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Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008

Think You Know John McCain?

In McCain’s World, Women Aren’t Equal

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Sure, Republican presidential nominee John McCain chose working mom Sarah Palin as his running mate to help him persuade women that their fortunes would rise in his administration. But how’s that working out in reality?

The duo is famously pro-life and wants Roe v. Wade to be overturned by the Supreme Court (and, once in office, they’d be in a position to nominate new conservative justices who could make that happen). And although McCain has said that he’d allow women to choose an abortion if their health depended on it, or if they had been raped or the victim of incest, the Alaska governor only favors a woman’s right to choose an abortion if her life depended on it. Victims of rape or incest would be forced to carry a pregnancy to term.

And McCain still hasn’t offered a coherent policy statement on whether insurance companies should be required to cover birth control if they also cover Viagra. After stammering in front of reporters and drawing a complete blank in July, he told a crowd in Racine later that month that the decision should be up to the person buying the insurance. Um… would that be the individual? The employer? More details, please.

The Reality of the Gender Pay Gap

But reproductive rights aren’t the only issues on women’s minds this election. Thanks to the falling economy, women are also scrutinizing the candidates’ views on work and family issues. McCain may wish that they weren’t.

In April, the Arizona senator declined to cast a vote on the Lilly Ledbetter bill, which sought to make it easier for women to sue for wage discrimination. (Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton both voted for the measure, while McCain chose to campaign in New Orleans.)

Instead of empowering women in the justice system, McCain argued that female workers need more “education and training” so they can catch up to men. Please.

Although McCain may not take the gender pay gap seriously, millions of working women, their partners and kids do, because they’re feeling the effects of it. Working women earn about 78 cents for every man’s dollar. But millions of working women earn far less than that low benchmark.

According to a Columbia University study:

  • Single women with no kids earn 90 cents for every man’s dollar Married women with kids earn 73 cents for every man’s dollar
  • Single moms earn 60 cents for every man’s dollar

The wage gap is even worse for working women of color. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor:

  • African-American women earn 70.8% as much as all men
  • Hispanic and Latina women earn 58.8% as much 
And to add insult to injury, moms are offered lower starting salaries than childless female job seekers, but prospective employers give dads a bonus.

According to a study by Shelley Correll at Cornell University, mothers looking for work were offered salaries that were $11,000 less than the salaries offered to women who didn’t have kids—for the same job. But dads were offered a starting salary of $6,000 more than men who didn’t have kids, showing that there’s no wage penalty for being a parent— just a penalty for being a mom.

These reports have real consequences for families’ budgets—about $9,575 per year, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. So while the gender pay gap may be treated as a “women’s issue,” in reality it’s everyone’s issue.

Vague Solutions

So what’s McCain going to do about this? McCain apparently supports the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits gender discrimination in wages. But he doesn’t support remedies that would make it easier for women to sue their employers for discrimination.

His other proposals are vague at best. In September, the senator’s advisers met with leaders of the Families and Work Institute and offered his policy proposals. They didn’t have much to go on. According to his advisers, McCain supports the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but he does not want it to be expanded to cover more workers or require that employers offer paid time off to employees so they can look after a sick family member. McCain opposes requiring that businesses offer paid sick days to workers, even though employers would benefit from reduced turnover, a healthier workplace and higher productivity.

McCain supports flexibility in the workplace—fortunately for Gov. Palin, who hasn’t put in much time governing Alaska in the past six weeks. But McCain doesn’t have any specific proposals to make flextime options easier for employers and their workers. The 22-year veteran of the Senate has offered to create a commission that would study it and provide him with more information.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.