It looked like progress on paper. The year started out with a new president and the first bill he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Next, economists predicted that the number of women would equal, and perhaps surpass, the number of men on the national payroll. But the reality isn’t so encouraging.
The Lilly Ledbetter Act reversed a Supreme Court ruling from 2007 by giving employees a longer window to file discrimination claims. It is an important piece of legislation, but not the only piece. Another bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would strengthen the Ledbetter Act by closing loopholes that allow retaliation against workers who disclose their wages, among other things. This key piece of legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in July, 2008. The Senate, however, hasn’t advanced it in more than a year.
The number of women on the payroll doesn’t mean women are advancing either. It merely means traditionally male-dominated jobs have been hit harder by the recession than the jobs that women tend to occupy. We already knew that those women are being paid less than men doing comparable jobs, and now, the new data paints an even more disturbing picture.
The gender wage gap has widened according to the National Committee on Pay Equity. In 2007, women earned, on average, 78 cents for every dollar a man earned. In 2008, they earned 77 cents. That’s the same amount reported in 2005. So not only have we made no gains in closing the wage gap over the last three years, we have slid backward and only closed the gap a total of 18 cents in 45 years (since The Equal Pay Act made wage discrimination on the basis of sex illegal).
The U.S. Census Bureau has posted an interesting graph based on The American Community Survey, a nationwide survey that looks at demographic, social, economic, and housing data annually. Even thought it estimates the wage gap to be an average of 22 cents nationwide, it identifies a number of states where the gap is much bigger. In Wyoming, for example, women earn only 64 cents for every dollar a man earns. And the gap is 24 cents or less in at least 17 states.
We cannot be fooled into a false sense of advancement by headlines that tout working women reaching milestones or the benefits of women’s advancement. If women become the primary breadwinners and those women’s wages are stuck at 77 percent of men’s, than everyone suffers. Families must get by on less and fewer dollars will flow into the economy. That is not the recipe for a strong recovery. Nor is restoring men to their jobs at the expense of women. There is a growing body of research from organizations including Catalyst, Ernst & Young, and McKinsey that shows more women at the top of business can only help a company’s bottom line.
But women are not advancing financially. They are losing valuable ground. There is a Yiddish proverb that says, “A penny is a lot of money, if you have not got a penny.”
Pay equity makes sense, not just for women, but for the recovery. Let your legislators know, we refuse to lose any more ground. Take action by supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, which would bring pay increases to women through union membership. Sign the petition letter to Congress!
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