Seven years ago – I walked away from a high-paying job. It had been my dream job – but for reasons which included mental health and work-life balance – I walked away from it all.
As I embarked on the world of freelance my first gig paid pennies on the dollar of my previous salary. That was the first time in a long time I had to think twice about purchasing that impulse Diet Coke at the checkout, or grabbing a sandwich instead of warming a can of soup.
Let me tell you – it was humbling, but it was my choice, and I had my husband’s income to bridge the gap. For thousands of North Carolinians – eking by on a monthly budget that doesn’t cover the bills is not a choice.
This week is #WageWeek in North Carolina. It’s a project of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project and the North Carolina Families Care Coalition. The goal of the campaign – working largely through social media – is to raise awareness about the disparities in income in the Tar Heel State.
Seventeen-percent of North Carolinians are living in poverty, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census. One in four children in the state are hungry at home because their parents are paid poverty wages.
Many of us have heard these statistics before, but have you ever really considered them? Have you ever thought about what it really means for families to work a full time job and not be able to pay their basic bills? It’s an issue I’ve heard being addressed in policy discussions at the Democratic National Convention, but it’s time for lawmakers to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. It’s been nine years since the U.S. raised the federal minimum wage. Beyond that, four out of five new jobs since 2009 pay too little to cover basic expenses.
Aside from a lack of jobs that pay a living wage, women and minorities continue to be paid less than white men for the same work. I’ve seen this in my own career. Once in a meeting, I heard my annual salary thrown out as a joke. “Can you believe they’re paying Jane Doe $XX,XXX and she took it?” Turns out, my counterparts were making $25,000 more a year than I was. I threatened to leave, got an offer from a competitor and got my fat raise. What I did not get is the $75,000 they shorted me during my first three years on the job.
Women make 79-cents for every dollar a man makes doing the same job, black women make 64-cents. Latino men make 67-cents of what their white counterparts do.
We need to move past these disparities that sadly seem to be socially acceptable and excused in many circles. If you don’t care because you’re not directly impacted, or because it’s the right thing to do, consider the impact on the economy. Study after study shows that when working class people have a little left over at the end of each month, they spend it in their community. It doesn’t sit in their 401k’s or savings accounts.
So it’s #WageWeek and time for us to wage a war on income disparities. This week we cracked the glass ceiling. Now it’s time to rip it out and soar.