Speaking of Women's Rights: 50 Years of the Equal Pay Act: We’ve Had Enough of Not Enough

Monday, June 10, 2013

50 Years of the Equal Pay Act: We’ve Had Enough of Not Enough

What would you do with an extra $11,000 a year?

Because if you are a woman, on average, $11,084 is how much less you make than a man doing the same job.  In other words, a woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid for the same work.  And Seattle has the dubious distinction of the largest pay gap among the U.S.’s 50 top metropolitan areas; Seattle area women are paid only 73 cents for every dollar.

It’s been fifty years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law.  At the glacial pace at which the wage gap has been shrinking – just a half-cent per year – it will take nearly another fifty years to close the wage gap.

We’ve had enough of not enough.

Today, we at Legal Voice call for action to end the practices and close the loopholes in existing laws that contribute to women making on average only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.  We and a coalition of other organizations are kicking off the Equal Pay Today! Campaign to work toward eliminating these practices that contribute to the wage gap:

  • Less pay for the same job: Women are paid less than men in nearly every occupation.  Studies that show women were offered fewer job opportunities and lower pay, even when they had identical resumes as men.   To close the wage gap we must address discrimination in pay and promotions on the same job.

  • Job segregation: Sex role stereotypes lead to women being segregated into female-dominated jobs such as retail sales, home health care, and child care – jobs that pay low wages and are often part-time.  Women remain under-represented in higher paying work traditionally done by men, such as construction, fire-fighting and policing.

  • Retaliation against workers for discussing their pay:  Today, a majority of employees are either prohibited or actively discouraged from discussing their pay.   Policies preventing employees from sharing pay information keep women in the dark about pay differences, limiting their ability to negotiate for higher pay and to enforce their rights under the equal pay laws.

  • Pay reductions due to pregnancy and caregiving responsibilities.  Women experience diminished income throughout their working lives.  Employers pay women less from the moment of hire, deprive women of opportunities to advance, or pushed them out of work altogether by failing to accommodate needs that may arise for women as a result of pregnancy and caregiving.
  • Wage theft:  Being paid less than the minimum wage, being shorted hours, being forced to work off the clock, not being paid overtime, and not being paid at all are pervasive practices across many industries.  Women, especially immigrant women in low-wage jobs, are often the hardest hit by wage theft.

The number of Equal Pay Act claims has not declined over the past 15 years, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that investigates such charges.  So while the Equal Pay Act is great to have in our arsenal, it’s not enough to simply have it on the books if employers' practices continue to violate it.

As an initial step toward more comprehensive change, we’ve asked all 50 state governors to commit to work to close the wage gap in his or her state.  If you agree with us that it’s time for equal pay to be a reality, and not just a promise, join us and sign up here to be a part of the Equal Pay Today! Campaign.

Because who among us couldn’t use an extra $11,000 per year, after all?