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The latest news from every corner of the state, including policy emerging from Missouri's capitol.

Missouri women earn thousands less than men. Lack of child care is a major reason

 Amarylis and Jarell Emrick Sr. with their sons, Adonis and Jarell Jr.
Amarylis Emrick
Amarylis and Jarell Emrick Sr. with their sons, Adonis and Jarell Jr.

Amarylis Emrick never intended to leave her job.

She had spent six years working at UnitedHealthcare, processing insurance appeals. The work was fast-paced and stressful at times, but Emrick appreciated the benefits package and being able to work from home.

Her work situation changed overnight in December 2020, after surging coronavirus infections in the St. Louis region forced her son’s day care to shut down indefinitely. For Emrick, then pregnant with her second child, it was too much to juggle her current job with full-time child care.

Emrick and her husband, Jarell, who at the time also worked at UnitedHealthcare, decided she should take a more flexible job at another health insurance company — which came with a $10,000 pay cut.

“My husband had been working there longer and obviously him being a man, he makes way more money than I do,” said Emrick, of Manchester. “It made more sense for me to take a pay cut than for him to find a different job. It was really hard, but I had to make a decision for my family.”

Women working full-time in Missouri earn about $10,000 less per year than men, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The pay gap is even larger in Illinois, where there is a $13,000 difference between the median annual salaries of men and women. Women are more likely to work in lower-paying industries and are often forced to leave their jobs due to lack of affordable child care, an issue the pandemic has exacerbated.

Across all industries, women who work full time in the U.S. are paid 83 cents on the dollar compared to men. Though the overall pay gap has narrowed since the 1960s, the picture is much worse for Black and Hispanic women.

Black women earned just 63% of the median weekly pay of white men in 2021, while Hispanic women earned about 58%. A Black woman working full time in the U.S. will earn $1 million less over her lifetime than a white man, and a Hispanic woman will miss out on $1.1 million.

Wage gaps have a long-term effect on how much wealth a woman can accumulate, said Ana Hernández Kent, a senior researcher for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

“It’s going to have an effect on the types of benefits that they can get their kids, opportunities for economic mobility, paying for a house, saving for retirement,” said Hernández Kent, who studies wealth inequality and women’s involvement in the workforce.

Workplace discrimination contributes to the pay gap between men and women, but there are other factors at play.

“There's a drag on the economy when we leave these gender gaps unchecked"
Ana Hernández Kent, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Lack of affordable child care is a major factor driving the gap. Research shows women’s earnings decline sharply after they have their first child, though there's little change in earnings for first-time fathers — a difference known as the "motherhood penalty."

Women also are more likely to work in low-wage industries, such as food service and caregiving, while higher-paying industries are dominated by men. Low-wage jobs often don’t offer benefits such as paid family leave, flexible hours or remote work options.

Closing the gender pay gap in Missouri could boost the state’s gross domestic product by $24 billion, according to research from the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

“There's a drag on the economy when we leave these gender gaps unchecked,” Hernández Kent said. “We're not just leaving economic potential on the table, we’re leaving potential innovations, potential leadership and diversity on the table.”

After leaving her job, Amarylis Emrick lost her seniority in the company and her benefits package.

But she and her husband recently found child care for both of their young sons — for about $1,100 per month — and Emrick was able to move back to a higher-paying position with another health insurance company.

“After I had my second child and my son got accepted into preschool, I was able to start applying for jobs that I was qualified for, with a pay increase,” Emrick said.

After the setbacks, she said, her career is finally back on track.

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

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