Girl on Girl: Down To The Dollar
Originally published on CUIndependent.com on April 4, 2017
Tuesday, April 4 is Equal Pay Day — a day that recognizes the wage gap between men and women in the U.S.. Its date is carefully selected to mark how far into the new year women must work to match the pay of men in the previous year. Created in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity, or the NCPE, the day marks milestones of progress as well as discouraging setbacks women face in the workplace.
In 1963 President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act. This law required employers to pay all workers performing the same job equally, regardless of their gender. While it’s language is gender binary, it nonetheless marked a pivotal moment in our political history. The bill was women’s first step towards equal pay, at a time when white women earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. However, more than 50 years later the battle for equality for all women still wages on.
By the turn of the century, women were earning about 74 cents to a man’s dollar — another step forward, but clearly far from egalitarian. However, some saw this as progress enough. In 2009, former President Barack Obama passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to rebuke a Supreme Court decision that blocked women from reporting wage discrimination. This motion highlighted the continued effort for fair pay between genders, with an additional and crucial stipulation that women may report and file for wage discrimination at any time.
Soon after Equal Pay Day in 2014, Obama pursued the issue again with the Paycheck Fairness Act. Democrats pushed for this piece of legislation, which required that employers disclose exactly how workers were compensated and barred them from punishing employees who discussed their pay with each other. These were two key methods put in place to help close the wage gap.
Senate Republicans unanimously blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act. They argued that the motion would insight unnecessary lawsuits against employers. Furthermore, they also disputed the evidence that a gender pay gap exists, claiming that employment, education level and hours worked were not included in the calculation.
Their claims were essentially coded sexism. The “issue of education” actually highlights the difficulties in access, encouragement and acceptance that women face in higher education. The claim of a “difference in hours” slyly references maternity leave, which assumes that companies run the risk of female employees morphing into generation-breeding, lactating monsters. Monsters who no longer value their employment over the all-consuming burden of motherhood, and therefore deserve to be paid less.
The argument also forgoes discussion of race, ethnicity and ability.
The National Partnership For Women and Families organization projected median annual pay for full-time work in 2017 to have a discrepancy of $10,470 between men and women. That essentially means a white woman will earn 80 cents to the white man’s dollar this year. For women of color, the gap broadens. Black women earn 63 cents to the white man’s dollar and Latinas earn 54 cents. Asian women earn the highest average of 85 cents, although this figure does not account for ethnic subgroups, who can fall dramatically lower.
The organization also reports that the wage gap persists regardless of industry. It is ever-present in all occupations and persists regardless of the level of education of the employee — despite what the Republican senate claims as a reason for rejecting the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Moreover, a 2014 report from the American Institutes for Research exposed wage discrepancies for workers with disabilities. Although several laws, such as the the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, are, in part, designed to mitigate these gaps, the report found that a legally disabled person earns 64 cents to the dollar of a person without a legal disability. Regardless of high school diploma, college education and even graduate education, this difference can be as high as $20,000 in earnings.
Furthermore, these numbers do not reflect the additional expenses a person with a legal disability may face, including mental and physical aid. The report also finds an incredible $31.5 billion loss of potential tax revenue because of the detrimental low-pay earned by employees with disabilities.
On March 27, President Donald Trump revoked the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, an executive action Obama took to ensure companies comply with labor and civil rights laws. Trump therefore prevented another step towards closing the wage gap.
This year’s gap is the smallest since 1960, which is a victory on the long trail of progress — but the fact that pay gaps still exist signifies that there is still great work left ahead. And at this rate of this progress, it will be another 169 years until the wage gap is economically closed.
Today should be a reminder of the unwavering importance of women in the workforce, as well as their continuous mistreatment down to the dollar. We must ask more of our government and our employers. This can only be done if we ask more of each other. Educate and engage. Celebrate progress and remain persistent.
Photo by Tessa Forrest