On Equal Pay Day, Fight for Equal Pay for Women!
Equal Pay Day Is April 9, 2013
“I would fight for my liberty so long as my strength lasted. …” Harriet Tubman
On April 9, people across the country will stand together and demand action to end the wage gap and see the full fruition of the Equal Pay Act (EPA) that was signed by President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago. Last year, Congress considered the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have helped women receive equal wages for equal work, yet this bill was allowed to die on the floor.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that was signed by President Barack Obama in January 2009 changed the employment law that required a wage discrimination lawsuit to be filed within 180 days of the employer’s original pay-setting decision; now women can dispute wage discrimination within 180 days of the date any paycheck was issued. This was the first step in giving women a chance to dispute wage inequality, but the battle is still far from over, because it doesn’t address the practice of paying women less.
When comparing all full-time workers in terms of gender only, in 2011 women made 77 cents for every dollar that men made. Those who argue against the existence of the wage gap claim that since this figure does not take into account the industry worked in or the number of hours worked, it is not accurate. They say that women are paid less than men because they often enter fields that are lower paying, work fewer hours and have less experience than men. When comparing men with women in similar employment positions, with the same hours and responsibilities, however, women are still being paid less.
The wage gap opens from the moment a woman begins her career. At the beginning of her career, a woman is paid an average of $1,700 less than a man at an equal career level. As a woman progresses in her career, the gap increases to more than $14,000 in the final five years before retirement when her wages are compared with those of a man at the same career level. With wage discrepancies starting from the very beginning of a career, and lasting decades, a woman will have lost out on nearly half a million dollars in earning potential by the end of her career.
In a study completed by the American Association of University Women, a college-educated woman will earn 5 percent less than her male peers even when major, industry and school ranking are taken into consideration. Likewise in specialized work that requires advanced degrees, women make less than their male counterparts. As a woman progresses in her career, the wage gap increases, because raises are generally awarded as a percentage of current salary.
For women of color, the wage gap is even wider. African-American and Hispanic women are paid just 62 cents and 54 cents, respectively, for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men. These women face the double burden of sexism and racism in the workplace.
This issue does not affect women only. In 60 percent of households, women are the primary breadwinners or make an income equal to that of their spouse. If a woman is taking home less only because of her gender, her entire family is suffering the consequences of having less disposable income. Over a lifetime, less income earned also means less money saved for retirement. Since the passage of the EPA in 1963, wages paid to women have slowly increased at the rate of half a cent per year. If this rate continues, it will take another 40 years for women to see equal pay for equal work.
Pending Equal Pay Bills
Several bills are pending in this congressional session to close this gap more quickly and ensure that women will receive fair pay in the future.
Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84/H.R. 377)
If implemented, the Paycheck Fairness Act would end the overt wage discrimination that women face today. The bill would accomplish this by strengthening the EPA. Although the EPA requires that employers not consider an employee’s gender when making wage assessments, it has many loopholes that are easily exploited. Currently, employees who discuss salary information with each other or superiors can be disciplined or fired; the Paycheck Fairness Act would end this practice, allowing for the open sharing of wage information to ensure that no employee is being paid less because of his or her gender, ethnicity or national origin. With an open dialogue about how their skills are being compensated within a company, women would be able to negotiate for fair compensation that is on a par with that of male employees who have the same skills and training.
Fair Minimum Wage Act (S. 460/H.R. 1010)
Women represent two-thirds of the wage earners making minimum wage. It is difficult to address equal pay without addressing the amount of pay. Women deserve compensation for their work that is equal to that received by their male counterparts. But everyone deserves to be paid a livable wage. In fields where pay is sometimes less than $10 an hour, including child care, domestic work and home health, women represent the majority of employees. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would raise the current federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour; it would also increase the federal minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 per hour to 70 percent of the federal minimum wage. If the minimum wage had been adjusted to keep up with inflation, it would currently be almost $10.60 per hour.
Women, especially women of color, represent the majority of minimum wage earners, and they are often the primary wage earners in their families. An increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would give full-time minimum wage workers almost $6,000 more per year, lifting a family of three out of poverty.
Fair pay is an issue that affects everyone, but especially women and their families. The Paycheck Fairness Act would enable women to negotiate for equality by making it possible for them to obtain all available information about compensation within their company. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would ensure that low-wage workers are able to live with dignity and become more active participants in the economy.
What Can You Do?
- Urge your members of Congress to co-sponsor both the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84/H.R. 377) and the Fair Minimum Wage Act (S. 460/H.R. 1010).
- Have you heard of the book Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg? Let us know what you think about her ideas. How do these ideas reflect the reality of the lives of women you know?
- Read Resolution 4060, “Global Living Wage” (pages 575-576); Resolution 4101, “Living Wage Model” (pages 594-595); and Resolution 3444, “The Status of Women” (pages 504-511), all in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church (2012), for guidance and calls to action on elections and politics.
Connect With Organizations That Support Equal Pay for Women