Study: Female workers on rise; legislation lags

BY SELMA HAVERIC Staff Writer Women are about to make up the majority of the country’s paid workforce, according to the Shriver Report, released by California first lady Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress. Trends in Illinois mirror those of the national workforce, according to the…BY SELMA HAVERIC

Staff Writer

Women are about to make up the majority of the country’s paid workforce, according to the Shriver Report, released by California first lady Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.

Trends in Illinois mirror those of the national workforce, according to the 2006 Illinois Department of Labor Security annual report. The report also stated that the gap between men’s and women’s labor force involvement in Illinois was 32.8 percentage points in 1970, and only 13.6 points in 2004.

These numbers signal a changing family dynamic. According to the Shriver Report, the number of women in the U.S. workforce means women are more often breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families. In fact, 43.5 percent of families in 2008 had men and women as dual earners.

Craig Olson, professor of labor and employment relations, said he believes women’s increasing participation in the workforce has affected men, women and families alike.

“I think it has an effect on potentially everyone in the labor market,” he said.

He added that any change in the way families function will likely be a gradual shift.

In 1975, 44.7 percent of families with children under the age of 18 had only a husband who worked. In 2008, this number decreased to 20.7 percent.

This means the government should be making legislation to reflect the changing face of the American workforce by making work more female-friendly, according to the Shriver Report.

Lisa Pickert, former vice president of Feminist Majority at the University and 2009 graduate, said she believes the government is not legislating properly to accommodate working women.

“Things like paid maternity leave, childcare options, those are all important. They could and should happen but I don’t see that as something that has been legislated,” she said.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the U.S. falls two weeks short of the International Labor Organization’s basic minimum standard of at least 14 weeks general leave, and provides the fewest maternity leave benefits when compared to 19 countries with comparable per capita incomes.

Sharra Vostral, professor of gender and women’s studies and history, believes the government should standardize leave so men and women can take it at the same time to care for newborns.

“All people who are working, whether they are men or women, want more flexibility. They want to be able to set their own hours,” she said.

Though women have undoubtedly made progress — they made up only 32 percent of the workforce in 1964, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — some people believe women and men are not on a level playing field.

Brittany Carbonara, senior in LAS and president of Feminist Majority, said American workplace laws were created and are enforced through sexist norms.

“It’s extremely problematic that the U.S. government will still not recognize the changing dynamics of the workplace, gender and sexuality,” she said.

Pickert said although the increasing number of women in the workforce is a step in the right direction, women workers are not equal to their male counterparts.

“The wage difference needs attention. That is a huge deal, especially with more women in the workforce there needs to be an equal wage,” she said.

According to the Shriver Report, women today earn on average 77 cents to the man’s dollar.

“The wage difference is the biggest problem, and that’s something that the government can tackle and can legislate for. It would apply to all women in the workforce, not just those who are mothers and have families,” Pickert said.

She said many careers are still male-dominated, and there should be more incentives and opportunities for women to enter nontraditional career paths.

Vostral said in order to continue toward the end goal of gender equality in the workforce, change has to take place on a lot of levels, from protests to change within everyday interactions at the office.

“Those things constantly have to be pushed,” she said.