Dusting off the cobwebs: The status of equal pay for equal work
Although women have come a long way in many regards since the 1960s, there are still long roads to travel especially in the economic arena. The White House released a new report on the first day of Women’s History Month, March 1, 2011, regarding the status of women in the United States of America. The report is entitled "Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being," and is a summary of data garnered from various federal agencies. The report covers the topics of: people, families and income; education; employment; health; crime and violence. The report was created to support the Council on Women and Girls. Not since 1963 has such a large-scale, federal report highlighted women. We see in the report a story of progress and also a lack thereof in regard to the status of women.
Equal pay for equal work is one area where there has been some improvement, however, there are still serious issues to be resolved. Regarding the need for gender equity in pay, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis (2010) states:
Since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the issue of women's pay has grown even more serious. Today, women are the sole or co-wage earner in two-thirds of American households. And, for a growing number of families, equal pay for women is not just a matter of principle. It is a matter of survival. (para. 3)
Women still are not earning equal wages for equal work which has serious consequences. According to the United States Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics and the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget (2011), “In part because of these lower earnings and in part because unmarried and divorced women are the most likely to have responsibility for raising and supporting their children, women are more likely to be in poverty than men” (p. iii-iv). The need for gender equity for practical and principled reasons is clear.
So how are women faring in the workplace related to earnings? The gender gap regarding earnings has improved over the years. According to the United States Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics and the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget (2011),
The earnings gap between women and men narrowed for most age groups from 1979 to 2009. The women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio among 25- to 34-year-olds, rose from 68 percent in 1979 to 89 percent in 2009, and the ratio for 45- to 54-year-olds increased from 57 percent to 74 percent. Earnings of full-time female workers have risen by 31 percent since 1979, compared to a 2 percent rise in male earnings. At all levels of education, women earned about 75 percent as much as their male counterparts in 2009. (p. 32)
Even with these increases in earnings, a gender gap in pay is still evident at every level of education for those working full-time. Although strides have been made in the gender earnings gap, at this pace, it will take many, many more years before women achieve pay equity.
The gender earnings gap looms largest as women and men move through their careers. Solis (2010) states,
Men get larger raises and promotions. And, even when women keep pace with promotions, they still fall behind in pay. That has major long-term economic implications. And, by the age of 65, the typical full-time working woman has about $365,000 less in earnings relative to a full-time working man. This gap in earnings follows women into retirement, resulting in smaller pensions and lower Social Security. (para. 5)
It is clear that the disparity in pay between genders persists and that there is action needed in order to bring into reality the notion of equal pay for equal work.
One such action taken was the effort to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Although the House of Representatives did pass the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2009, the Senate did not pass the Act in 2010. The bill was crafted to address the earnings gender gap. It did so by shoring up the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and by enhancing enforcement of that Act (Solis, 2010). Although the Paycheck Fairness Act wasn’t passed, we should still persist in trying to right this problem. Solis (2010) emphasizes our call for action regarding equity in pay:
As a nation, we must continue to pursue pay equity with passion and determination. We owe it to women in America — those of years past, who worked so hard to build our country; those who carry that task on today; and, certainly, those who will shape our future in the workplace of tomorrow (para. 7).
I encourage each of us to consider how we are contributing to equal pay for equal work and what more we can do to help women in this regard.
United States Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics and the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget. (March 2011). Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being.