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Take It—The 2008 Ask a Working Woman Survey


A woman who spends years in medical school emerges to take her place alongside a panoply of male physicians—who, on average, make 38 percent more than she does. Female attorneys fare better—they make 30 percent less than their male counterparts. But it’s not just a matter of higher pay for men in traditionally male occupations: Male registered nurses are paid 10 percent more than women—even though 90 percent of RNs are women.

This data, from a report by the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees, touches on just one of the many "challenges," to utilize a euphemism, U.S. working women face today.

Working women have lots of concerns. Equal pay. Balancing work and family. Job security. Health care coverage. Paid maternity leave.

The AFL-CIO and our community affiliate, Working America, are providing a chance to share those concerns through our just-launched online 2008 Ask a Working Woman survey [pdf]. The bi-annual survey enables working women to share workplace concerns about such issues as equal pay and stronger family and medical leave laws. (Click here to take the survey and here to share it with other working women.) The Ask a Working Woman survey runs through June 20.

We’ll compile the survey results and give them to candidates running at all levels of public office to help shape the policy agendas of incoming lawmakers.

More than 22,000 women took part in the 2006 Ask a Working Woman survey—with the majority saying they were worried about such fundamental economic issues as paying for health care, not having retirement security and pay not keeping up with the cost of living.

And that was when the economy wasn’t in the sewer. Today, 87 percent of Americans say the economy is getting worse, matching the year’s high. But women are at greater economic risk today than in past recessions, according to a new study. In the past year, women’s real wages fell by 3 percent, compared with half a percentage point for men’s wages.

Other findings include:

  • Women also are disproportionately at risk in the current foreclosure crisis, since women are 32 percent more likely than men to have subprime mortgages.
  • Women have significantly fewer savings to fall back on in a time of economic hardship. Non-married women have a net worth that’s 48 percent lower than non-married men, and women are less likely than men to participate in employer-sponsored retirement savings programs.

And as working moms know all too well, the United States doesn’t make it easy for mothers to raise children. In a selection of 19 countries with comparable per capita income, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found the United States provides the fewest maternity leave benefits in both length of leave and paid time off. That doesn’t include any disability insurance for which mom may qualify.

The U.S. federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which has been the law for 15 years, gives eligible parents 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child. Aside from being unpaid, the leave is limited to workplaces of more than 50 employees, which excludes about 48 million workers. About two-thirds of the women who responded to the 2006 AFL-CIO Ask a Working Woman survey said they don’t have paid family leave benefits.

Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, told a congressional committee last month there are millions of workers eligible to use FMLA but don’t because they can’t afford to take unpaid time off, especially low-wage workers. Said Ness:

Without some form of wage replacement, the FMLA’s promise of job-protected leave is a chimera for too many women and men. In fact, 78 percent of employees who qualified for FMLA leave and needed to take the leave did not because they could not afford to go without a paycheck.

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Tula Connell

Tula Connell