Equal Pay Day Draws Attention to Wage Inequality

578252290_1fc5414408_m.jpgToday, April 22, 2008, is Equal Pay Day, which is a national movement to draw attention to wage discrimination against women and people of color, in hopes of eradicating the practice. In communities throughout the United States, local Equal Pay Day activists are organizing rallies, speaking out, lobbying their congressmen and women, meeting with employers and policy-makers, and designing other demonstrations and activities to help make people more aware of the wage disparity.

According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007, woman are paid on average, 77 cents for each dollar their male counterparts are paid. Average women in America, working full-time, earn $32,515 annually, whereas average men earn $42,261. Economist Evelyn Murphy, of the WAGE project, estimates that the wage costs an average American woman $700,000 to $2 million over her lifetime, depending on her earning capacity.

You might think that law firms, with their lockstep pay grades for associates, and bonuses tied to billable hours, or investment banks, where bonuses are tied to market conditions and performance, are immune to this gap. However, evidence indicates that white collar professional women still are earning less than their male counterparts over time, and this contributes to a wage gap. For example, a female and a male first year associate may earn the same amount, but through attrition over the years, less than 15% of an average firm’s partners are female. So, female attorneys still earn less than their male counterparts.

Several pieces of legislation have recently been proposed to address this issue. The Paycheck Fairness Act, sponsored by Senator Clinton and Rep. DeLauro, increases penalties that courts can impose for equal pay violations and bars retaliation against whistleblowers who disclose a company’s discriminatory pay practices. The bill provides for punitive damages and back-pay for women denied equal wages. The Fair Pay Act, sponsored by Senator Harkin and Rep. Norton, would prohibit wage discrimination based on sex, race, and national origin and would require employers to provide equal pay for equal work, whether or not the job titles were the same.

Additional legislation and policy reforms have been developed on state and local levels.

What can you do?

  • Wear the color RED today, as a symbol of how far women and minorities are “in the red” with respect to their unequal pay.
  • Form a WAGE club to get together with other women in the community and organize around the issue if unequal pay. Have discussion and strategy sessions where you come up with ideas to address the wage gap in the workplace.
  • Write to your congressman or woman and let him or her know that you support the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act.
  • Send letters to the editor of your local newspaper or write an op-ed piece indicating your support of this legislation and fair pay in general.
  • Do you have children? Encourage them to have a neighborhood bake-sale, where they charge 77 cents to women and $1 for men, as a representation of the pay gap. Get them into the game, its never too young to learn.
  • Post on blogs, like The Glass Hammer or others that discuss Equal Pay Day and issues relating to women’s equality.

Or, come up with your own Equal Pay Day activities and let us know about them.