Today is Equal Pay Day, and it’s hard to believe that no matter what sort of strides we make in the workforce, we are still forced to “celebrate” it year after year.
Equal Pay Day is that day during the year where a woman officially earns as much as a male coworker in a similar job would have earned by the end of the year before. For women, thanks to the continuing wage gap, that means that it takes more than three months of additional earning to bring home what their male counterparts do in just one calendar year.
Every year, conservative pundits argue that the pay gap is a myth and that the fact that women earn just 77 cents on the dollar to a man in a similar position is something that women fabricate. The pushback includes claims that women don’t do the same jobs, or don’t work the same hours, that they are less skilled because of lower education levels, or that they have been giving up pay in exchange for the flexibility of being able to be more involved with their families at the same time.
None of those are true. When all factors are taken into account and a man and woman are in the same job with the same education working the same hours, that woman will still earn just 77 cents to the $1.00 that the man will earn, and it has been almost immobile for over a decade. The gap becomes even worse for women of color, where the gap is an average of more than 35 cents for African American women and almost 46 cents on the dollar for Hispanic women.
Attempts at the state level has done little to fix this, and for states like Texas, where the GOP has a stranglehold on the legislature, blocking paycheck fairness laws has become a point of political pride. In order to even have a shot at equal pay for equal work, a federal level policy is the only way equity can be accomplished.
Needless to say, getting a Congress obsessed with gridlock to actually approve pay equity is an impossible feat, and a frustrating fact considering equal pay isn’t just an issue of ending discrimination, but of getting more money into the pockets of workers who would then be able to spend it, stimulating the economy and helping to create jobs. Yet for all their obsession with helping businesses, the GOP’s attitude as always is support business owners, not workers. Keeping wages low, either via unlivable minimum wages or through discriminatory pay practices, is still their number one priority.
Circumventing the political gridlock, President Barack Obama has instead chosen to institute economic equity where he can, issuing executive orders prohibiting federal contractors from punishing employees who discuss their wages, and mandating they provide compensation data based on sex and race. It’s a very small step, but it’s one that will help bring transparency to wages, a transparency that hopefully will spread beyond federal contractors and into the rest of the economic landscape.
“When women succeed, our families succeed and America succeeds,” Obama said in a statement.
Women’s groups are cautiously excited about the order. “Tomorrow’s actions by President Obama mark another milestone in the long march toward ensuring equal pay for women, a goal [National Council of Jewish Women] has worked hard for decades to achieve,” NCJW CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said via statement. ”His executive order banning retaliation against employees of federal contractors for disclosing or inquiring about their wages ensures protection for those seeking pay information from colleagues. His instructions to the Department of Labor to develop regulations that will require contractors to disclose compensation data to the government will help shine a bright light on discriminatory wage practices and empower victims to fight back.”
It will help, yes, but it is no where near enough. Instead, we have to keep up the fight that has been ongoing for over 50 years, since 1963 when President John F. Kennedy had called the Equal Pay Act a “first step” that should be followed by tax breaks and funded daycare centers, as NPR reports.
Unfortunately, a half a century later, we are still stuck trying to accomplish that first step, much less all the needed ones after. So, once again, here’s to another Equal Pay Day. Let’s hope we don’t meet again here in April of 2015.
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