Written by: Mary Hungerford
Nearly 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who hold the same jobs and perform the same work. According to the New York State Pay Equity Coalition’s Wage Gap project, working families would gain about $200 billion in family income annually (and each working woman’s family income would be increased by $4,000) if women and people of color obtained wages equal to men in comparable jobs. According to a 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics “Spotlight on Statistics” report, women, on average, earn some 81 cents to every dollar men earn in comparable full-time, nonseasonal occupations.
April 12 is the annual Gender Pay Gap Day, a day which “celebrates” how much longer into the year women have to work to get the same average pay as men for full-time, comparable work. This year, the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters will hold a panel discussion which will revolve around the “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-being” report issued in March by the Obama Administration in support of the Council on Women and Girls. The event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Steele Memorial Library auditorium, 101 E. Church St. in Elmira.
Some highlights of the “Women in America” report:
» Women continue to have the highest poverty rates in comparison to men. Overall, women who are head of a household with children have the highest rate, with nearly 40 percent living in poverty.
» Black women earned 71 percent and Hispanic women earned 62 percent of what men earned, while white and Asian women earned 82 percent and 95 percent, respectively, of what men earned.
» There are more women in professional and management jobs than 30 years ago — but in lower-paying jobs. Twenty percent of all women are employed in five “traditionally female occupations”: secretaries, registered nurses, elementary school teachers, cashiers and nursing aids. According to NYSPEC, jobs traditionally done by women have been devalued. Comparable jobs with the same level of skill and responsibility held by white men get more pay.
» As of 2008, the U.S. has a higher average of post- secondary education than the average in all other developed countries. Fifty-seven percent of all college degrees earned in 2008 went to women. However, women earn fewer degrees in higher-paying science and technology fields than men do.
In the past 40 years, significant strides have been made in higher education and higher-paying occupations for women. Yet pay equity remains elusive.
This year, the legislative emphasis is on the economy and the budget deficit in New York state. It would be great if legislators took note that the economy would improve if women and people of color had equal pay for comparable or equal work. The average $4,000 increase in family income would help stimulate the economy.
Hungerford is president of the League of Women Voters of Chemung County Inc.