Does this mean that legislation has finally passed granting women equal pay? No this is the day each year that marks how long women must additionally work in order to earn as much as a man made in the previous year. However Equal Pay Day occurs even later for racial and ethnic minorities and mothers. Asian American women’s salaries show the smallest gender pay gap, at 90 percent of white men’s earnings. Hispanic women’s salaries show the largest gap, at 54 percent of white men’s earnings. Working mothers are typically paid 69 cents for every dollar working dads are paid.
The Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 1963 when women were paid 59 cents for each dollar men were paid. While there has been progress, the pay gap still exists at 78 cents today. In 2011 Pennsylvania was ranked 34th among the states in pay equity between men and women, but dropped to 40th in 2012, not because Pennsylvania’s pay gap increased, but because other states made progress in narrowing the pay gap. The gap remains consistent across age groups, levels of education, and for full time workers across a number of occupations.
This is a matter of economics not just for women, but for families as well. The majority of mothers are in the paid labor force and approximately one third of employed mothers are the sole support for their families. This is not just single parents, but families where the spouse is not working. Plus with our current economy, families increasingly depend on women’s wages just to make ends meet. The pay gap costs a typical woman at least $400,000 over the course of her career. This affects the amount of social security she receives in retirement and may also affect pensions, contributing to many elderly women living in poverty.
Another area of concern is the growing increase in student loan debt. Seventy-one percent of college seniors who graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree have loan debt, averaging $30,000. While this debt is a problem for all students, it is more of a burden for women. Even though men and women pay equal tuition and take out an equal number of loans, because of the pay gap, it will take women longer to pay off student loans.
Questions still arise as to whether this pay gap is real or just a matter of choice. Some of it can be explained by the different career choices women make. For instance more women go into the teaching profession which does not pay as much as positions in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). It can also be attributed in some cases to lost time because of family responsibilities such as pregnancy and caring for ill or elderly family members which still mostly falls to women. Yet, this does not fully explain the pay gap. In an earlier report, Behind the Pay Gap (AAUW, 2007), found a 12 percent unexplained difference in earnings among full-time workers 10 years after college graduation. Other researchers have also found that the gender pay gap is not fully accounted for by women’s and men’s choices.
What can we do? Companies need to conduct salary audits to check for pay inequities and then address the issue. Women can learn to negotiate for fair pay. Most importantly Congress needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. This will improve the Equal Pay Act that has not been updated in over 50 years. Contact your representatives and senators and ask them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. We can’t wait another 50 years.
The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap (2014), http://www.aauw.org/resource/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/
Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year After College Graduation, http://www.aauw.org/resource/graduating-to-a-pay-gap/
Barbara Rice is President of the AAUW of Lower Bucks and a Partner in the BCWAC