April 10 was Equal Pay Day. This is the date representing how far into 2018 women have to work in order to catch up to what men were paid in 2017. Equal Pay day shows the gender pay gap between men and women. As a group, women make about 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. For women of color, that number drops: 63 cents for black women, whose Equal Pay Day isn’t until August 20, and 54 cents for Latinas who must work until November 1 for their Equal Pay Day. The gender pay gap exists in every profession, every occupation, at every level of education, in every country.
Consider these facts:
- Women are 47% of the U.S. work force and are primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18.
- Based on today’s median income, women make $10,000 per year less than men; that’s $400,000 over a 40 year working career.
- Women work 50 years to earn what men do in 40.
- Because of the wage gap, women’s private retirement savings and social security benefits are lower than men’s.
- Women’s overall poverty rates are higher than men, older women are poorer than older men and women live longer than men.
Let me personalize the wage gap. In 1974, when I was 24 and just beginning my professional career, I wore a pin with “59 cents” printed on it. That showed that women made 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. When I retired in 2012, at age 62, my pin changed to 76 cents – a whopping 17 cent increase over 38 years. At today’s rates, my pin won’t say $1.00 until 2059, when I would be 109 years old. And I’m not optimistic about that, because some timelines show that my pin won’t change to $1.00 until 2119, where I’d have to live until I was 169 years old.
The causes are complex. There are workplace realities: women are paid less for the same work; women are under-represented in high income jobs and over-represented in low income jobs; women’s work is devalued because women do it; women take more time away from work for child-bearing, child rearing and elder-care. There are leftover social biases like women’s income only supplements their husband’s, that women choose to work in lower income jobs or for fewer hours, that women are not as experienced or educated or dedicated to work as men are.
We can argue about the causes of the gender pay gap, but the fact remains that wage discrimination exists. It’s not as obvious as it used to be; we don’t see jobs advertised as “women’s” or “men’s” jobs anymore and there aren’t different official pay scales for men and women. A lot of barriers to equality have been removed. But the wage gap persists.
The solutions are also complicated, but they exist. There are laws like the Equal Pay Act of 1963; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Some countries require companies to publish wages every year. This makes wage information public so the wage gap cannot be ignored and women can better fight wage discrimination. In some situations, an employee’s wage is based on his or her salary history, perpetuating the gender wage gap. Several states have passed laws prohibiting employers from using salary history to set a new employee’s wage and a recent court case upheld the prohibition.
But passing laws is not alone enough. If it were, we wouldn’t have a gender wage gap since gender discrimination at work has been illegal since 1963. We have to change our collective thinking about the value of so-called “women’s work”, paid and unpaid. The gender wage gap is no one person’s fault, but finding ways to eliminate it is everyone’s responsibility.
Gayle Carper is a member of the Macomb City council and she’s a retired attorney and retired Professor of Law at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.
Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.