Equal Pay Day is a date chosen each year to symbolize how far into the current year women need to work to earn the same amount of money men earned during the previous year. Today, April 9, 99 days into 2013, is Equal Pay Day.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, signed by President John F. Kennedy on June 10, 1963. In writing, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 “prohibits discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 reaffirmed the Equal Pay Act’s stance, and took it a step further by prohibiting discrimination by employers on the basis of sex, race, religion, and/or nationality. So, if these legal protections are in place to combat wage discrimination, why do we still have an Equal Pay Day?
When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women made 59 cents for every dollar men made. Today, women make on average 77 cents per dollar men make for the same work, according to findings of the US Census Bureau in 2012 (it is important to note, however, that there are some varying statistics on the wage gap, but research overwhelmingly contends that there is a pay difference between women and men conducting equal work). While there has been some advancement over the past half century, what many pay equity and women’s rights activists find particularly troubling is that recent research shows progress has stalled during the past decade. There has been virtually no change in the wage gap during this time for white women, while the gap for women of color, some research suggests, has grown. Studies show that young women who recently graduated from college earn only 82 percent of the salaries of their recently graduated male counterparts who studied the same majors, completed the same degrees, and entered the same occupations. In 2012, Bloomberg found that the field of personal care and service work was the only one of 265 major occupations where women’s average earnings were higher than men’s. Motherhood or the possibility of motherhood is also a cited factor contributing to women’s lower salaries. One study has found the pay gap to be closing at a rate of one half cent per year, which means women will not achieve pay equality until 2056.
Some who oppose the notion of a gender pay gap question the validity of the research done on the subject. They make note that women and men often choose different career paths – men choosing typically higher paying jobs in science and technology industries, women choosing typically lower paying jobs in education and creative industries. The fact that blue collar, hourly waged positions are frequently dominated by men, who can earn more by working overtime, is also pointed out because women working white collar salaried positions are often exempt from overtime laws. A further argument against a gender pay bias is that women often choose to work part time or flexible hours, in order to take care of their children and families. Despite the truth in this reasoning in regards to some women, it does not apply generically to all women. This reasoning also does not account for the “unexplained” difference in pay between women and men with the same skills working the same jobs for the same amount of hours and in the same conditions.
Women’s work both in the home and out of the home has been traditionally devalued in society. One of NWHM’s goals is to champion the historic work of women in shaping our nation and to bring greater value to the work that women are currently doing.
There are many rallies and activities planned across the country today in honor of Equal Pay Day and in order to bring awareness to the gender pay gap. Are you planning in participating in any of these events? Feel free to share your stories with us!
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