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Closing the gender pay gap could be critical in reducing California homelessness

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The knot of issues that contributes to child poverty in the U.S. has many strands. The increase in the Child Tax Credit during the pandemic was said to have helped reduce child poverty across the country by 50%. Closing the gender pay gap could also help. And a new report shows that doing so will decrease homelessness among women in California by 40%.

To talk more about that, we're joined now by Holly Martinez, the executive director of California's Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. Welcome.

HOLLY MARTINEZ: Thank you so much for having me, Ailsa.

CHANG: Well, thank you for being with us. So this is really interesting. Why is it that pay equity and not just higher pay in general, why would equity make a real difference when it comes to homelessness in this state?

MARTINEZ: I think it's really important that we look at equity as an issue that affects all women and all of the state of California. One thing we learned from the California Blueprint for the women's economic recovery is that the economy is not gender neutral and that the growth and recovery of our state requires that we look at the economy through a gender lens.

CHANG: Right. And I mean, some of these statistics about the gender pay gap are staggering. Like, I'm looking here, this finding that it could take 135 years until California reaches pay equity. Is that right?

MARTINEZ: It is, unfortunately. So many of the women who went into the pandemic are actually struggling to return to the workforce, especially in industries like education, retail, health care, child care. Women were already experiencing a significant gender wage gap in California - 78 cents to the dollar. And as we look to solutions, some of the solutions that we're looking at in California really look more at pay transparency. How do we uncover where women are being predominantly paid lower wages? How do we bring conversation and solutions to those practices and businesses so that we are employing women equitably at every level of the pay band?

CHANG: A lot of measures that seek to promote equitable pay are aimed at women in general, right? But as we've been mentioning, there are groups of women, like Latina women, who are disproportionately impacted. I'm reading here that, like, they only earn 54 cents to the dollar in comparison to white men. Meanwhile, white women fare a bit better, earning 73 cents to the dollar. What should be done to better ensure the needs of women in specific communities as we're thinking about pay equity for all women?

MARTINEZ: I believe we really need to generate pathways for all women and sort of blow up pipelines. You know, this idea that everyone sort of has to funnel through, get in line, single file into the next opportunity is sort of an antiquated way of thinking. And I think we really need to understand what are all the ways in which we can create upward mobility for every woman through the intersectional lens of race and gender, especially at a time where we're seeing that the pandemic has really hurt women's participation in the workforce pretty significantly.

CHANG: So I know that, you know, we've been talking about pay equity, but a huge issue in California is housing affordability. How can the state work to alleviate affordability challenges so that families don't get to the point of homelessness in the first place? What do you think?

MARTINEZ: Children of homeless mothers are 40% likely to be homeless themselves. And that is a staggering statistic and a staggering reality for so many of our future children who deserve a better chance and a better start. And it starts with looking at issues of poverty and homelessness from the lens of the whole person; understanding their physical, economic, mental well-being, understanding issues of trauma. The opportunity to build wealth to get out of this cycle of poverty, to look at affordable housing is really critical to the future mobility of women in our state.

CHANG: Holly Martinez, the executive director of the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. Thank you very much.

MARTINEZ: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mallika Seshadri
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.