How much does equality cost? Less than a quarter


Today is Equal Pay Day 2014 -- the day that symbolically commemorates how long it takes for women’s wages to catch up with men’s, from the previous year.

Why, you ask, does it take more than four months for this to happen? It’s because of a (typical) 23 percent gender wage gap in the United States. Women earn 77 cents to every $1 men do.

In 2013, women on average earned $37,791 to men’s $49,398 a year -- an annual wage gap of $11,607, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As a woman in a leadership role in a male-dominated field, I’d like my 23 cents, please.

Fortunately, in Vermont, that wage gap is a little less wide, according to the American Association of University Women, whose op-ed piece can be seen on this page. Here in the Green Mountain State, women are earning 85 percent of what men make.

If you’re a working woman in Washington, D.C., your income is the closest to a man’s at 90 percent, says the AAUW.

The states with the largest pay differences between men and women are Wyoming, Louisiana, West Virginia, Utah and Alabama, according to a recently released report by the National Partnership for Women & Families. Sorry to say that if you are a black or Latina woman in the U.S., it’s likely your wage gap is even greater.

It’s a sad fact of our country’s history that it was within the last century -- on Aug. 18, 1920 -- that women earned the right to vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified. The good news is that women got the vote. The bad -- Women had to fight more than seven decades, from the time when the women’s rights movement, to get that privilege.

Disparate pay depending on gender is a throwback to a culture where men and women were not seen as equal -- even if women were performing the exact same work tasks or even out-performing male counterparts.

But it looks like there is some hope on the horizon toward closing the gap for good.

The Senate will soon be consider ing the Paycheck Fairness Act -- legislation that would impose regulations on how companies pay employees in an effort to ensure women are not unfairly earning less than men doing the same work.

"The legislation I’ve introduced ensures that women will no longer be on their own fighting for equal pay for equal work. With paycheck fairness, we can put change in the law books, and change into checkbooks of working families across America," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., in a recent Politico article.

It’s not a matter of whether it should be passed.

It’s a question of why it wasn’t passed long ago.

In a related measure today, President Barack Obama is expected to announce two measures intended to strengthen equal pay laws for woman.

The first is an executive order that will ban federal contractors from retaliating against employees who talk about how much money they make, according to an article in the Huffington Post.

The article also stated "The president will also sign a presidential memorandum instructing Labor Secretary Tom Perez to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit to the Department of Labor summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race."

Gathering that data and making the disparity -- or, maybe someday, parity -- transparent is supposed to encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws.

Coupled with the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the national minimum to $10.10 per hour by 2015, the Paycheck Fairness Act and Obama’s directives just might give the average woman a fighting chance at earning a decent living.

~Michelle Karas


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