Commentary Human Rights

Recent SNAP Restrictions Are Another Reminder That Poverty Is a Reproductive Issue

Katie Klabusich

I know firsthand that for many people, poverty is often related to a lack of access to basic health care, including abortion. This growing burden, carried primarily by poor people, is a blind spot for many legislatures and courts around the country.

My decision to have an abortion in 2010 wasn’t influenced by a lack of financial stability; I knew at 30 years old that I didn’t want children of my own. The circumstances that led to my unplanned pregnancy, however, were entirely due to almost a decade of living with food insecurity.

We use the word “choice” constantly in the reproductive rights movement. Almost always, this is to indicate the legal right to choose what happens to us, as though life is so easily reduced to such technicalities. But the existence of a right does not ensure that those who need to exercise it will have access to it. I didn’t choose my economic circumstances or the discrimination inherent in the pre-Affordable Care Act for-profit insurance industry, which together allowed the pregnancy to happen. So I have always bristled at the way an overuse of “choice” implies that options are a guarantee. In order for health and true equality to be in reach for all, we must understand what poverty is, who is affected by it, and deal with our discomfort as a culture acknowledging the millions who live and struggle under its weight.

When you are one of the 49 million United States residents who can’t be sure they’ll eat tomorrow or next week, every aspect of your life is about economics. The longer you live with uncertainty and instability, the more you realize that those who don’t share your experience are unaware that all issues, movements, and public policy are rooted in economic justice—or injustice. I know firsthand that for many people, poverty is often related to a lack of access to basic health care, including abortion. This growing burden, carried primarily by poor people, is a blind spot for many legislatures and courts around the country, particularly where restrictions on abortion and other kinds of reproductive care are concerned.

I was reminded of the link between health-care access and poverty yet again in the face of the justifications from the current wave of governors and state representatives proposing rules undercutting vital food assistance programs. Maine’s governor is worried about pickles; a Missouri lawmaker thinks Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients are living large on crab legs; and the Wisconsin legislature can’t continue to abide poor people eating potatoes and jarred pasta sauce. Every week, it seems, another lawmaker is trying to find a guilt-free way to shave one percentage point off the budget by cutting programs that keep people alive and create economic growth.

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Earlier this month, when the latest of these restrictions trickled down through the media, I found myself brimming with anger in response to the stigmatizing language and the pervasive focus on the middle class with no mention of the poor. Eventually, this spilled over into a hashtag on Twitter, #PovertyIs, which managed to trend briefly, despite the rarity of this topic in public conversations. People from around the world defied stigma and shaming to share their everyday experiences with poverty—the emotion, the strain, the stress, the hunger, the physical discomfort, and the decisions our friends and neighbors don’t have to weigh constantly.

As I read the responses, I was reminded of my own abortion story—how for me, like many others, poverty meant deciding between food and other necessities. In my case, that was birth control.

Five years ago, I was still living in Chicago when the generic birth control pill began to fail at countering my monthly migraines, debilitating cramps, and other symptoms that made working on my feet impossible. So I was prescribed the NuvaRing. It worked like a charm—at almost $80 per month, because it was name-brand-only and the prescription plan I paid for out of pocket wouldn’t cover it. At a healthy, pre-existing condition-free 28 years of age in the years before the Affordable Care Act, my health care was costing me an outrageous total of $350 every month, assuming I didn’t actually use it to see a doctor or fill additional prescriptions. Following my third job loss that year, I was forced to choose between food and birth control—certainly a health “care” system failure.

When I became pregnant as a result, I was relatively lucky in terms of getting to the procedure itself. My Chicago address had made it relatively easy to access care; even though many of the clinics in the city are picketed, there are, in fact many clinics. I was also lucky to have managers and co-workers at both jobs that either understood or didn’t care that I needed a couple days off for a medical procedure. I even had my own OB-GYN with whom to discuss my circumstances. I only ended up at Planned Parenthood because my insurance didn’t cover the elective procedure, so I went where I could find a way to afford the appointment.

Still, the most expensive part of my abortion wasn’t the $400 or so I charged to my credit card at the clinic; it was the unpaid time off from four shifts at two jobs. The ACA may have improved matters in some respects by eliminating the co-pays for contraception and annual exams—for which I am very grateful every day I enjoy the freedom of my IUD—but people still have to be able to physically access a clinic in order to appreciate this policy upgrade. When doctors’ appointments require travel, time off, child care, follow-up prescriptions, follow-up appointments, and trips to the pharmacy, co-pays were never the only expense. And those of us living in poverty feel every payout. I wouldn’t have been in a position where $80 could break me if my economic circumstances had been at all stable before the prescription upgrade or losing that third job.

