Source: Anderson, Mary. “Wages for Women Workers.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol 18, A Reconstruction Labor Policy (Jan 1919): 123-129. Read Online.
Mary Anderson was the first director of the U.S. Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor. She also played a role in developing women’s work rights as she led the Women’s Trade Union League in Chicago. She has been a ‘working woman’s’ woman her entire life. When she first arrived in the Americas (she was born in Sweden), Anderson worked on a dangerous factory floor and had extensive experience in the labor force. Anderson is one of the first female legislators to address women’s issues in the workplace.
In this article, Anderson addresses not only wages for women, but the troubles of a minimum wage job. She argues that women are liable to do the same quality of work as men if they expect to be paid the same. She further states that minimum wage cannot support a complete life. In all, Anderson argues that “Wages determine life-the standards of living, the health of body as well as of mind,” and that wages often negatively impact women.
In her opening paragraph, Anderson states, “Women’s wages should be determined in the same manner as men’s wages.” Anderson takes a pragmatic look at women’s wage rights. She argues that though women should receive the same wages as men, they should also be expected to perform the same quality work. As Anderson points out, Mary Van Kleek said, “Wages should be determined on the basis of occupation and not on the basis of sex.” And Anderson largely agrees: if women can do the same labor and do it as efficiently as men, they should receive the same wages.
Anderson tells the story of a city manufacturer that was interviewed by a women’s rights activist. The Boss, when asked why he wanted to hire more women for the night shift, stated, “they do more and better work.” But upon discovering that he paid these women less than the men who worked the same shift (and evidently did so less efficiently), interviewers asked why. The boss claimed, “Women have not the same family responsibility that men have” despite later agreeing that most of his women workers were widows or a family’s sole source of income and that they were better workers. This story is a fantastic example of how women were often discounted in the work place. And despite employers awareness of the women’s situations, they continued to use the same outdated excuses such as ‘bread winning men’ and ‘inflation rates’ (which we will talk more about later). The women in this factory, as well as countless others across the nation, were being paid less than they had earned. But to the boss, equality and fairness didn’t play a factor in hiring his employees.
Women were often mistreated in the work place because employers saw them as cheap and expendable. The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor published these words, “The great danger from the viewpoint of health is that the employment of women should be resorted to merely in order to obtain cheap labor. As a matter of public health we must see to it that women are paid equal wages for equal work.” The ‘danger’ claimed by the Department is that women are treated so poorly that they being destroyed. And in order to raise a generation of stronger people, strong women will need to survive instead of being killed in the work place. Anderson argues that unless women are paid with equality, their quality of life will continue to decrease. They will be forced to be counted with the lowest of wage earners, which have a poor quality of life, starving and freezing in the streets.
Anderson also opened a discussion on the failings of the minimum wage. When first established, the minimum wage allowed families of four to afford a comfortable living. With current minimum wage and inflation, most minimum wage workers cannot afford to live even a meager lifestyle. Anderson points out that employers are responsible to care for and aid their employees to keep them from destitution.
Many ague that increasing wages would disrupt the system. Businesses cite that they could not afford to pay their workers if they increased wages. Anderson shares an interview that with a packing industry owner. He claimed that though he would like to pay his employees more, it would cause rebellion in other industries and collapse the system. However, Anderson points out that “men and women cannot maintain themselves and their families in health” if this minimum wage trend continues. She concludes that employers can give them control over their lives as they liberate them with fair wages. She claims, “We cannot have real democracy unless we have democracy in the workshop.” It is the employers responsibility to correct minimum wage issues wherever he can. And that as he does, the quality of living will increase for those working for low wages.
If we tie both of Anderson’s arguments together, it is easier to understand the issue women face. Because women are subject wage discrimination, they earn less than their male counterparts. Those that earn less have little control over their lives and live in destitute circumstances. Therefore, if women are already earning less than men, they are placed in a position that will subject them to poverty. The impact of Anderson’s analysis is simple. Women often have lower paying jobs than men. And if that is true, their general standard of living is lessened. “Wages determine life-the standards of living, the health of body as well as of mind.” Therefore, Anderson essentially argues, if women continue to be unequally paid, they are condemn to a life of destitution and ultimate destruction.