Today is Equal Pay Day, marking the point into the year 2017 that women in America need to work to in order to accumulate the same amount of income that men earned in 2016. The commemorative day is always held on a Tuesday to represent how far into the next week women must work to earn the amount made by men in the previous week.
According to the Association of American University Women, women currently make an average of 80 cents to a man’s dollar, but the racial disparity in the gender wage gap is vast. Based on data from 2015, compared to white men, Asian women earned 90 percent, white (non-Hispanic) women earned 76 percent, black women earned 62 percent, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women earned 60 percent, American Indian women earned 58 percent and Hispanic/Latina women earned 54 percent.
As women get older, the gender wage gap tends to widen. Typically women earn about 90 percent of what men earn until they reach age 35, at which point their wage percentages lower to an average of 74-82 percent of what a man makes. The gender wage gap does not narrow based on a woman’s education level when compared with men of the same educational background.
The fight for gender pay equity on the federal level has been a back and forth tug for over 60 years now. The first Equal Pay Law was signed by President Kennedy in 1963, making it illegal to pay women less money for doing the same job. However, a Supreme Court ruling later limited the amount of time that a woman could file a wage discrimination suit against her employer to within 180 days of the first discriminatory pay check. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, allowing women to file suit for wage discrimination no matter how much time had passed since the discrimination first began.
In 2014, Senate Republicans unanimously blocked a bill that would have made it illegal for employers to punish employees who discussed their wages. Democrats had hoped the bill would empower women and others to have constructive conversations about their position responsibilities and salaries. Likewise, a rule passed by the Obama administration in an effort to combat wage discrimination by requiring large employers to report data on their employee’s pay checks broken down by race, gender and ethnicity is currently being reviewed by the Trump White House’s Office of Management and Budget at the request of a coalition of business associations.
On Equal Pay Day, Representative Rosa DeLauro intends to introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act for the 11th time. The bill aims to strengthen discriminated worker’s position in court, end retaliation against workers who speak out, and improve federal enforcement capabilities concerning anti-discrimination laws.
There have been some successes on the state level. This summer, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) signed into law what is arguably the nation’s strongest equal pay measure, requiring employers to pay men and women the same for comparable work. The law is also the first in the country to ban employers from asking applicants about their salary histories. In addition, the law bans the practice of pay secrecy, wherein employers prevent their employees from discussing each other’s salaries.
This past November, voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington successfully passed ballot measures to raise their minimum wages in light of Congress’ refusal to touch the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women and the raises in those four states are expected to benefit around 2.1 million people. According to POLITICO, state ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage have appeared 20 times in the last 20 years, and have only failed twice, both times in 1996 only three months after a federal minimum wage increase.
But the fight for gender pay equity is a global one. Women in France and Iceland held large-scale walk outs in 2016, leaving work at 4:34 pm and 2:38 pm respectively to protest the gender pay gap. Women in Europe are paid on average 16 percent less than what their male colleagues make. It is estimated that it will take 169 years to close the global gender pay gap.
Media Resources: NBC News 4/4/17; American Association of University Women, Spring 2017; USA Today 4/3/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 8/1/16, 11/10/16, 11/7/16, 10/25/16