A recent national study has painted an unflattering picture of the state of gender equality in the state of Michigan. According to the 2004 Status of Women in Michigan report, women statewide earn on average 67 cents for every dollar earned by men. Michigan’s score is the second-worst, with only Wyoming paying women less. This is a sad report for a state that prides itself on providing equal opportunity for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, income or gender.

Angela Cesere

With Gov. Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow at critical leadership posts, women clearly play a crucial role in the politics of the state. In addition to being active in the political arena, women in Michigan are crucial to the economic vitality of the state. Women own 27 percent of Michigan businesses, and 59 percent of women in Michigan hold jobs — two figures that compare favorably with the national averages.

This makes it all the more surprising that Michigan has lagged so far behind the rest of the nation in creating equal pay opportunities for women in the workplace. These statistics not only reflect poorly on Michigan, but also put the state at risk of losing female workers to states that are willing to pay the money these bright young professionals desire. Michigan’s embarrassingly low national ranking is sure to drive young females to places like Connecticut and Vermont — far more hospitable states when it comes to wage equality.

Despite the troubling figures, Michigan still saw an increase in real wage terms from previous levels. According to the report, in 1996, women in Michigan were making just 62 cents on the dollar. Though the state has made strides, it still has a considerable distance to travel before it approaches the national average.

Even the current national average is by no means a respectable benchmark. The national average for female wages compared to their male counterparts is and has always been embarrassingly low. American women are still only earning 76 cents for every dollar earned by a man. This is in addition to other forms of gender discrimination that remain prevalent in this country. Opportunities for full-time employment are often affected by employer concerns over issues like maternity leave and child-rearing.

These pay discrepancies are a disheartening affront to the ideals of a progressive society. Furthermore, this inequality exists in spite of volumes of national and state legislation passed over the past century designed to ensure political and economic equality for women.

Both the state and the nation need to tackle this problem more aggressively. Progress cannot be allowed to continue at a snail’s pace. The state of Michigan needs to be particularly vigorous in its approach if it is to climb from the status of second-worst in the nation. Otherwise, Michigan will earn a reputation as an inadequate and unequal place for women to find work.

After coming so far since the days of widespread institutional discrimination, we should not be content with the status quo. Michigan and the nation as a whole can and should strive for better.

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