Almost half-a-century on, women’s wages still lag By Kathleen Murphy Published:April 10, 2011, 12:00 AM Updated: April 10, 2011, 6:26 AM
It took eight years for the United States to send a man to the moon once we declared our intentions. So why is it taking so much longer to close the wage gap between men and women? Both agendas served national interests, but only one was claimed as a priority. It has been 48 years since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law. In 1963, women earned 59 cents on average for every dollar their male colleagues earned. In 2009, women earned 77 cents on average for every dollar their male colleagues earned. Yes, women are better off today, but the gap remains significant. The remaining wage gap of 23 percent exceeds the gain of 18 percent made during the previous 48 years. At the present rate of progress, it will take another 50 years to close the gap. April 12 is Equal Pay Day, which was established in 1996 to acknowledge the persistence of the wage gap. It symbolizes how much longer a woman has to work to earn the same pay as her male colleagues earned the previous year. Wage discrimination is unfair and affects all women regardless of age, race or education. Women have been conditioned to think that education is the path to progress. Let’s not confuse progress with equality. Educational gains have not translated into full equity in the workplace. The American Association of University Women’s recent report, Behind the Pay Gap, showed that earnings for women graduates lagged behind their male colleagues in the same field just one year out of college. Ten years after graduation, the wage gap widens. This research indicates that the wage gap cannot be dismissed because of personal choices or qualifications. It also exposes the myth of meritocracy. There are structural barriers in place preventing women from achieving pay equity with men. These barriers are worse for minority women. Wage discrimination has significant financial consequences. More households today depend on women’s incomes, suggesting that wage discrimination is not exclusively a women’s issue. With more than 70 million women working, wage discrimination hurts families that are already struggling because of the recession. Lower earnings also jeopardize future economic security because of reduced benefits from Social Security and pension plans. As a result, women stand to forfeit $210,000 of earnings during their lifetime. Congress had the opportunity to correct the limitations of existing fair pay laws by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close loopholes, strengthen incentives to end wage discrimination and protect workers against retaliation for inquiring about employers’ wage practices or disclosing their own wages. This bill was defeated by a procedural vote in the Senate in November. It’s time to raise our voices in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Fifty more years is too long to wait.
Kathleen Murphy is a member of the American Association of University Women, Buffalo Branch. She is network and telecommunications service manager at the University at Buffalo. http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/from-our-readers/another-voice/article389202.ece