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Julianne Malveaux

Women Get Unequal Pay for Equal Work

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(NNPA) When John and Ann started working on January 1, 2013, John had an immediate advantage. Because women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn, it took Ann until last Friday [April 11, 2014] to earn the same amount of money that John earned in the calendar year of 2013.

The issue of unequal pay is so important that President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act 50 years ago. While we have come a long way, baby, the pay gap has remained stubborn. This is why President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act as soon as he assumed office.

This year, to commemorate National Equal Pay Day (that’s the day Ann finally earns as much as John), the president signed an Executive Order protecting workers from retaliation when they speak of unequal pay in the workplace (one of the ways employers can maintain unequal pay is to make discussing pay grounds for firing). The president, through the Secretary of Labor, is also requiring federal contractors to provide data on pay, race, and gender to ensure that employers are fairly paid. Furthermore, the Senate is considering the Paycheck Fairness Act, which may pass the Senate, but not the House of Representatives.

We know all about John and Ann, but what about Tamika? If women earn 77 percent of what men earn, what about African American women? Women surely have come a long way, but some are moving far more slowly than others. How many African American women are there in the Senate? Among Fortune 500 leaders? In other positions of power? What about pay? African American women earn about three quarters of what other women earn, meaning that if it takes Ann until April 11 to catch up with John, It will take Tamika until about June 1 – about another six weeks – to catch up. Tamika earns in 18 months what John earns in 12 months.

Even African American women with the highest levels of education experience these differences. White men with a postgraduate degree earn a median salary of $1,666 a week African American women earn a median salary of $1,000 during the same time period. For all the talk of pay equity and paycheck fairness, the status of African American women is largely ignored.

It wouldn’t take much for the president, or some of those feminist groups who support paycheck fairness to throw in a line or two about African American women. Nor would it hurt African American organizations, especially those who serve Black women, to point out this injustice. Are African American women invisible? Don’t we count? African American women raise the majority of our children, and shoulder many of the challenges in the African American community. Ignoring us in a conversation about unequal pay simply marginalizes our experiences and us.

The focus on “overall” data is yet another way of marginalizing not only African American women, but other people of color well. Reporting aggregate data gives some notion of economic progress. Reporting specific data about African American women and men makes it clear, for example, that African Americans experience depression-level unemployment rates.

I was delighted when President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act, and I have been privileged to hear Ledbetter speak on more than one occasion. She is an amazing woman with a talent for “breaking it down.” When she learned that men doing the same job she did earned more money, she cried “foul” but the law said it was “too late” for her to complain. In her inimitable way, she said that grocers did not charge her less money because she was female, nor did doctors, or anyone else. She said that higher-paid men didn’t have to make uncomfortable choices about which child would get new shoes or clothes.

African American women can tell the same story as Lily Ledbetter. Indeed, the gaps African American women are likely to be more severe than the ones Lily Ledbetter faced. The pay gap for African Americans is larger and too many live in food deserts where the cost of food is higher even as the quality is lower.

Lily Ledbetter deserves the limelight she earned because she brought this matter to the president’s attention. There’s a Black woman out there who can tell a similar or more compelling story. She, too, needs to be lifted up. We ought to know her name, see her name on a piece of legislation. Ledbetter is an ordinary shero, a working class woman who stood up for her rights. She reminds us that, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “You don’t have to be great to serve.” We need a sister to remind us that we don’t have to be elected, appointed, or anointed to make a difference.

When African American women are marginalized, so are our girls. They are left with the mistaken impression that we have not fought for our rights. We’ve been fighting and fighting, but somehow the story of a sister struggling is too unremarkable to be noted by the media.

Race and gender continue to shape the opportunities that African American women have, and race and gender continue to marginalize us Black women. When do African American women have equal visibility in the policy and imagery arena? When we demand it and when we stop applauding our own marginalization.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

The Audacity of Voting

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(NNPA) I love voting. Every time I go into the booth, I see little girl me, pigtails and all, plaid skirt, white blouse and green sweater, part of my Catholic school uniform. Most of my relatives were Democrats, though my grandmother voted Republican a time or two because “Lincoln freed the slaves.” In 1960, I had the privilege of pulling the lever to elect John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the candidate that the nuns at Immaculate Conception Elementary School rhapsodized over.

