The AFL-CIO’s ‘Ask a Working Woman’ survey shows that although their concerns remain the same, working women’s legislative issue priorities have shifted, with health and retirement issues now topping a list that includes affirmative action, equal pay, on-the-job discrimination, child care family/medical leave and equity for part-time workers.

In their executive summary, the report’s authors say the increase of 12 percentage points in the number of women who view health care as their top concern is the survey’s ‘most striking’ finding. Ninety-two percent of the more than 1,500 women who participated in the survey said health care is ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important.’

Social Security (up 9 points), affirmative action (up 6 points), strengthening equal pay laws (up 7 points) and child care (up 10 points), all moved up the legislative ladder compared with findings in the 2000 ‘Ask a Working Woman’ survey.

Dee Brown, one of the survey’s pollsters, said the increased interest in health and retirement issues is a ‘recession thing,’ prompted by fears of job loss, and with it, health insurance and retirement benefits.

In addition to economic issues, working women’s top priorities for changes at work include workplace safety (84 percent ‘highest priority’ or ‘high priority’), respect on the job (80 percent ‘highest’ or ‘high’) and job security (81 percent combined). Three-quarters of respondents said their priorities included stronger programs to end discrimination and sexual harassment. Two-thirds called for ‘fair pay and benefits’ for part-time employees.

Other findings of the 2002 survey include:

* Sixty-six percent of working moms work 40 or more hours per week, compared with 60 percent of women without children. Overall, 63 percent of women work 40 or more hours per week – a slight increase from 60 percent in 2000.

* Working women of color are more likely than white women to work a schedule that is different than their spouses – 52 percent of African American women, 47 percent of Latina women and 36 percent of white women differ from their spouses’ schedules.

* Contrary to popular opinion, there is no split between the concerns of working mothers and women without children. On retirement security, about 90 percent of both groups feel that strengthening Social Security and pensions and stronger equal-pay laws are important and both groups overwhelming support expanding family and medical leave and making quality health care more affordable.

* For the first time, working men were polled and results show they demonstrate strong support for child care, paid family leave, strengthening working women’s rights and fighting gender discrimination and unequal pay.

The survey consisted of more than 1,500 interviews conducted between March 4 and 7, 2002 among adults currently in the workforce. The project also surveyed 20,000 working women across the country.

Women workers and the glass ceiling

A recent Internal Revenue Service study shows the extent of wage discrimination against women by comparing the ratio of men and women by income categories that existed in 1998, where:

Men outnumbered women by more than 13 to 1 among those with incomes of a million dollars or more. The study also showed that women in this wage category had average earnings of $2.27 million compared to $2.41 million for men or roughly 94 cents for each dollar the men earned.

Things improved somewhat for women in the $500,000-to-$1 million category, where there were 10 men for every woman. However, women in this category had slightly higher average incomes ? $670,000 versus $668,000.

The gap in total numbers narrows steadily as pay decreases. In the $200,000-to-$500,000 class, men outnumbered women 9 to 1; in the $100,000-to-$200,000 class, the ratio was about 5 to 1; in the $75,000-to-$100,000 category men out numbered women 3 to 1; and in the $50,000-to-$75,000 group, there were approximately 2 men for every woman.

The situation changed dramatically for those in the $25,000 to $30,000 bracket where the numbers were nearly equal ? 5.7 million men and 5.3 million women. In 1998, women made up 57.6 percent of workers earning less than $25,000 a year.

The author can be reached at