The phrase caught my ear, sort of like a piano key overdue for its date with a tuner: “Lady mayor.”
Earlier this week, onetime Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour used the term in reference to the top elected official in Hoboken, N.J. Mayor Dawn Zimmer has some negative things to say about choices made by Gov. Chris Christie, to which Mr. Barbour apparently took exception.
Barbour’s chosen words felt particularly discordant as he uttered them on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s an observance all about the man who proposed that radical and pesky notion that humans have inherent and equal value, irrespective of such factors as their skin color, place of birth, choice of faith tradition — or gender.
However you stand on the mess that persists over in the Garden State, let’s stand united on the proposition that all people are created equal, can we?
Perhaps, like I, you grew up in an era where guys were guys and dames was dames. OK, maybe that was a bit before my time, but the heads of my household knew it well. It was a different culture, those good old days when Mom mostly could be found at home while Dad was off toiling to support the family. But even back then, if you heard someone use the term “gentleman mayor,” it was far more likely a suggestion that the guy put the “man” in manners.
We roll differently today, of course, which is why archaic talk sounds so very off-key. For one thing, we’ve had the ladies in positions of political power — including Naperville’s City Council and at the helm of the townships that include parts of the town — for decades. Heck, the remarkable Peg Price was a lady mayor. (Yes, it’s true that if today’s council were genuinely reflective of our current demographics, it would include four or maybe five women and at least a couple of members who are Asian, African American or Latino, but I digress again).
For another thing, nearly half of those in the U.S. who work now are women. And here’s another: we’re still bringing home just 77 cents for every dollar paid to the guys. The gap widens for black women, who receive just 64 cents of that dollar, and Hispanic women, at only 54 cents for each buck paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts. That’s just plain unfair.
Of those workers who earn minimum wage, nearly two-thirds are female. Those women, if they have two kids to support and no one else bringing home the bacon, can work full-time all through the year and come up with annual income of $14,500. That’s almost $4,000 below the federal poverty line for a household of that size.
No wonder the local food relief agencies still are busting their butts to help families put bacon, I mean bread, on the table.
The Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Naperville reports that more than 16 percent of children in DuPage County live in homes where they’re not assured of three meals every day. In its last fiscal year, the pantry’s service population included 5,134 kids.
The 2011 Report on Illinois Poverty from the Heartland Alliance found that a family comprised of one parent and two young children needed income of $65,321 to live in DuPage. For a minimum wage earner, living in a two-bedroom apartment here requires a 95-hour work week.
So even here in Illinois, where base pay is higher than in other parts of the country, there are some very compelling reasons to take a look at bringing up the minimum wage. Women make up 55 percent of the 28 million American workers who would be better positioned to support their local economies with hourly pay bumped up to $10.10. At that rate, they’d no longer be living in poverty. And that boost to businesses would certainly help offset the risk to their bottom line posed by paying their people better.
Here’s my suggestion: pay us what we earn, irrespective of our gender. If that means calling some of us lady plumbers or lady nurses or lady engineers, so be it.
Us dames is used to it.