What year is this anyway?
Junior year of high school, my best friend found out that new male hires at her job were being paid the same amount as her, even though she had been there for a year. When she told me, my reaction could eloquently be summed up as “Huh?” Her realization that she was experiencing pay discrimination seemed as topical to me as her showing up at the polls, only to find out that women hadn’t won the right to vote yet. What year was this anyway?
My best friend and I were kids of the early 90s. Growing up, we saw constant images of strong working women like Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show, Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women, and Khadijah James on Living Single. The women reflected back at us through the screen worked hard, held high level office jobs, and battled issues like harassment and discrimination. The messages from our television sets reflected a larger vision for women, a cultural shift that portrayed us as just as likely to go to college, get jobs, and climb career ladders as our male peers. And we made good on that promise: According to the White House's Women in America report, women currently outnumber men on college campuses, are more likely to earn graduate degrees, and comprise half of all US workers.
The feminism of our mothers’ generation taught us we could do anything, but no one ever told us that we would be paid less while we were doing it. Yet in 2012, 49 years after the Equal Pay Act passed, women are still earning on average 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, "On average, monetary losses due to the wage gap over a lifetime add up to $700,000 for a high school graduate and $1.2 million for a college graduate."
Anyone who has ever logged into Sallie Mae and faced a student-loan-payment-induced-anxiety-attack knows exactly how much money that is. That's the kind of money that could erase student loan debt, send you to graduate school, buy a house, fund a retirement. That's also money that could help you start a family. But should you make the choice to have children, expect to earn even less. A study by sociologist Shelley Correll found that with equal resumes and job experiences, mothers were offered $11,000 lower starting salaries than non-moms. Fathers, on the other hand, were offered $6,000 more in starting salaries than non-fathers.
Even women who have just entered their careers, or who are working in fields considered high paying or predominantly male, can't escape pay disparities: one year out of college, women are already making less than their male colleagues. After ten years out of college, women earn 69% as much as men. And if you're a Black or Hispanic woman in the workforce, working full-time, year-round, you will only make 62 and 53 cents, respectively, for every dollar your white, non-Hispanic male counterparts earn.
At the end of Equal Pay Day, a day to acknowledge the wage gap and work towards eliminating pay inequity, here's what I think: while classic TV reruns are great, Equal Pay Day reruns are not. Now is the time to do whatever we can to close up the pay gap so that, many years from now, our children aren't writing blog posts that start with "We were the kids of 2012, raised on vampires and Real Housewives. When I found out that we still hadn't closed the pay gap, I leaned against my flying car and wondered, what year is this anyway?"