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The Pay Gap Remains a Major Hurdle for Women

Yes, even in 2023.

By Megan McDonald July 5, 2023 Published in the July-August 2023 issue of Sarasota Magazine

The numbers don't lie: We have a long way to go before the pay gap between men and women is closed. A 2020 report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Sarasota County found that according to data from 2018, white women in Sarasota County earned 77 cents for every dollar a man earned. That discrepancy is even more stark for women of color: Black women in Florida are paid 60 percent of men’s wages and Hispanic women are paid 59 percent of men’s wages, according to a report by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

The pay gap doesn’t just affect women currently in the workforce. The AAUW also found that women reported a median retirement income of just $13,792, while men’s median retirement income was $24,289. If a woman is paid a low wage while she’s working, there’s a domino effect. Down the line, her Social
Security payments, retirement savings and overall wealth will suffer, too.

“The ability to earn a living wage is a big issue in our community,” says Ashley
Brown, president and chief executive officer of the Women’s Resource Center, which aims to empower local women and offers classes on financial health, among many other topics. Brown began volunteering at the center after she moved to the area 25 years ago and started working there because she felt so connected to its mission. “Our goal is to start conversations with women earlier. Talking about asset-building and how women are setting themselves up for long-term security is so important,” she says. “People don’t learn this in school. If you’re struggling, especially financially, everything seems overwhelming.”

The pandemic complicated everything, Brown says. “I think women were impacted more than men because of having to juggle homeschooling and caregiving and layering in working from home,” she says. “On top of that, when you think about the service industry and the sales industry, women are overrepresented in that work population, and those industries took a hit during the pandemic.” Brown adds that “none of this takes away from the fact that there are men struggling, as well—but women are disproportionately struggling more.”

Case in point: According to a 2023 United Way report, nearly 80 percent of families led by single mothers in our area were living below the
so-called ALICE threshold—the bare minimum families need to get by.

So what can be done? Just talking about the issues is a good place to start, Brown
says. “There’s nothing worse than shame,” she says. “Destigmatizing the topic is a piece of what we do. Vulnerability and authenticity are important. I think women have a huge opportunity to drive conversations around dinner tables and community tables and ensure we’re talking about what’s really important. How can we ensure that women are getting the training and education to make a living
wage? Do we have affordable housing and child care? We can’t expect our affordable housing to be all the way out east and for people in our service industry to drive an hour to work every day. Women are uniquely suited to lead that conversation.”

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