Happy Equal Pay Day! Or should we say Unequal Pay Day?
Today, April 17th represents the date that women must work into 2012 to earn what men earned in 2011. When Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women made only fifty-nine percent of their male counterparts’ annual earnings. Almost fifty years later, the gender wage gap is still alive and well, with women earning just seventy-seven percent of what men earned in 2008. The situation is even more acute for African-American and Hispanic women, who earn just 68% and 58% of what white men earn.[i]
As the Institute for Women’s Policy Research notes, “If the pace of change in the annual earnings ratio continued at the same rate as it has since 1960, it will take another 45 years, until 2056, for men and women to reach parity”.
But can we afford to wait that long? Though unequal pay is an ongoing issue, it is especially significant given the current economic downturn. During the recession, more men were laid off than women, meaning that families are increasingly relying on women’s earnings as their primary source of income.[ii] Over time, unequal pay means unequal savings as the average full-time female worker loses approximately $434,000 over a forty-year career.[iii]
A report by the AFL-CIO and Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that if women were paid fairly, family incomes would rise and poverty levels would fall, which in the case of single mothers, would lead to a fifty percent reduction in poverty. Overall, this would reduce the need for human services such as housing assistance and food and child care subsidies.
Some say wage gaps exist because of the occupations women “choose” and the time they take off to care for their children. But according to Census Bureau surveys from 2007, women earned less in over 20 industries and 25 occupation groups, including those dominated by women such as secretarial jobs. [iv] Furthermore, full-time workingwomen earn less than men in comparable positions at every educational level, even when they don’t have children.[v]
The National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) cites several structural reasons why the gender wage gap still exists, including secrecy surrounding pay data, the difficulty of taking an employer to court under the Equal Pay Act, and ongoing gender (and racial) discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which failed in the Senate last year, contained language to strengthen protections against wage discrimination. While data exists revealing the salience of these larger obstacles to pay equity, a lack of support for legislation that targets discrimination and unequal treatment means that the gender wage gap will continue to be a part of our reality. In which case, we just might have to wait until 2056.
Click here to see NCPE’s “Top Ten Reasons for the Wage Gap” (http://www.pay-equity.org/info-top10.html)
And be sure to check out HSC’s latest report: Dangerous Moves: How Public Funding Cuts to Human Services Hurt Women and Children