.

Webster suggested two solutions to the pay-gap problem women face. First, she suggested the need to help single and low-income mothers get the education necessary to be self-sufficient.

“We also need to increase the minimum wage in Colorado,” Webster said. “It will make a huge difference for families across the state.”

Stephanie Slayton, project manager and advisor for Project Self-Sufficiency in Fort Collins, works with single moms through the program to find out how much they need to make in order to maintain a family.

“Imagine her (a mom’s) surprise when she figures out she has to make over $50,000 to take care of her family without work supports,” Slayton said. “The average income for that mom that comes in that door is between $10,000 and $14,000 a year.”

Myrland concluded the panel by encouraging the audience to engage the community in what they learned.

“Pay equity cannot wait,” Myrland said. “If the conversation ends in this room, this will be the same panel you will be sitting in next year.”

Collegian Reporter Megan Fischer can be reached at news@collegian.com or via Twitter @MegFischer04.

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