Equal Pay, Now

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Today is Equal Pay Day, or the day that marks how many extra days the average US woman must work into 2014, to earn as much as her average male counterpart in 2013. Given this momentous occasion to spotlight gender wage inequality in America, let’s take a brief look at the wage gap, why it matters, and what our President is doing about it today!

Did you know there is a gap inside the gap?

According to US census statistics, the average, full-time, female worker in America makes 77 cents to the dollar of what the average, full-time, male worker earns. But this statistic only refers to White women. The wage gap is far wider and deeper for women of color in the US, who face both a larger disparity in pay deferential and also fewer opportunities to rectify this great imbalance. The average African-American female worker makes 64 cents to the dollar and the average Latino female worker only makes 53! Part of that deferential is related to lower educational attainment among African-American and Latino women. And yet, “you can’t educate your way out of the gap!” Even as higher education raises everyone’s wage, African-American and Latino women continue to earn less than their White peers with the same educational background. This reveals a racial gap, inside the gender gap that may reflect discriminatory hiring practices, disparate access to meaningful employment by neighborhood or region, and disparate opportunities for upward mobility for professional women of color.

There is also geographic variation in the wage gap. Check out this chart to see how your state compares to Washington, DC or Wyoming, the areas with the smallest and largest gender wage gap in the US!

Why does the gender wage gap matter?

Since 1960, the number of women who are the primary wage-earners for their household has almost quadrupled, such that women now comprise nearly two-thirds of the breadwinners or co-breadwinners in their family. And as it turns out, more than 6 and 10 of the women who are the primary breadwinners in their home, are single mothers.

That means, average American families are increasingly depending on the earning power of women to make ends meet.

So when Mom brings home 23% percent less than her male counterparts (remember, that percentage can be as high as 44% less for Latino women), that is less income for everyday needs including healthcare, less investment in our children’s futures and education, and when added over a lifetime of work, significantly less for retirement.

AND, as a pediatrician, I know that children who live in poverty are more likely to have poor health as adults, including increased risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and depression. What is more, there is evidence to suggest that these risks persist, despite changing social class in adulthood. So in many ways, investing in women is also vital to our country’s health and wellness!

So what is today’s big news?

Today, President Obama continued his commitment to the economic empowerment of women by signing one executive order and one presidential memorandum that take the legislative steps necessary to level the pay-ing field for women, well at least, female federal employees. This week the US Senate is also considering the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would extend the standards put forward by the President’s executive order to all employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. To see President Obama’s complete legislative agenda to address gender income inequality click here!

And finally, any quality discussion of income inequality would be remiss to leave out the debate on minimum wage. Suffice it to say, raise the wage! Doing so, would especially benefit women who are more likely to occupy low-wage sectors of the labor force or to participate in part-time work (given many women’s commitment to their education or their growing family). It is also estimated that increasing the national minimum wage may be essential to lifting more than half of our working poor families out of poverty.

As Martin Luther King Jr said in his 1965 commencement address at Oberlin College, “The time is always right to do right.” And for income inequality in America, that time is now.

 

 

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The Myth of the Entitled Single Mother

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There is a disconcerting myth about single mothers that has been circulating in our society for some time. It was popularized in the Regan Era as a denunciation of US social welfare policy and resulted in a pointed caricature of a woman on welfare, forever to be known as the “welfare queen” or the entitled single mother.

The narrative of such a woman goes something like this: Not only is she poor, but worse yet, she is unpatriotic and weak. She is nothing more than the vessel for her lascivious desires as she has child after child out-of-wedlock, abusing the luxury of government aid to ensure herself a life of leisure. Her welfare dependency is as much a result of her moral failings as it is of society’s willingness to foot the bill. If “real Americans” get by on what they make out of their bootstraps, then her crime is never wanting bootstraps at all.

Sound intense? Apparently not for Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who invoked this relic of American political discourse this week to shame single mothers out of their welfare benefits. He was quoted at a Lexington Commerce Meeting as saying, “Maybe we have to say ‘enough’s enough, you shouldn’t be having kids after a certain amount.’ I don’t know how you do all that because then it’s tough to tell a woman with four kids that she’s got a fifth kid we’re not going to give her any more money. But we have to figure out how to get that message through because that is part of the answer.”

