Today is International Worker’s Day – a yearly celebration of the international labour movement. In the United States, it is also recognized as Law Day, described by the American Bar Association as a way to recognize “the promise of equality under the law.”
A fitting time to recognize that, 50 years after Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to “prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers,” women – on average – still make 77 cents to the male dollar, amounting to a “$431,000 lifetime wage gap.”
Critics are quick to point out problems with that statistic, which was generated by a 2008 Census Bureau report that compared the total earnings of men and women. Claims have been levied that the number doesn’t reflect the tendency for women to “cluster in lower-paying fields,” work fewer hours, and take time off for children.
Writing for Forbes, Sabrina Schaeffer even wrote that the misleading statistic is used as an “attempt to convince women that our workplace is inherently sexist and that women are all victims.”
Still, the numbers don’t lie; despite strong opposition by those who don’t believe that the US has a problem with gender inequality, a comparison of men and women in the same professions show fairly undeniable disparities in pay. According to Forbes, women in management positions make 71.6% compared to their male counterparts. Even more astonishing, “in financial professions it’s 74% and in legal occupations an abysmal 53.7%.”
On average, American Progress reports that when the numbers are adjusted for “lifestyle choices” women are “still paid 7% less than men,” despite having “the same majors, jobs, and hours.” That number is even higher for Black and Hispanic women, and is likely the best indication of systemic discrimination in the workplace.
This salary disparity has real life implications beyond making the case that “our workplace is inherently sexist” and “women are all victims.” A February report by the Carey Institute at the University of New Hampshire found that “women now contribute 47 percent of familial income.” And with “7.5 million families headed by working single mothers,” almost 2.2 million families are poor.
In early April, Congress failed – yet again – to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill intended to close loopholes surrounding workplace discrimination. The legislation would have prohibited employers “from paying a man more than a woman for the same job, and from retaliating against women employees who challenge pay disparities.” Every Republican in the House of Representatives voted against the bill.
Despite what some would like to believe, the gender gap is not a myth. There are troves of statistical evidence backing up the claim that women make far less than men, and that workplace discrimination is a key factor.
If the 50 years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act is any indication, legislation will not completely solve the problem. After all, since the 1968 bill, the gender gap has closed by ”less than half-a-cent per year.”
Still, closing loopholes that hinder a woman’s ability to fight workplace discrimination seems like a no-brainer. The least Congress can do is act like it supports workplace equality. Maybe one day, the people in power will be abe to throw out their “whole binders full of women” and recognize that the right person for the right job should make the right amount of money, regardless of sex.
That’s the dream.