Linda Meric: Closing the wage gap

Column by Linda Meric
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On Tuesday, April 20, people across the nation observed Equal Pay Day 2010 – representing the point when women’s wages finally catch up to men’s wages from last year. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics, women who work in full-time, year-round jobs earn, on average, 77 cents to every dollar earned by men working in full-time, year-round jobs.

For women of color, the wage gap is even wider. In 2008, the earnings for African American women were 67.9 percent of men’s earnings and Latinas’ earnings were 58 percent of men’s. As those pennies being lost add up, women and their families are being shortchanged thousands of dollars a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

Reaching pay equity means more now than ever before.

According to the Center for American Progress report, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, women are now the breadwinner or co-breadwinner in two-thirds of all American families. With more women in the workforce, and more families reliant upon women’s paychecks to make ends meet, it’s clear to see how all of us – women and men – have such a huge stake in eliminating the wage gap.

The good news is that there is pending action that would positively impact the pay gap now. The Paycheck Fairness Act is federal legislation that passed the House last year. Now, the Senate is poised to take action and we must speak out.

Women were earning a mere 59 cents for every dollar a man earned when the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963. Enforcement of the Equal Pay Act, and other civil rights laws, has helped narrow the wage gap. But huge disparities remained. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law, helping ensure that victims of discrimination have fair access to the courts. But we’re not there yet. Additional steps are needed.

One such step, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, enhance remedies, prohibit retaliation against workers who share wage information, and provide the government with new tools to monitor and address pay inequities. Passage is critical — particularly in these economically perilous times when the self-sufficiency of women and their families is so at risk.

LaTerrell Bradford – a Denver woman who testified about pay inequity before her state legislature– calls equal pay a “non-negotiable.”

She was working as part of an all-female support team when a man was hired in the same job classification. Her supervisor – a woman – discovered that he was to earn much more than any of the women were earning. She went to human resources and the company agreed to pay everyone at that higher rate. “It would not have been fair,” Bradford says, “nor legal, to sit next to him, do the exact same work and have him be paid more.”

Are women workers really worth less than men?

Any American of good conscience would say “no.” We must ensure that our laws and workplace practices say “no” as well by ensuring family-flexible workplace policies, basic labor standards like paid sick days and, yes, an end to the wage gap.

At the rate we’re going, we won’t see pay equity until the year 2057. Women and their families just cannot afford to wait that long! Congress must tighten wage disparity laws now to ensure equity for every worker.
 

Linda Meric is National Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.


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