On April 12, the nation observes Equal Pay Day to symbolize that women on average have to work a year plus more than three months to equal what men make in a year. This past year, women were paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men in the United States. For women of color, the gap is even wider, with African-American women earning 67 cents and Latinas 58 cents on the dollar.
LaTerrell Bradford, member of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, calls equal pay “non-negotiable.” While working as part of an all-female support team, a man was hired in the same job classification. Her female supervisor discovered that he was to earn much more than any of the women and advocated for every team member to be paid at the higher rate. Human resources relented because as Bradford says, “It would not have been fair nor legal to sit next to him, do the exact same work and have him be paid more.”
Not only is the pay gap unfair, it harms families and children. Seventeen percent of Wisconsin’s children were living in poverty in 2009, up three points from the year before. Women’s pay rates support half of Milwaukee’s children who live in mother-only households, so clearly these paychecks put food on the table and pay for doctor visits.
Another 9to5 member, Mary Henderson, is a former Wal-Mart employee and an original plaintiff of a massive gender discrimination class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in late March. Henderson was paid thousands of dollars less than a man with less education and the same seniority in the same position. Her daughter, also a Wal-Mart employee, applied for a supervisory job that ended up going to a man because “he had a family to support” – even though she was supporting her family, too. When Henderson inquired about these instances of gender pay discrimination, she was punished with transfer to a store requiring an hours-long commute.
The pay gap is evident in almost every occupational category, in every income bracket; it’s a constant despite education and experience. The National Women’s Law Center found the gap represents $10,622 a year, with which a family could:
• Buy groceries for a year ($3,210)
• Arrange child care for three months ($1,748)
• Pay three months of rent and utilities ($2,265)
• Cover six months of health insurance ($1,697)
• Pay down six months on a student loan ($1,602)
• And purchase three tanks of gas ($100)
The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963 to address the pay disparity that was 59 cents for women working full-time, year-round jobs as compared to men’s $1 of pay at that time. Since then, the gap has narrowed by less than one-half of one cent per year. At this rate, women won’t achieve equality for 66 years, in 2077!
The Paycheck Fairness Act will be an important step to help end significant and persistent disparities in pay, as it updates the Equal Pay Act of 1963, strengthens penalties courts may impose for violations, prohibits retaliation against workers who inquire about or share wage information and empowers women to better negotiate for equal pay. It must be passed for the women of today and for the women of tomorrow.
The U.S. Senate must consider how the pay gap places families of today in jeopardy, especially in these tough economic times. They should think about how they love and value their own daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters. Are they really worth less than their sons, grandsons and great-grandsons?
Of course not. Equality is the cornerstone of our American way of life. I urge Sens. Ron Johnson and Herb Kohl to champion fair pay for America’s working women and sign on as co-sponsors of the Paycheck Fairness Act as it is re-introduced this year. It’s the right thing to do for women, families and our country.
Linda Garcia Barnard is the Wisconsin-based Operations Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a national membership-based organization of low-income women working to improve policies on issues that directly affect them.