Commentary

Why we shouldn’t forget about the fight for equal pay

In spite of years of fighting for equality, men continue to earn more than women, even with similar levels of education and work experience. This phenomenon is the gender wage gap, and it doesn’t just hurt women–it hurts working households all across the country.

When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women earned approximately 60 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned. And in the 55 years since then, the gender wage gap has only closed by about 21 cents.

In 2017, women were paid 88 cents for every dollar earned by men, even taking into account various factors such as race, age and education level. This data, alongside the reality that this past decade’s progress in closing the gender wage gap has been the slowest in almost 40 years, underlines a serious problem within our workplaces that isn’t improving fast enough for the families who depend on women’s paychecks.

Meanwhile, women of color fare much worse than the average white woman. North Carolina women on average are paid 86 cents to a man’s dollar, while Asian women make 80 cents per dollar, Black women make 64 cents per dollar, and Latina women make 48 cents per dollar on average. Discrimination against mothers and pregnant women is also rampant, with mothers making approximately 71 cents per dollar. This gap exists regardless of education levels or industry. In fact, women with master’s degrees typically make less than men with bachelor’s degrees within the same profession.

Ultimately, the persistence of the gender wage gap is a loss for all of America, not just women. Reports from 2015 show that 42% of women are primary breadwinners for their families, and 22.4% of mothers were co-breadwinners. The gender pay gap amounts to thousands of dollars per year in lost wages that could be supporting American families and the economy. The pay gap isn’t an issue for women to solve alone. Initiatives in Congress like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was most recently reintroduced in 2017, aim to close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and provide women who have been disenfranchised by the wage gap with more compensation. The Paycheck Fairness Act would also put gender based wage discrimination under strict scrutiny. All these steps, if taken, will ensure that equal pay is a reality sooner rather than later.

Women deserve equal pay for equal work. It’s time for our policy makers to turn this goal into a reality, for the sake of families all across America.

Veda Patil is a summer intern for the Workers’ Rights Project at the NC Justice Center. She is currently an undergraduate student at UNC Chapel Hill.

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