Mark Price, labor economist for the Keystone Research Center (KRC), explains that his organization advocates assistance to American women by raising wage levels at the low end of the labor market through public policy.

Is the recommendation a case of government stimulation or legislative interference?

Price says the move would put additional dollars in the pocketbooks of a broad group of workers. This money would subsequently be spent, stimulating the economy while easing the recession.

“The fact is that employment actually increases as wages rise,” says Price. “We understand that when wages are raised, there potentially will be some short-term pain, and that small business is at a disadvantage when labor costs rise. As with all economic scenarios, there are winners and losers.”

According to Price, the KRC recommendation calls for a minimum wage increase in the $1 to $2-range. He says that this will create the lowest amount of pain for the involved businesses.

“We understand that this is not an easy issue, and that for small business to compete they must find their niche,” he says.

Nate Benefield, director of policy research with the Commonwealth Foundation, questions how many American job losses resulted from the government’s last minimum wage increase.

He says that any attempt to legislate entry-level wages will clearly backfire and prevent employers from hiring more women and teenagers. According to KRC, Pennsylvania lost 10,000 jobs when the minimum wage was last raised, and that the unemployment damage was inflicted primarily on female workers.

“The reality is that an employer will not pay someone more than their value per hour,” says Benefield. “Cutbacks are inevitable.”

Decreasing gap

Sister Jean Messaros, RSM, vice president of student affairs at Miscericordia University, says that the business community’s female inclusion and wage gap are improving and that this is indicative of progress in the overall society.

She adds that it can still be hard to break through traditional “all-boy” networks, and for this to happen education is the key.

“In my case, I came from a coal mining town and joined the Sisters of Mercy where I was educated,” explains Sister Messaros. “If I had not joined, I would probably be back in the same town raising a family and struggling. Education was the key.”

According to Sister Messaros, many of the economic problems identified in the KRC report are the result of family breakdowns. She explains that when a mother must struggle to survive, education is not a priority. With inner city poverty, many women struggle just to feed their children.

She adds that mentoring and multi-cultural programs delivered by successful women are vital to raise the expectations of economically oppressed females. These interactions deliver a message of hope despite any wage legislative action that may occur.

“In regard to lifting the minimum wage, my heart says yes, but I also realize a move like this has deep socio-economic implications,” says Sister Messaros.

Carrie Lukas, vice president of policy with the Independent Women’s Forum, disagrees with the KRC analysis of wage gaps.

Lukas charges that median wages can be misleading, and that it not empowering to dwell on the possibility of wage discrimination. She comments that men and women usually make different employment choices, and that parental tradeoffs with work are a reality.

“Women often choose more nurturing roles such as a teacher and child care worker, because there are different fulfillment factors at work here,” says Lukas. “Women may also seek out less work hours per week due to their family emphasis and want a flexible worklife.”

Lukas adds that women need a community outreach for women to realize their potential, not a government solution.

Disastrous legislation

Kim Hawk, past president of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, declares that governmentally legislated low-end wages can be disastrous and tie the hands of business.

“Entry-level wages are entry level, and only the free market should legislate wages,” says Hawk. “Legislation of this type can be inflationary, and layoffs will be inevitable. This is not the right time to order companies to move their wage scales.”

Hawk says absolutely no sexism exists with the minimum wage, because these jobs are based on their actual physical aspects and tasks. Virtually all of the workers have only a GED or lack a high school diploma despite their sex.

“Salaried positions are the ones with variable wage levels, with pay that is influenced by a supply and demand curve, education and experience,” says Hawk.

Karen Britt, associate professor of business at Northampton Community College’s Monroe Campus, says that a boomerang effect can occur with wage increases because higher pay can also result in higher taxes.

“We therefore must count the real costs of wage increases,” says Britt.

She emphasizes that recession doesn’t recognize gender, and that any lessening of disposable income eventually surfaces as layoffs across the board. Monroe County’s tourism depends on disposable income and because many of these businesses are owned by women, cutbacks that hurt females are inevitable.

“Women serving as a head of household may also hold two or three part time jobs, and when one is lost they can be in deep trouble, including access to healthcare,” says Britt.

She also comments that industry selection is a big topic when economic help for low wage earners is analyzed. She says that educated choices have to be made by females about pursuing lasting jobs, and that society’s needs for skilled laborers and trades from two-year educational curriculums can be successfully exploited.

“Women need professional longevity to ride out the recession by working in jobs where money is available,” says Britt. “Technical-based jobs are therefore a great choice for females.”