Pay Equity? We Are Not There Yet

National Pay Equity Day, April 14, pointed attention again to the persistent gap between men’s and women’s wages. Men have traditionally brought home significantly better annual and lifetime wages than their female co-workers. Rationales for maintaining this gender gap have been:

  • Men have families to support [although 40 percent of households are supported by single women].
  • Men’s egos suffer more severely if their wages are not higher than women’s wages.
  • Women work fewer hours due to family responsibilities.
  • Women take time off from their careers to have and care for children.

In recent years, society has begun to look at hourly wages, which provide a clearer picture of the unreasonable wage disparities between men and women. And the disparity increases with gains in income status, according to the Economic Policy Institute

The pay disparity seemed to have improved through the 1980s from $0.60 per $1.00 in the 1960s through the 1980’s, but in the 1990s, as a recession was emerging, women lost percentage wage gains. Now a woman earns $ 0.77 to every $1.00 a man earns in a comparable job with comparable experience and comparable background education.

President Obama and the [majority Democratic] Congress tried to rectify the pervasive unfair labor practices that determined Lilly Ledbetter’s pay for work at the Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Alabama, for almost 20 years, when she was denied pay raises that were awarded to her male counterparts. She was unaware of the pay discrepancies until co-workers bragged about their salaries.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a small beginning. Compliance is still only “voluntary.” And many companies mandate new employees to sign a “non-disclosure” clause prior to hiring—which forbids them to discuss wages or other benefits among themselves [or with comparable competitive employers. Non-disclosure clauses are illegal under National Labor Relations Board regulations but are not well enforced at the state level.

Progressives must press for elimination of “non-disclosure” clauses and speak out against hourly wage disparity at every opportunity. Future pieces on this subject will focus on particular occupations in more detail.

Karen J. Pataky

Vice President, Public Policy and Political Action 

Comments are closed.