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The Wage Gap Means Elderly Women Face Poverty

04/19/2015 11:08 EDT | Updated 06/19/2015 05:59 EDT
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On Monday, April 20, women are encouraged to wear red to mark Equal Pay Day in Ontario. Red was chosen as the official colour to demonstrate the continued inequity of the average annual earnings ledger, showing that females are still "in the red" as compared to their male counterparts.

To date, women still make less than men, the generally quoted differential being approximately 30 per cent less or in the range of 70 cents on the dollar. This is not profound news to the world. The struggle for pay equity harkens back to first-wave feminism during the turn of the 20th century.

Although great leaps have been made since then, the fundamental economic right to receive equal pay for equal work appears to have hit its own ceiling. Hence, Equal Pay Day was launched not only in Ontario and across Canada, but globally. Locales around the world have signed on to document on an annual basis how much longer a woman might have to work to reach the same level of earnings achieved by a man in the previous calendar year. Therefore, each year the date would fluctuate and act as a tracking indicator, with shortening of time pointing toward pay parity and lengthening of time exposing a growing gap.

So how is Ontario tracking? This year, Equal Pay Day falls on April 20th. Last year, it was April 16th, and the previous year, April 9th. It may be too soon to call this a trend, however, some have projected that based on this rate it will take another 50 years or so to reach pay parity. This may be well and good for the female labour force of 2065 and beyond; however, what does the economic profile forecast for working women of today?

We know that women are living longer than men and data underpins this demographic scenario to continue into the future.

We also know that the gender earning disparity calls into question retirement security. A study released in 2013 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) noted a troubling finding for the Canadian pension market.

The report found that "...while old-age poverty fell in 20 OECD countries between 2007 and 2010, old-age poverty in Canada increased by about 2 percentage points over the same period. The biggest increase in old-age poverty occurred among elderly women, especially those who are divorced or separated. Higher poverty among older women reflects lower wages, more part-time work and career gaps during women's working lives, as well as the effect of longer female life expectancy of women, for which many women have not been able to save enough."

Historical data paints a bleak future portrait of single elderly women. When segmented further by such criterion as ethnicity, the forecast presents a graver outcome for women of minority with a higher propensity of this population to live out their end-of-life years below the poverty level.

The majority of women are overrepresented in the service economy or the unofficial economy which is characterized as shift or temporary work devoid of job security or access to pension options. These worst-case scenarios have a high probability of playing out. In fact, many are living these realities now. So what the numbers tell us is that if we continue on our current course then more women will be wearing red deep into their advanced years.

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