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Ending Gender-Based Wage Disparities

02:35 PM Apr 30, 2009

This past Tuesday, April 28, was Equal Pay Day, which marks the point in 2009 when the average woman's wages will finally catch up with those paid to the average man in 2008. This week is a poignant time to reflect on the wage gap between men and women, its poverty implications, and what we can do to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work.

In every state in the country, women still earn less than men for equivalent work. In 2007, women working full-time, year-round earned an average of only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. Some try to attribute this disparity to women's career choices in lower-paying jobs or the balance many women strike between work and family. However, many recent, authoritative studies (including a 2003 study by the US Government Accountability Office) demonstrate that even when all relevant career and family characteristics are controlled for, there is still a significant gap in earnings based on gender, with women earning about 80% of what their male counterparts earn.

This wage gap does not only have civil rights implications; it also has poverty implications. Approximately one in eight women currently live below the federal poverty line, and in 2007, women were 42% more likely to live in poverty than men (The National Women's Law Center). However, if there were no wage gap, women's family income would rise by about $4,000/year, cutting women's poverty rates in half!

In fact, a study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research demonstrates that a typical woman in her mid-40s who graduated from college in 1984 had already lost over $440,000 in her working years due to the wage gap. This disparity affects women's retirement, pensions and savings, with unmarried women receiving an average of $8,000/year less than their male counterparts in retirement income (National Women's Law Center).

The first major bill that President Obama signed upon taking office was "The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act," which re-established women's rights to challenge pay discrimination in court by clarifying the current statute. However, the accompanying bill, "The Paycheck Fairness Act" (S. 182) has still not passed the Senate. This bill, which passed the House in January of 2009, would:

    • close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act;
    • prevent retaliation against workers who reveal their wages;
    • allow victims of gender-based pay discrimination to access the same remedies that are available for victims of discrimination based on race and national origin;
    • improve collection of wage information by the Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to facilitate evaluation of pay disparities;
    • make it easier for plaintiffs to file class actions in Equal Pay Act claims; and
    • provide for development of salary and negotiation skills training.

Although the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was a big step forward in addressing the wage gap, there is much more work to be done both in terms of strengthening our equal pay laws, and in acting proactively to prevent wage discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act would represent another giant step forward in ending the wage gap between men and women, and pulling millions of women out of poverty.

Action! Call your Senators and urge them to co-sponsor and bring to the floor the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182).

If you have any questions, or would like additional information, please contact Melissa Boteach at mboteach@thejcpa.org.

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