On the way back from the polls, my mom told me that Negroes (as we were called then) didn’t always get to vote, and she shared facts about grandfather clauses and poll taxes. I’ll never forget that moment, which may have sown the seeds of my activism. Indeed, when I went to school the next day, and the nun asked if everyone’s parent had voted, I took the opportunity to share that Negroes did not always get to vote. I was sent home with a note at the end of the day, and got an admonition from my mom about keeping my big mouth shut. I guess I didn’t learn my lesson.

I guess everyone doesn’t like voting as much as I do. Only a quarter of those eligible to vote in the District of Columbia did so. Some blamed the earliness of the primary (only Illinois had an earlier date, on March 26, and some states have primary elections as late as September); others spoke of the inclement weather the weekend before the election as affecting voter turnout. But when I am reminded that Fannie Lou Hamer was almost beat to death because she registered voters, and Medgar Evers was killed because he worked to secure voting rights for Black people, I am infuriated by those who take a pass on voting. How does a little snow on Sunday keep you from going to the polls on Tuesday? The fact is that too many African Americans play into enemy hands whenever they fail to vote.

Now the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law (www…lawyerscommitt.org) has produced a “Map of Shame” that highlights more than a dozen states that engage in voter suppression, either by requiring picture ID, consolidating polling places so that people have to travel further to vote, or passing other restrictions on voting.

Unsurprisingly, most of these states are in the South, but Northern states such as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania have also made it more difficult for voters. North Carolina is so bad that Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP, has been leading hundreds outside the state capitol weekly for “Moral Mondays” design to draw attention to the immorality of voter suppression. In a recent decision, the Supreme Court has now made it easier to purchase votes on First Amendment grounds, with the amount that the wealthy can give increasing exponentially. In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that the limit on contributions is unconstitutional. McCutcheon is not shy about explaining why he wants to spend more money. He wants to ensure that the law embraces conservative principles.

It is interesting that the McCutcheon decision comes in time to influence this election cycle. With this decision, the Supreme Court has made it easier to purchase an election. With limits on PAC money lifted, the court has created a well-funded monster. There is more than one way to suppress the vote, and this court is determined to silence citizens any way they can. They have nullified a key section of the Voting Rights Act. They’ve made it possible to pour money into campaigns. In many ways they have attempted to shut people up, or at least skew the playing field in favor of the wealthy.

Rev. Jesse Jackson says that the hands that picked peaches can also pick presidents. We can’t pick anything if we don’t get to the polls. Voter suppression and well-funded opponents are obstacles to voting. Still, we impose some of the obstacles on ourselves.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

An Attention Span Beyond Flight 370

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(NNPA) If you missed the news about the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean, you must have been buried in sand. For three weeks, we have been bombarded with theories – was it terrorism? Pilot error? Something else? Now the story has evolved. Were pieces of the plane found? Is everyone dead? How do the families of the presumed dead feel? (This is a really stupid question. How does the clueless reporter asking such a question think the people feel?)

CNN may well have been called MPN – the Missing Plane Network. An evening of watching covered the same angle with a different host and guests. Some of the focus was certainly understandable, but other networks managed to find news of things going on that did not involve Flight 370. Still, the prevalent and relentless emphasis on the missing plane was excessive.

Couldn’t some of the airtime granted Flight 370 have been used for equally critical matter? There were 239 people on that plane, and there were more than 300 killed in 2013. I’m not suggesting an equivalency in the two types of tragedies, but I am suggesting that the media might focus more on gun violence, its sources and possible solutions to end senseless violence. Of course, that might anger the National Rifle Association whose specious slogan – guns don’t kill, people do – ignores the harm done by the proliferation of guns in our nation.

