top of page

21 Cents to Go

Source: Huffington Post


Today, we observe the 20th anniversary of Equal Pay Day, and in June we will celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the signing of the Equal Pay Act. But a new studyby the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) Democratic staff provides cold comfort to those who had hoped for more progress by now on closing the gender wage gap.

Back when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women earned approximately 59 cents for every dollar men made. Fifty-three years have passed since then — and the world has made a lot of progress. We have walked on the moon, introduced the personal computer, the Internet, cell phones and social media. And women have entered the workforce by the millions.

But, overall — in over half a century — the pay gap has closed by only 20 cents. Women today are paid just 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man and their median annual earnings are $10,800 less per year than men’s. Over the course of a career, the pay gap can cost the typical woman working full time, year-round close to half a million dollars.

Women are often even out-earned by men with less education: women with a graduate degree have median annual earnings that are $5,000 less than those of men with a bachelor’s degree.

And women of color face even larger gender pay gaps. African-American women earn only 60 percent of what their white male counterparts earn and Hispanic women earn only 55 percent of white men’s earnings.

What might be surprising is that young women today are often unaware of the extent of the gender pay gap because typically the pay gap is relatively small when they begin their careers. Women ages 18 to 24 earn approximately 88 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

But, as they grow older and some become mothers, the gap grows. By the time women are 35 and older, women’s median earnings are just 76 percent of men’s. And by age 65, women receive a mere 56 percent of the income of men the same age.

Because Social Security benefits and pensions are based on lifetime earnings, women’s median annual income in retirement is $17,400 compared with $31,200 for men. And women over the age of 75 are almost twice as likely to live in poverty as men the same age.

There are lots of factors that contribute to the pay gap. Differences in education, field of study, occupation, career interruptions and other known factors account for some of the difference in earnings. Even when you control for these factors — a gap of as much as 40 percent remains — and some or all of this gap could result from outright gender discrimination.

But, there’s another piece of the story. The absence of family-friendly policies that would allow women to care for their children or family members while holding down a well-paying job is a major contributor to the pay gap. Without these policies, women are often forced to interrupt their careers to care for their children — and later in their lives, for an aging parent. These career interruptions mean women forgo years of earnings and miss out on scheduled pay increases and promotions.

Women are even penalized financially for having a family. When women become mothers they face what’s called a “mommy penalty,” earning less than women without children, while men get a “daddy bonus” — taking home more than men without children.

Perhaps even more concerning, at the current rate of change, the gender pay gap won’t be closed until the year 2059.

We can’t wait that long.

So what should we do? Closing the gender pay gap can only happen if we attack it from a number of directions at once.

Part of the answer must be strengthening the Equal Pay Act. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was important, but additional legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act is needed to close the loopholes in the Equal Pay Act that allow discrimination to continue.

We need to put women in the Constitution by passing the Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing that women and men will have equal rights and equal justice under the law.

It’s time to join the rest of the advanced nations in this world and adopt policies that allow both moms and dads to continue to support their families and further their careers — paid family leave, paid sick leave, universal child care and workplace flexibility.

And businesses must send a message that they care about women by making available flexible work arrangements and promoting pay transparency.

Equal pay should not be a focus just one day a year, it should be a priority each day of the year. And we should stay at it until Equal Pay Day is a day when we celebrate women actually earning equal pay.

bottom of page