Wednesday, April 29, 2009

For Equal Pay Day: Full-Size Paychecks for All

By Linda Meric

National Executive Director

On this Equal Pay Day 2009, 9to5 members from the Midwest to the California coast will distribute 3/4–size cookies and vegan cupcakes to show the persistence of the gap between what women earn and what men earn.

More than four decades after Congress made wage discrimination based on gender illegal, women in the U.S. still earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. That’s a fact based on Census Bureau statistics of all full-time, year-round workers in this country. For women of color, the gap is even wider. African-American women earn only 69 cents for every dollar earned by men, Latinas only 59 cents.

But let’s be clear: women don’t choose to earn less than men. There are several factors at play, including the fact that women are overrepresented in undervalued and underpaid occupations. For instance, women make up 99 percent of the secretaries, 97 percent of the child care workers, 76 percent of the household servants and 72 percent of the restaurant servers.

In addition, too many working women are penalized financially for care-giving because they lack access to policies like paid sick days and family leave insurance. Another factor is the continuing social pressure on young women and girls that dissuades them from considering scientific careers. As an example, 34 percent of all high school aged girls in the US report being advised by a faculty member NOT to take math in their senior year. And finally, there’s straight out gender discrimination. It is a reality that even when working in the same occupation as a man, women earn less!

This year, this nation took a small but significant step forward in closing the pay gap. On January 29, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which reverses the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in 2007 (Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.) and restores the ability of victims of ongoing wage discrimination to hold their employers accountable for injustice and challenge the practice in court.

Up next is the Paycheck Fairness Act. In January of this year, a bi-partisan effort helped pass it in the House of Representatives. Now it must be passed in the Senate. It will equip women with the tools to fight gender-based wage discrimination by updating the Equal Pay Act and requiring that employers prove that gender-based pay differences are legitimate. It will make the remedies for wage discrimination as strong as remedies for other types of discrimination and remove the barriers that have kept women from joining together to fight wage discrimination in class action lawsuits.

What else can we do? Let’s work to keep equal opportunity programs in place, so that education, jobs and promotions are open and offered to women. Let’s call on our employers to examine pay practices and correct them if inequities exist. And let’s support work-family policy like paid sick days and family leave insurance so that women aren’t penalized in their paychecks for care-giving responsibilities at home. On Equal Pay Day 2009, let us all resolve to stand-up for ourselves in the workplace and speak out about injustice.

The sad fact is that if the wage gap continues unchecked, women won’t reach pay equity until the year 2057 -- and we can’t afford to wait that long. Let’s close and eliminate the wage gap now:

Full-size cookies, cupcakes – and paychecks -- for all!

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