Recent legislative and executive laws hold promise for women’s economic security

New data from the US Census Bureau reveals that the gender wage gap narrowed slightly in 2021. This progress, while modest, reflects the strong economic recovery – fueled in part by the US bailout (ARP) – which has seen women’s employment increase by more than 3 million jobs since the passage of the ARP in March 2021. In another victory for women, the transformative economic achievements of the Biden administration, including the law on Inflation Reduction, Student Loan Relief, CHIPS Act and Science and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act , will help ease the economic pressures of many families and individuals in multiple ways.

Despite these gains, the gender wage gap continues to weigh on women and their families. A large number of women report struggling to pay for day-to-day household expenses, which is not surprising given that women consistently have less money on each paycheck than their male counterparts. To fully realize the potential of recent political victories — and to help alleviate the economic challenges the wage gap presents — the Biden administration and policymakers must prioritize creating pathways for women to access, stay and thrive in the good jobs these wins will help create.

Women continue to struggle to pay for living household expenses, in part because of the pay gap

In 2021, all women, regardless of the number of hours worked during the year, earned 77 cents of every dollar earned by all men. (see Figure 1) In other words, in 2021, the median income of all women was $39,201, or $11,782 less than that of their male counterparts. This income gap is roughly equal to the average household’s combined annual expenditure on clothing, utilities and health care.

The gender pay gap persists, despite some recent progress

84 cents

Amount earned by women working full time, full year compared to every dollar earned by their male counterparts, 2021

77 cents

Amount earned by all women compared to every dollar earned by all men, 2021

Women working full time, full year earned 84 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. And, as usual, black women and Latinas — who are more likely than white women to be the breadwinners, who their families rely on to make ends meet — faced wage gaps again. more important.

Figure 1

Given these numbers, it’s no surprise that the gender pay gap continues to strain women’s finances, and especially those of women of color. Household survey analysis reveals that women, more than men, of all age groups, races and ethnicities, find it difficult to pay regular household expenses, including rent, mortgage, medical bills and student loans. (see Figure 2)

Black and Latina women suffer the greatest financial hardship. And although middle-aged and older women are less likely than younger women to report having difficulty paying bills, they are still more likely to have difficulty paying these expenses compared to their male counterparts. , reflecting the fact that the gender pay gap persists, and even widens, with age.

Figure 2

Recent political victories will help alleviate some financial pressures faced by women and families

The Biden administration’s recent efforts to reduce essential household spending — from medical expenses to student loans to energy costs — will help ease some of the financial pressures women and families currently face:

  • Medical fees: Overall, women spend significantly more on health care than men, and women, especially women of color, are more likely to struggle to afford prescription drugs. That’s why the Cut Inflation Act — which will cap out-of-pocket prescription drug spending at $2,000 a year for Medicare beneficiaries — will transform the lives of older women, who outnumber men under Medicare. The Cut Inflation Act will also allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices and prevent drug companies from taking advantage of Americans, further helping women gain access to lifesaving drugs. In addition, the law will extend the Affordable Care Act’s market-enhancing subsidies through 2025, making it easier for women to purchase health plans on their own and avoid becoming uninsured.
  • Student loans: Women hold about two-thirds of all student debt in the United States. The administration’s Student Debt Relief Plan will provide $20,000 in student debt relief to Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 to those who did not receive Pell Grants. Significantly, the plan also aims to narrow the racial wealth gap, as black women are highly likely from any racial and gender group to hold student debt.
  • Energy expenditure : The Cut Inflation Act will also help women save on energy costs by helping families switch to cheaper electricity for home heating. This will be important for women, especially women of color, who often tend to be breadwinners and primary payers of all household expenses, including their energy bills. The average household will save up to $1,800 per year, and even households that don’t make the switch will save around $1,000 per year and see lower electricity and natural gas prices.

Prioritizing women in implementation will be key to realizing the potential of recent reforms

The Inflation Reduction Act, CHIPS and Science Act and the IIJA will help create millions of good jobs across a range of industries, including construction, manufacturing and clean energy. However, these sectors have always been male-dominated and are prime examples of occupational segregation, a constant driver of the persistent pay gap and economic insecurity for women. Policymakers tasked with implementing these laws must recognize this reality and prioritize addressing these disparities in the months and years to come.

Find out more about occupational segregation

There are obvious opportunities to do so. For example, the Inflation Reduction Act includes additional tax credits for employers who employ registered apprentices, a type of workforce development program that combines hands-on job training with education. in class. The existing pool of registered apprentices is already more diverse than the composition of the construction industry. And strengthening the inclusion of women in apprenticeship programs will go a long way to ensuring that these tax credits disrupt the male-dominated nature of industries that are expected to grow rapidly in years to come. Moreover, those outside of government seem eager for such change, providing opportunities for collaboration. In September, for example, Chicago Women in Trades launched the Women in Infrastructure Workforce initiative, which will bring together key partners to create equity plans for infrastructure in their regions. And as another example, the CHIPS and Science Act includes provisions that provide new resources to understand, prevent, and respond to sexual harassment in the STEM workforce, including the academic STEM workforce; maximizing the impact of these provisions will help women enter and thrive in these fields.

Overall, to realize the full potential of these reforms for women, a whole-of-government approach is needed to ensure that gender equity is central to implementation, including:

  • Recruit more women for training programs in high-paying male-dominated sectors
  • Foster more mentorship, internship and professional development opportunities for women
  • Hold entrepreneurs who receive taxpayers’ money accountable to hire fairly across all male-dominated industries
  • Increase funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs in the President’s upcoming budget to ensure better enforcement of federal anti-discrimination and harassment laws
  • Working to create safe workplaces, free from harassment and violence, for all women


With the pay gap continuing to hurt the wallets of women and their families, policymakers must prioritize women in implementing recent policy victories, which provide an unprecedented opportunity to advance gender equity. in the months and years to come. These efforts will help address the financial pressures women face today and, in doing so, will lay an important foundation to ensure that the women of tomorrow can work and thrive in good jobs.

The authors would like to thank Marina Zhavoronkova and Arohi Pathak for their contributions to this column.

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