By Stephanie Moore, a Spring 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern
Everyone’s heard this statistic: for every dollar a man earns, his female counterpart only makes 78 cents. Created in 1996 to draw attention to the wage gap, Equal Pay Day – which is today – always falls on a Tuesday to represent how far into the week women must work to earn what their male counterparts made the week before. If that doesn’t cause you to pause, think about this: April marks how far into the year that women must work to earn what men made the previous year.
Women face the wage gap in all 50 states and in almost every occupation. For example, education administration is a female-dominated field where male administrators continue to earn more than their female counterparts. According to a White House fact sheet on the gender wage gap, the wage gap cannot be explained even when controlling for education, experience, hours, or industry.
Seventy-six percent of women work in the top 10 low-wage occupations. More than half of all women work sales, service, or clerical jobs. Low-income women of color are significantly more likely to be employed in service, low-income, and physically demanding jobs. African-American women make up roughly 5.9 percent of the workforce, but comprise 29 percent of nurses and home health workers, and immigrant women comprise nearly 45 percent of the maid and house-cleaning workforce.
The wage gap not only hurts women and low-income communities of color, but also families. African-American women make 64 cents and Latina women only earn 54 cents for every dollar White males earn. Women of color are more likely to be the sole provider of household income and live below the poverty line compared to their White female counterparts. A recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reveals that eliminating the wage gap would lower the poverty rate for single, working mothers from 28.7 percent to 15 percent. Gender discrimination exacerbates the wage gap and intensifies poverty among women and families.
So what’s being done to combat it? The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits unequal pay for “substantially equal” work, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin. Yet, as with most laws, there are loopholes. Lawmakers in Congress reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act on March 25. This bill would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for sharing their wage information with others, fully compensate victims of sex-based discrimination, eliminate a large loophole favoring employers, and improve data collection on wage information. In an era of partisanship, it’s time for Congress to make a bipartisan stand for equal pay.