President Obama has challenged our nation’s educators to increase the percentage of young people attending and graduating from college, so that we might better compete with other industrialized countries. People applaud at these sentiments, but these educational goals get little media attention. Yet, such coverage would raise an important issue and, perhaps, push us toward solutions.

I do not begrudge the extensive coverage of Flight 370. The disappearance of a plane is both a mystery and a tragedy. But the excessive coverage of Flight 370 reminds us of the power of the media. If something is repeated enough, and repeatedly enough, it wiggles its way into our consciousness. Thus, the pilots have been tried and convicted by media speculation, without anyone actually knowing what happened.

What if such repetition were used to highlight some of our nation’s most serious social and economic challenges. What if we could get a couple of networks, just for a week, focus on reading proficiency, or the environment, or poverty and inequality? Perhaps we can’t focus on these issues because we can’t agree on their causes, not when the likes of Rand Paul are running around excoriating the poor and the unemployed every chance he gets. Or with, despite this long and frigid winter, the global warming deniers won’t give any ground.

The media is used to rivet attention toward an issue or challenge. Unfortunately, it has rarely been used for good, although it could be. What if viewers demanded that there is some focus on essential issues? What if there were a media campaign to encourage children to read more, and encourage parents and teachers to encourage this reading. Such a campaign might include paid advertising, but much of it might be driven by news stories.

May I have your attention please? Might I have your attention about poverty and unemployment? May I have your attention about the status of our young people? What about the literacy issue? The paucity of open space in some cities?

May I have your attention about the importance of getting out the vote? I want your attention about the effectiveness of standardized tests. I need your attention on the automobile manufacturers who sell defective cars and take a whole three years to recall them.

In the wake of the Flight 370 tragedy we will learn, undoubtedly, about those who lost their lives because of the tragedy. Only rarely, however, will we learn about the most recent victim of gun violence. May I have your attention? Please.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

A Proud Black Feminist

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(NNPA) In a world that is dominated by men, especially White men, feminism is, for me, an empowering concept. It is a movement, which in the United States, according to Wikipedia, is aimed at “defining, establishing and defending equal social, economic and political rights for women.”

It is certainly possible to argue that women have come a long way, but while we out-enroll men in college attendance, we don’t out earn them, no matter our level of education. We don’t out-represent them in elected office, or even in the higher echelons of employment, such as the Fortune 500 corporations. Women are doing better than we ever did and we still have a long way to go.

The feminist movement shows up differently in the African American community. Our nation’s antipathy toward Black men suggests that men of African descent are not the same oppressors that White men are, bearing the burden of oppression themselves. At the same time, who rapes and beats and Black women. Dare I say that the oppressors of African American women are likely to be African American men? Do I dare say that sisters need to step up and raise their voices without risking the inevitable backlash that comes from Black men? When African American women embrace the title “feminist” we are somehow seen as attacking Black men. Actually, we are simply standing up for ourselves and for our communities.

African American people can’t fight the war against racism if half of the army is disabled. We can’t fight for our boys and, yes, our girls unless more of us speak up, stand up, and surround our babies with tender loving care. We can’t build whole and healthy communities unless the needs of both women and men are addressed. President Obama has addressed “My Brother’s Keeper. Who will be my sister’s keeper?

When African America women, and especially our young girls, see attention focused on Black men, won’t they wonder, “What about me?” All of our young people are under attack, but while Black men explode into riveting headlines, Black women implode eating too much (obesity among us is nearly 50 percent), giving too much, and not taking care of self at all. Who takes care of these women and reminds them that it is ok to stand up for themselves?

That’s why through it all, I stand firm on my feminism. I want women to know that they are enough. I tell young women that men are like icing, and women like cake. You can have cake without icing, but not icing without cake. Nobody is kicking our brothers to the curb, and women need the affirmation that they are okay, partner or not, child or not. And that we, women, can lean on our sisters, and ourselves when other support is not there.

Of course, we are inextricably intertwined, the women and the men and the children who must support each other and live out our dreams in tandem. These dreams only work in tandem when the dreamers consider themselves equal partners in this game called life. The same patriarchy that allows White men to oppress women shows up in a twisted form when Black men, with much less power than White men, oppress women.

