April 14 is Equal Pay Day

We’re celebrating Equal Pay Day today, April 14, 2015. Maybe celebrate isn’t the right word. We’re acknowledging that for a woman to earn the equivalent of what a man earns in a year requires her to work a full year plus 3.5 months into the next year. So Equal Pay Day is a numerical way of looking at the wage gap between men and women.

It’s a little dizzying to me: I’m working this year to catch up to last year, so when do I start working for this year? I’m already dancing as fast as I can!

I’m not here to convince you there’s a wage gap, that women are paid less than men. There’s solid research out there and if you look at the statistics from both liberal and conservative organizations, there’s not that much difference in what’s reported:

  • Women earn less than men, generally 77 cents for every dollar a full time male worker earns.
  • “Occupational segregation,” when one gender fills 75% or more of the jobs in an industry, is a key factor in explaining the wage gap. Occupations with a majority of women workers have lower pay scales.
  • Men who work in traditional female occupations earn more than women in those fields.
  • Women who work in traditional male occupations earn less than men in those fields.
  • Women of color get paid less than white women, facing an even larger wage gap.

The explanations are pretty solid too:equal pay

  • Women’s traditional jobs like pre-school and kindergarten teachers pay less than traditional men’s jobs such as construction work.
  • Women don’t stick with jobs in traditionally male fields, due to discrimination, not only in pay but in sexist attitudes and behaviors that they must endure or leave.
  • Women are the caregivers and often “stop out” of work in order to raise children, stay home with sick children or parents, and deal with family emergencies that require them to take more time away from work.

 Women and Children Lose

There are important consequences of a persistent wage gap:

  • Women have higher poverty rates, beginning at 18 years of age and continuing through old age. Living below the poverty line in retirement is more common for women than men.
  • Women are the sole breadwinners in 40% of households with children and the wage gap decreases their ability to pay for college educations for their kids.
  • Owning a home, something that has a positive impact on children’s futures, is more difficult.
  • Saving and investing for the future is limited.
  • Women are dependent on men and marriage for having and maintaining a decent standard of living.

Pay discrimination is a real and persistent problem that continues to shortchange American women and their families.

The Fair Pay Act

The Fair Pay Act requires equal pay for equal value, whether the jobs are the same or not. Jobs that are women’s traditional occupations will be assessed and equated with jobs that men do, as a way to begin to reduce the inequity caused by occupational segregation.

Most women cannot go out and land a job that has traditionally belonged to men, whether it is in construction or management – many studies have shown that there is discrimination in hiring practices, when male and female candidates have equivalent experience and education.

And many women feel compelled to choose typically female occupations, because of family and cultural pressure to conform to enduring sex roles, choosing to work as nurses, teachers, clerical staff, and sales clerks.

Requiring equal pay for workers in equivalent jobs starts to chip away at the impact of occupational segregation.

The Really Big Question

Underneath all the statistics, there’s a big question no one wants to look at. What we need to ask is whether women’s work, those traditional jobs women do, is paid less because the work itself is less valuable to us. Or are women’s jobs underpaid and undervalued simply because women do it, and women are seen as less valuable and less deserving of respect in our culture.

We’re at a pivotal point for women. In the US there is a movement afoot acknowledging women’ value, that asks women to take stock of themselves and value themselves, and to affirm that women’s contributions are equal to those of men’s in the workforce. I think the answer to the question will arise as more women look at themselves in the mirror and affirm their worth and then take that newborn self-confidence into the workplace and ask to be paid equitably for the value they bring to their work they do.




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