On April 12, 2011, the nation observes Equal Pay Day to symbolize that women have to work a year plus more than three months to equal what men make in just one year, on average. This past year women were paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men in the U.S. For women of color, the gap is even wider, with African American women earning 67 cents and Latinas 58 cents on the dollar.
9to5 member LaTerrell Bradford calls equal pay a “non-negotiable.” While working as part of an all-female support team, a man was hired in the same job classification. Her female supervisor discovered that he was to earn much more than any of the women and advocated for every team member to be paid at the higher rate. Human resources relented because as Bradford says, “It would not have been fair nor legal to sit next to him, do the exact same work and have him be paid more.”
Not only is the pay gap unfair, it harms families and children. Recent 2009 statistics show the largest number of people, including children, living in poverty since those numbers have been measured, and adult women 32% more likely to be poor than adult men. Women’s paychecks put food on the table and pay for doctor visits for sick children. With women as the sole or co-breadwinner in more families than ever, equal pay is critical.
9to5 member and former Wal-Mart employee Mary Henderson is among the original plaintiffs of a massive gender discrimination class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in late March. Mary was paid thousands of dollars less than a man with less education and the same seniority in the same position. Mary’s daughter, also a Wal-Mart employee, applied for a supervisory job that ended up going to a man because “he had a family to support” – even though she was supporting her family, too. When Mary inquired about these instances of gender pay discrimination, she was punished with transfer to a store requiring an hours-long commute.
The pay gap is evident in almost every occupational category, in every income bracket; it’s a constant despite education, despite experience. The National Women’s Law Center found the gap represents $10,622 a year, with which a family could:
- Buy a year’s worth of groceries ($3,210)
- Arrange for three months of childcare ($1,748)
- Pay three months of rent and utilities ($2,265)
- Cover six months of health insurance ($1,697)
- Pay down six months on a student loan ($1,602) AND
- Purchase three full tanks of gas ($100)
The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963 to address the pay disparity that was 59 cents for women working full-time year-round jobs as compared to men’s one dollar of pay at that time. Since then the wage gap has narrowed by less than one-half of one cent per year. At this rate, women won’t achieve equality for 66 years, in 2077!
The Paycheck Fairness Act will be an important step to help end significant and persistent disparities in pay, as it updates the Equal Pay Act of 1963, strengthens penalties courts may impose for violations of existing equal pay laws, prohibits retaliation against workers who inquire about or share wage information and empowers women to better negotiate for equal pay. It must be passed for the women of today and for the women of tomorrow.
The U.S. Congress must consider how the pay gap places families of today in jeopardy, especially in these tough economic times. They should think about how they love and value their own daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters. Are they really worth less than their sons, grandsons and great-grandsons?
Of course not! Equality is the cornerstone of our American way of life. Let’s all urge U. S. Senators and Representatives to champion fair pay for America’s working women and sign on as co-sponsors of the Paycheck Fairness Act as it is re-introduced this year. It’s the right thing to do for women, families and our country.
Linda Meric is the Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a national membership-based organization of low-income women working to improve policies on issues that directly affect them.