Happy Equal Pay Day — Now Let’s Move It to January

Today, Tuesday, April 25, is Equal Pay Day, which means it’s the day that women have to work to in 2006 in order to make the same amount as their male colleagues did in 2005, since American women continue to make 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. The day has always been celebrated in April in recent memory, as the pay gap between women and men has not considerably narrowed in decades. While it should be possible to completely eliminate the pay gap between the genders, even if we can’t do that overnight, we’d all feel much better about the holiday if the gap were so small we could celebrate it in January, rather than almost four months after the new year starts.

Every year, the National Committee on Pay Equity coordinates the celebration for Equal Pay Day, selecting the time in April when women finally catch up to men’s earnings from the previous year, and also setting the day on Tuesday, the day when women’s wages catch up to men’s from the previous week. NCPE encourages grassroots organizations and individuals to engage in activities such as rallies, lobby days, speak-outs, letter-writing campaigns, workshops, and meetings with employers, policy-makers, and enforcement agencies in order to promote effective solutions for closing the wage gap.

This year’s celebration featured a special new activity: encouraging the formation of WAGE clubs. WAGE stands for “Women Are Getting Even,” and is the name of an organization formed to combat the wage gap. The WAGE Project is headed by Dr. Evelyn Murphy, author of Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men — And What To Do About It. To observe Equal Pay Day, the WAGE Project promoted the formation of WAGE clubs, which create a sort of localized community where women can comfortably talk about their wages with other women, educate one another and push one another to do something about their situation. (See Washington Post article.)

Murphy says the traditional explanations for the differences in pay between women and men just don’t add up. She says that the 23-cent differential is not because some women take time off to give birth or raise children, as the pay-gap figure measures only women and men who work full time, for a full year and does not include women who took time off during the year or worked part time. And although women who might more often take time off to give birth or raise a child, most women who can take time off and go back to work full-time earn more in the first place. Any drop in salary they might experience would not pull the average down, she argues. (See Washington Post article.)

One commentator reflecting on Murphy’s arguments and pay equity issues says:

In some instances, there may be legitimate, social reasons for pay differences. But you cannot explain away the entire pay gap with the old explanations that women are less educated than men, that they take time off to have kids or that they are in more menial jobs. Women earn less because decision-makers don’t place the same value on women and the jobs they hold as they do on men. There’s a name for that. It’s discrimination.

(See Orlando Sentinel column.)

If we cannot eliminate the pay gap entirely due to legitimate differences between the sexes and respect for each individual family’s choice about how best to balance work and family obligations, let’s work on getting it out of April. There would not be such a need for concern if the pay gap was 95% or the day was observed in January.

In fact, the pay gap between those just starting out in the workforce is 93 percent for workers under 25, which means that women start out at a disadvantage in what for many is their very first jobs. (See Women’s E-News article.) But the difference between that number and the overall average gap of 77 percent shows just how much ground a typical female worker is likely to lose over her lifetime. That’s about $700,000 for the average American full-time woman worker. Columnist Kathleen Costello asks, “What could this money have allowed women to do? Perhaps pay off debt, buy a house, pay for their children’s college education, save for their own retirement. The implications — for enhancing women’s quality of life — are staggering.” (See Star-Gazette column.)

Want to know how you can combat the problem? Here are some solutions, offered in one newspaper article appearing to commemorate the day:

  • First, we need to keep affirmative action programs in place to make sure education, jobs and promotion opportunities are open and offered to qualified women.
  • Employers must examine and correct their pay practices. Employers can get help examining their pay practices through equal pay self-audit guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Women must stand up for equal pay for themselves. If a prospective employer cannot show that women and men are paid equally for the job they are seeking, it makes sense to look elsewhere. Positive signs includes a hiring process that seeks diversity through affirmative action, written pay and benefit policies, job descriptions and evaluation procedures. A union for workers is another good sign. Women in unions earn 35 percent more than women in non-union workplaces. Women who are paid less than men must discuss the problem with their employer. If there’s a union, ask for their help. If discrimination exists, file a complaint with the local or state fair employment agencies, or with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Introduce and pass Federal legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act. That’s not a solution popular with employers, but it may be necessary. For employers who continue to pay women less, legal penalties or EEOC action may be the only remedies.

(See Jackson Sun article.) And as Dr. Murphy points out, it’s time to start talking: to each other, and to your employer. Only if you know what’s going on in your company can you begin to combat the problem.

More Information:

WAGE Project

National Committee on Pay Equity

Workplace Fairness: sex discrimination; work/family balance

There’s even a pay gap at Wimbledon:
Wimbledon under fire over prize money gap

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.