Pick a number between one and fifty-one.
If you picked one, you’ve picked the District of Columbia, where the median earnings gap between all men and women over age 16, employed in full-time, year –round jobs is narrowest: women earn 88 cents to a man’s dollar. If you picked fifty-one, you’re in Wyoming, where women are paid just 64 cents to each smacker earned by a man. If college education is factored in and you survey workers over 25, Wyoming leaps to first place at 88 cents, and Alaska slips to that 51st place at 64 cents for women to men’s dollar. Check out the AAUW’s information base on fair pay to find out where your state fits into the pecking order.
Today is Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day happens in April because that’s how long it takes for the average woman to start earning a dollar for every dollar the man in the next cubicle over, doing the exact same job with the exact same title, makes. Think of all those freezing days in January, when the dark comes early. Those miserable gray mornings in February, when the ground is covered in slush and the car refuses to start. Those blustery days in March when Spring seems like it’s refusing to ever come. Think of working all those days for nothing, zilch, nada. That’s what pay disparity means. And for women of color – black women and Hispanic women – the differential is even more extreme.
The late Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped that “women are just men with less money.” But that’s not very funny if you’re a woman struggling to raise a family on your own, and it’s not right or just regardless of what your financial position might be. To be sure, there is good news on the gender parity front overall. In 2010, women in the workforce for the first time outnumber men. For the past three decades, more women have finished college than men, and more women get advanced degrees.
Pay Disparity = Power Disparity. But somewhere between the classroom and the boardroom, these women are disappearing. The higher you climb up the ladder of wealth and power, the fewer women you see. Only 15 companies listed in the Fortune 500 are led by female CEOs. Of the wealthiest 400 Americans, according to Forbes, only 42 are women – and at least half of these women inherited their wealth from husbands or fathers. No wonder then that among its list of the 67 most powerful people in the US, Forbes finds room for only four women. And, although for the past two decades, approximately the same number of women and men have Lilly Ledbetter advocating for equal paygraduated law school and entered law firms as first-year associates, a 2009 study by the National Association of Women Lawyers found that women still comprise fewer than 16 percent of the equity partners in the 200 top law firms in the U.S. Even women who make partner are at a disadvantage, earning on average $66,000 a year less than their male counterparts.
As long as women are still being paid less than men for the same work, women will have less power in politics, in the workplace, and in personal relationships.
How to Take Action Now. Despite the distance we have yet to go, there’s no denying that women have drawn closer to even with men in professional and economic matters. But the continuing disparities make it imperative that we press Congress to pass and president Obama to sign the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that hard working Americans of both genders are paid fairly for their work.
A fundamental change occurs when women obtain the ability to earn a good, rewarding living at a fair wage. And it’s the first step toward women’s fair and equal representation in the highest levels of business and finance. Economic inequality narrows the possibilities we have to define our lives at work, in politics and civic life, and in our relationships. True economic equality, on the other hand, would allow us to redefine the meaning of consent, and create relationships that are mutually rewarding in all spheres of life. You know that’s what you want for yourself and for your daughters and granddaughters. And it’s what our country needs to assure that the intelligence and capabilities of all our citizens are used most effectively. So on Equal Pay Day, take a moment to send a message to your member of Congress urging him or her to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act. It’s the number one most important step you can take toward that goal today.
Gloria Feldt is a women’s activist and best selling author. Her forthcoming book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Redefine Power and Be Unlimited in Life and Leadership will be published in October. Learn more at www.GloriaFeldt.com and tweet her @heartfeldt.
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