It is clear that at a time when both Democrats and Republicans seem primed to address the issue of growing income inequality in our country, the myth of the entitled single mother remains as relevant as ever. That problem is, this false characterization of single mothers, particularly those receiving government benefits, ignores the real lives these working mothers lead, undermines the contribution of women to the American economy, and ultimately prevents society from understanding how government funding should be spent to address income inequality.

The bottom line is, the myth of the entitled single mother separates us from the reality that women are the core of the American economy, including single mothers. In the words of President Obama, “when women succeed, America succeeds.” And the truth is, single mothers are single-handedly controlling the future of America. Let me tell you why.

Women are bringing home the bacon unlike ever before.

Since 1960, the number of women who are the primary wage-earners for their household has almost quadrupled, such that women now comprise nearly two-thirds of the breadwinners or co-breadwinners in their family. And as it turns out, more than 6 and 10 of the women who are the primary breadwinners in their home, are single mothers.

Women are using that money to boost the American economy.

Although some have speculated that women influence anywhere from 70-80% of the consumer spending in their household, it is hard to argue that single mothers don’t control 100% of their household spending. That’s anything from buying cars and computers to purchasing healthcare. With the struggling auto industry, surge in online technology, and new changes in healthcare, that means single mothers are literally at the center of the markets that are defining the ways we live, move, communicate, and stay healthy.

Women are redefining the social contract.

Without a second income in the household, families lead by single mothers are also the most vulnerable to economic stress, and in the words of Maria Shiver’s latest report, many are living on the brink of poverty. Growing income inequality and poverty may be the defining issues of our time. The urgency of these problems require us to push new boundaries. Although the traditional social contract exists between the US government and the people, in which we give the government authority to rule if the government will protect our rights and help us when we fall on hard times; the new social contract defines the relationship between businesses and the people. That if we are to work for you and buy your goods, then businesses must also contribute to the general well-being of society by paying fair wages and providing various benefits (health insurance etc).

To make a long story short, businesses aren’t holding up their end of the deal, and it is time to remind them and raise the minimum wage. It is estimated that doing so may be a real solution to lifting some families out of poverty, many of whom are led by single mothers. And as we know, poverty poses one of the greatest threats to the health and well-being of children in the United States, making it also one of the greatest threats to the health of adults, as most children grow up to be adults.

Taken together, it is clear that our ability to succeed as a nation will be defined by our willingness to support single mothers and their families. Be it through their economic contribution to their community or their role in raising the future leaders of this country, these women are fearlessly facing the adversity in their lives, daring to raise children without Rand Paul’s approval, and working towards a better future for themselves and their families. They are not entitled, they are in need of our utmost regard for enduring despite the odds and we should invest in them. Period.

This post is also being featured on Kevin.MD! Check it out here!

Remembering Newtown

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In the wake of the tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary, it seemed America had finally lost its taste for the spoils of gunfire. Despite what gun lobbyists would have us believe, animals aren’t the only victims of loaded weapons. Guns kill kids. And while the events at Sandy Hook were horrific, only 1-2% of youth homicides occur at school.

The truth is, kids are dying in our neighborhoods.

And just when we finally seemed ready to have a responsible discussion about rights in this country, namely the right to protect ourselves from the tyranny of guns, we wait. We wait for our federal and state legislatures to grasp that the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment can never be placed above the sanctity of precious American lives.

What gives? What other lethal weapons are so protected in this country? Cars require registration and training to operate. Unsafe chemicals require warnings (and if they are particularly toxic their manufacture, distribution, and use are regulated by the government). Cigarettes cannot be sold to minors, are heavily taxed, and many states now prohibit their use in public spaces. New York even considered banning soda because it may kill someone in the future, from complications of diabetes and heart disease (which have been linked to high sugar intake).

In America, it seems, we have no problem placing limits on things we deem a threat to public safety and public health. And yet, we wait on expansive federal and state gun control. And more importantly, while we wait, polls show our collective conscience is losing sight of the urgency of the issue.

Homicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24; and if you happen to be an African-American male, it is the number ONE cause of death. In 2010, 13 kids a day were victims of homicide and more than 80% of them were killed by a firearm. And in the 3 and 1/2 months following Sandy Hook, more than 2,200 lives were lost to gun violence (a number akin to a Newtown every single day since the mass shooting).

The data is clear. People are dying and we have a system that protects gun ownership at the expense of our lives.

Tomorrow, December 14, marks the one year anniversary of the tragedies that took place in Newtown, Connecticut. Despite our nation’s horror and resolve to protect our children from further tragedies, woefully little has been done to prevent it from happening again. To see just how little, check out this New York Times chart. According to their data, it is estimated that 1500 gun laws have been introduced in various states since the massacre and of those, only 109 have become law. Of those 109 new gun laws, 70 loosen gun restrictions, making it easier for individuals to register, conceal, and use firearms in various states across the country. Some of those laws even made it easier to carry concealed firearms at churches, public parks, and schools!

This is outrageous.

It is truly shameful that as we mourned the loss of those precious 26 lives, we at once made it easier for a similar tragedy to occur.

As a pediatrician and child health advocate, I continue to stand with President Barack Obama and the American Academy of Pediatrics in demanding sensible gun reform.

If America doesn’t have a crisis of consciousness over the incredible inaction that has surrounded the death of our children, I am not sure what it will take. I pray that more children don’t fall victim to firearms before we make some changes. It is time to put our children first and prevent further injury and death by taking the responsible steps towards sensible gun reform.

* This article is adapted from a piece I wrote following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. To read the full piece, click here.

* To check out what the American Academy of Pediatrics is doing to respond to gun violence, click here.

The Way

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But somehow I wonder if

Despite their silent exterior

Away from the purview of others

In a darkness all their own

They endure the painful pruning of transition

Of transformation

Old is new

And new is you

And butterflies bleed too.

There are those among us who are treading on unmarked ground, fresh soil devoid of the comfort of patterned steps heralding the way. We are straying from tradition and daring to redefine the boundaries of our professions as we venture in new directions. It is not just that we don’t fit the mould, but that in some ways, we reject the idea of moulds all together.

For me, social justice medicine is the new direction. It is the practice of clinical medicine in a thoughtful way that creates and sustains health equity. It requires community engagement, civic participation, political advocacy, apt use of new media and technology, and interdisciplinary collaboration with local organizations and community leaders. It is essential to build a more just, equal, and free society and so far, it doesn’t really exist.

6 months ago, at the end of my pediatric residency, I took a position as a community pediatrician and have been eagerly piecing together a career in the practice of social justice medicine ever since. Sometimes, in moments of uncertainty, when my mind is quiet enough to admit my fears, I find myself in the throes of a great transition, worried I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going.

In medical school, I took a class called Let Your Life Speak. It was based on a vocational guide by the same title, and it helped medical students identify our gifts and consider potential careers. In the book, author Parker J. Palmer presents the idea of “way” or the path on which each of us walk toward our purpose. I’ve been looking for my “way” since college and as my blog header articulates, it is an ongoing journey. Recently, I found some clarity.

In any hierarchical assent, “way” seems to form in front of you, with each opportunity striding towards the next. But the truth is, that “way” was already there, worn by the feet of others, and ending at a predetermined destination. Sometimes paths are created as “way” closes behind you. When opportunity doesn’t knock, it quietly closes the door, making new, unseen paths available.

To stretch the confines of what it means to be a doctor, I have to stretch my understanding of how to get there. In doing so, it has become clear that “way” is not linear and does not have directionality. It is the iterative process of curiosity, experiment, discovery, and failure that builds the experiences necessary to create an unconventional career. Although the cyclical process of preparation, pruning, and readiness may be difficult, the product will be beautiful and uniquely yours.

But somehow I wonder if

Despite their silent exterior

Away from the purview of others

In a darkness all their own

They endure the painful pruning of transition

Of transformation

Old is new

And new is you

And butterflies bleed too.