Recently, an unexpected medical bill led me to a new perspective on my unplanned pregnancy from five years ago. I’m one of many long-term underemployed United States residents with little-to-no room for error in my monthly budget. This latest health surprise put me over the edge completely. I wasn’t able to play bill roulette or juggle basics or max out a credit card to bridge the gap this time around, so I applied for CalFresh, California’s food assistance program.

After two years of covering the fight to keep Mississippi’s only clinic open and spending time with activists in the Rio Grande Valley, my new situation, combined with the flood of proposed SNAP restrictions and the #PovertyIs responses, has re-centered economic justice in my advocacy and reporting. It’s also refocused my abortion story, leading me to be bolder about the root causes of my unplanned pregnancy. I always cared about people’s economic circumstances, but I now have a fundamentally different relationship to those affected by abortion restrictions and to the phrase used to measure the unnecessary ordeal they endure to attain access.

The undefined, unequally applied “undue burden” standard makes the disproportionate effect of abortion restrictions on the poor especially evident. The Fifth Circuit’s most recent ruling again moves the goalposts on “undue burden” by deeming the ambulatory surgical center requirements of the Texas omnibus anti-abortion law HB 2 valid. Though the Supreme Court has stayed the ruling for now, according to advocates, if implemented, this provision of HB 2 could shutter all but nine clinics in the state.

Simply looking at the second largest state in the union on a map is enough to grasp some level of how disastrous this would be for its 27 million residents. Living in the center of West Texas already meant at least a five-hour drive in one direction or another to access a clinic in either San Antonio or New Mexico. Add in waiting periods, ultrasounds, counseling, admitting privileges that limit the number of doctors available to perform procedures in any given region, and my two days off work and $1,000 grand total in out-of-pocket cost and lost wages seems like a drop in the bucket. My ordeal five years ago was enough to go through, considering it shouldn’t have been necessary. But my white, cis, documented, able-bodied privilege all stacks up to a comparatively easy road. Even my finances were less strained thanks to timing and hard work coming together; I didn’t have $1,000 lying around to throw away, but I was able to find it.

Texas is hardly an anomaly—it’s simply a powerful visual depiction of how abortion restrictions affect a population over an enormous area. But the corridor stretching from the western border of Idaho to the eastern borders of North and South Dakota is a nearly 1,200-mile-wide clinic desert. Some states only have a single full-scale reproductive health clinic. Defunding Planned Parenthood through cuts to family planning services has caused five clinics to close in Indiana—none of which even provided abortion care. These “pro-life” policies have created a public health crisis in an area currently dealing with an HIV outbreak.

Meanwhile, on a federal level, House Republicans are attempting to eliminate Title X funding, a program that has provided millions of low-income people with STI testing, cancer screenings, contraception, and treatment since President Richard Nixon championed and signed it into law in 1970.

Nixon matter-of-factly explained why he was backing the law at the time: “It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

Almost everything seems to have changed in the past 45 years. The more I watched people on the #PovertyIs thread discuss putting off medical care despite having insurance because they couldn’t get off work or couldn’t afford the co-pays, the more absurd the debate about burden became to me. HB 2 alone has been in appeals for two years. How long does it take, exactly, for a handful of judges to decide whether 500 miles over three days or more, hundreds of dollars in lost pay and child care, and the emotional strain of navigating the ever-changing landscape is too much to put people through when they have the power to prevent all of it from happening in the first place? Why do those in power see the concept of “burden” as solely a political and/or legal issue, without direct connection to people’s economic condition?

To those with modest or substantial means, the burden is automatically attached to the concept of our rights: how far is too far and how much is too much to exercise a constitutional right? But for those of us without a safety net, burden is a word that feels heavy. It sounds like the keys of a calculator clicking to determine whether this month’s math means we eat, have heat, and can put enough gas in our cars to get to work. That heaviness is the intersection of reproductive justice and economic justice, and it should be given equal weight in policy discussions, in advocacy, and in our media.

Just as SNAP funding provides a lifeline to those who need it, access and funding to reproductive health care provide a basic level of bodily autonomy and the opportunity to determine one’s own present and future. You can’t be a functional, autonomous human without the ability to eat, just as you can’t be fully human and free without the ability to control if, whether, and when you become a parent. These connections have long been clear and foundational to the reproductive justice movement built by women of color too-often sidelined and silenced by mainstream feminist and reproductive rights advocates. It’s long past time that their voices and approach to culture change became the standard for advocacy work.

Bodily autonomy is about more than just controlling what is happening right now in your reproductive system. Having final say over what happens within and around your body determines whether or not you are the one who decides the direction of your life. Ensuring self-determination for all people is the foundation to achieving economic justice; acknowledging this reality strengthens our movement and ensures that we strive to help people in need today as we secure the rights of everyone for the future.

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.