It’s Long Past Time for Equal Pay for Equal Work

April 04, 2017

Today is Equal Pay Day, which marks how far into this year women on average have to work to receive the same pay that men in equivalent jobs took home last year. In other words, because women make less than men in the same jobs, they have to work longer for the same pay. 

On average, in 2017 women make 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. For women of color, the gap is even wider. Compared with each dollar that white non-Hispanic men take home, black women on average make 63 cents, and Latina women receive just 54 cents. Measured by the Equal Pay Day standard, black women’s equal pay day would not be until August 23rd and Latina women’s equal pay day would not come until November 1st.

No matter how much education a woman attains or how many degrees she has to her name, the wage gap follows. Across fulltime, year round workers, women with doctoral degrees are paid less than men with master’s degrees, and women with master’s degrees make less than men with bachelor’s degrees. Over her lifetime, the wage gap will cost the average high school graduate $700,000, the average college graduate $1.2 million and the average woman with a master’s degree $2 million. The wage gap means greater challenges for women in retirement too. On average, women will receive 25 percent less in social security payments than men because of their lower salaries.

Just think of the impact equal pay could have for working women and their families. If women were paid as men are, the average woman working fulltime would receive enough additional money each year to pay for 15 more months of childcare, a year and a half’s worth of food for her family, seven more months of mortgage and utility payments, eleven more months of rent, or more than a year’s worth of college tuition.

Beyond unjust and discriminatory, it’s bad for the economy too. In total, women employed fulltime in the United States lose a combined total of more than $840 billion each year as a result of the wage gap. The World Economic Forum has estimated that if women’s pay equaled men’s, America’s GDP would grow by nine percent. It’s an embarrassment in the world market as well. The United States ranks 45th in the world in terms of gender equity in pay—much lower than Rwanda, the Philippines, and Estonia.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal for companies to pay men and women different wages for doing substantially the same work. So how is that, more than fifty years later, the gender wage gap still persists? The short answer is that the law lacks teeth—it doesn’t have enough mechanisms for enforcement or sufficient remedies when an employer breaks the law.

Today, women in Congress are reintroducing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would at long last give the Equal Pay Act the muscle it needs and make significant strides towards closing the pay gap. Among other things, the bill would make it illegal for companies to retaliate against employees for discussing salary differences and open businesses up to civil liability for salary inequity.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, however, faces an uphill battle. It has been introduced in every congressional session since 1997. Twice it passed the House and once it came within four votes of passing the Senate, but the bill has never become law. That has to change. We cannot afford to wait.