In North Carolina, about two-thirds of women are breadwinners for their families and therefore play key roles in the state’s economic stability, said Jocelyn Frye, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
“There is a common interest in making sure women are paid fairly because that makes the difference in whether families are making ends meet," she said. "So the narrative that this is solely a women’s issue isn’t accurate — pay discrimination isn’t just about one segment of the population."
Frye said she thinks these issues are particularly important in North Carolina and for university students.
“The reality is students are grappling with the future, work opportunities, student debt and beginning to start their families, and the wage gap can mean lost earnings and income that’s important to young people and families as they try to make ends meet," she said.
Among UNC federal aid recipients, the average gender wage gap 10 years after enrollment was over $15,000, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.
Changes in North Carolina’s economy in the past few decades are one part of the gap, said Tazra Mitchell, vice president of North Carolina Women United, a progressive nonprofit coalition.
“The manufacturing, middle-class jobs that didn’t require a lot of education have been replaced by hospitality and retail jobs that don’t pay enough to sustain a family’s needs, and women are more likely to be in those positions,” Mitchell said.
Nielson said another piece of the gap is how parents are treated in the workplace in the U.S.
“Women who become mothers are penalized in their pay — especially single women — while fathers tend to be paid more," she said. "I don’t think women can have equal pay or standing in this country until we recognize that motherhood and raising children is something we value in this country."
Mitchell said women have made great strides in the past few decades, but they cannot take their finger off the pulse of this issue.
“If I had a baby tomorrow, that baby girl wouldn’t achieve pay equity until she’s in her thirties. That will set her back, set her family back for years to come and affect her ability to save for retirement and put her children through school. We can’t afford that in our economy and in our communities.”