The whole family suffers when employers don't pay a woman a full day's pay for a full day's work.
And that makes unequal salaries based on gender a political issue that should be addressed in the presidential election.
That conclusion is the opinion of 77 percent of 1,000 registered voters interviewed by a professional research firm for the National Committee on Pay Equity.
The same percentage said they would endorse a national pay-equity law requiring that women, minorities and men be paid the same for jobs that require similar skills and responsibility, even if the jobs are different.
According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, men working full-time in 1990 averaged salaries of $27,800; women averaged $19,800.
Pay equity, or comparable worth, is a method of evaluating the real value of work performed rather than using a discriminatory ,, method of paying salaries based on the person's gender or race.
The concept fills the gap left by the Equal Pay Act, which applies only to workers doing the same job. The act doesn't deal with pay discrimination that results from the fact that most women don't work in the same jobs men do.
In the United States, six states have implemented pay equity for all state employees: Iowa, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. An additional 14 states, among them California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey, have made pay adjustments for certain professionals, such as registered nurses.
But there is no national legislation addressing the problem that every payday women and minorities get paychecks that are between three-quarters and one-half the salaries of the average white man.
The comparable-worth poll, conducted in December, underscores the awareness that pay equity is a "core economic issue that affects the well-being of American families," according to Susan Bianchi-Sand, executive director of the Washington-based National Committee on Pay Equity, a non-profit advocacy coalition of unions and women's and civil rights organizations.
Ms. Bianchi-Sand is a flight attendant on leave from United Airlines and former president of the 30,000-member Association of Flight Attendants. She reports that pay equity is a family issue, as the poll shows, because there are 31 million families in which wives and husbands work either full time or part time and there are 11 million families headed by women.
"All are being shortchanged," said Ms. Bianchi-Sand, the first and only flight attendant to sit on the executive council of the AFL-CIO. "You can't make a real contribution to your family or pay for a mortgage or for education when you are earning only one-half of what men make.
"The marketplace is not taking care of pay equity," said Ms. Bianchi-Sand. Women's wages have been improving only by a penny a year in the past five years, she said. "That's why we may have to go the route of federal legislation."