During this Women’s History Month, I write in the name of Maria Stewart, a sister who, in the early 19th century, spoke about women’s rights and supported the anti-slavery movement. She was the first American woman who spoke to a mixed audience of men and women (according to Wiki and other Internet sources) and the first African American woman to speak about women’s rights. She started her professional life as a maid, and ended it in Washington, D.C. as a teacher and a matron at Freedman’s Hospital. In the middle, she shook it up, earning both the respect and the ire of her colleagues.

If you stand on the shoulders of Maria Stewart, you are undergirded by this amazing feminist who took to the stage before the White Grimke sisters did. What price did she pay? How was she affected?

Even as we passionately support Black men we must, in the name of Maria Stewart, embrace and support Black women. We lift as we climb. Let’s lift us all!

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Obama Keeps Promise to Use 'Power of the Pen'

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(NNPA) During his State of the Union address, President Obama promised to use the power of his pen to achieve the policy objectives that Congress continues to block. After advocating fairness and being rebuffed by Congress, the president chose to use the power of his pen to require federal contractors to pay workers at least $10.10 per hour, or $21.800 per year. That puts a single parent with two children below the poverty line.

Now the president is using the power of his pen to ensure that workers receive overtime pay. Currently, the only workers required to receive overtime pay are those who earn $445 a week, about $11 an hour or $23,000 per year. The president has proposed that that amount be raised to somewhere between $550 and $970 a year. Splitting the difference means that those who earn about $760 a week or $39,500 a year would be entitled to overtime.

Already the business lobby has said that both a higher minimum wage and mandatory overtime cuts into their profits. Already they have talked about cutting the number of workers they will employ, and the number of hours they will employ people. These greedy corporate giants fail to note that while wages and salaries for the top one percent soared by nearly a third in the past three tears, the wages of those in the remaining 99 percent rose by a fraction of one percent in three years. A worker earning $30,000 a year saw her wages rise to $30,300; someone earning $300,000 a year saw his wages rise to $396,000.

Clearly, those who earn $30,300, if not poor, are a stone’s throw away from poverty. These are the folks who struggle from paycheck to paycheck, who make decisions about whether to buy their children new shoes or pay the cable bill. These folks aren’t trying to purchase luxuries, and they aren’t looking for handouts. They just want to live decently, with enough food on the table, with bills paid, and with a little breathing room. These are folks who don’t take vacations. Luxury for them may mean a couple of days off to visit neighborhood parks. Summertime, when the living is easy for children, may be a burden to those parents who can’t afford childcare.

With his effort to reduce income inequality and improve the lives of those at least the President is moving in the right direction. Unfortunately he can’t get enough members of congress to follow, because they are committed to obstructionism. Aren’t there poor people in these republican districts? Are they willing to sacrifice the well being of their constituents to hold fast to party principles? Researchers should look at the levels of poverty in each Congressional district and shame these miscreants into doing the right thing.

Republicans forget, and some Democrats fail to argue, that increasing the economic well being of those at the bottom improves the nation’s economic status. Those at the bottom will use added wages to pay bills, to buy some of the things they’ve put off purchasing, to pump money into the economy. In contrast, those at the top are likely to save their money or invest it, failing to spend enough to trickle down their spending to benefit those at the bottom.

It is said that a rising tide lifts all boats. But some folks are riding a luxury yacht, while others are struggling to survive on a raft. The rising tides argument only works for those at those at the top who have seen their wages grow dramatically. Those at the bottom are barely floating on a tottering raft that has dozens of holes, as evidenced by their small pay increases, low wages, and lack of overtime.

To the extent that President Obama has the power of the pen he can both improve the lives of those at the bottom, but also remind us of the meaning go fair labor standards. This is a conversation our nation has not had in awhile. We have been content to let the wages of those at the bottom continue to drift downward, while using tax policy and fiction (rising tide) to enrich those at the top. What does it take to sensitize those at the top to the plight of those at the bottom? The Occupy movement looks better by the day.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

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