having it all

Women Are the Most Powerful Celebrities and the Least Powerful Workers

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Six of Forbes’ “Top 10 Most Powerful Celebrities” — revealed today — are women. Three, debatably four, of them go by one name. In order: (1) Oprah, (2) Lady Gaga, (4) Beyoncé, (5) Madonna, (6) Taylor Swift, and (10) Ellen DeGeneres. The Daily Mail is all “Feminist mission accomplished,” but, personally, I had hoped Angelina Jolie (41), who recently got the U.N. to recognize rape as a war crime, would be higher up and Ashley Judd, whose abortive political career revealed a new, ugly side of Senator Mitch McConnell, would make the list. But this is a ranking of powerful entertainers (as opposed to entertainers with power) — a much friendlier list, historically, for women and minorities than, say, Most Powerful People or World Billionaires. Also, all power lists are pretty much meaningless. More troubling is that the same gender breakdown still applies to the world’s least powerful people: Nearly two thirds of the people earning minimum wage are women.

That’s largely because women dominate some of the lowest paid jobs, like child care, home health care, and housecleaning. It doesn’t take into account the wage discrimination women face relative to men within their chosen fields, a gap that is larger in states where the minimum wage hasn’t been raised above the federal minimum, $7.25 per hour. Additionally, three in four people earning the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 per hour (which has not budged in literal decades), such as restaurant servers, are women.

These statistics are in the political ether this week, the 75th birthday of minimum wage, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Representative Rosa DeLauro have set out to rebrand raising minimum wage as part of a “women’s economic agenda,” the Huffington Post reports. The agenda includes “guaranteeing workers the opportunity to earn paid sick leave, expanding affordable child care programs and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.” “It’s about time we stop treating work in fields where women are the majority as less valuable than in male-dominated fields,” Vice-President Joe Biden said in a speech yesterday.

It’s a logical strategy, both because the “war on women” thing ain’t broke, and because Democrats need to wrestle work-life balance, as an issue, back from Republicans and their deceptively named Working Families Flexibility Act. The proposed legislation would allow employers to encourage workers to trade their overtime wages for the flexibility to attend a parent-teacher conference or take care of a sick child, as if they should have to choose, and has been pitched on mommy blogs. Plus, who could blame Democrats for hitching their agenda to women, when women have been killing it at getting stuff done lately?

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Women: Powerful Celebrities, Powerless Workers