Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Equal Pay is Still Important

Tuesday, April 17 was Equal Pay Day, celebrating women’s gains in pay equity.

I’ve always felt the equal pay for equal work is one of the most important modern-day feminist issues. It’s just so insane that in the 21st century there’s still a huge wage gap, with women only making 77 cents to every white man’s dollar (and that’s if they have white privilege - African-American women make 62 cents and Latinas make 53 cents). This means that women have to work for 16.5 months to earn what men make in 12 months. If the wage gap continues to narrow at the same rate as it has done since 1960, it will take another 44 years, or until 2056, for women and men to reach pay equity. 

I think part of the reason this frustrates me so much is because it shows how many resources are not being used to better the world. A large part of the wage gap is because unscrupulous employers pay their female workers less in order to cut costs, but some of it is because women tend to make up disproportionate amounts of part-time employees and works in lower-paid fields. It’s crazy that women are shunted to these positions when they could be in the lab discovering the cure for cancer or composing like Mozart or doing something extremely productive that contributes to improving the world. Not sitting behind a desk and making pasta every night. (Not that there's anything wrong with sitting behind a desk - my own mother did that for many years. It's just that most of the women who are stuck in those sort of jobs are capable of accomplishing a lot more.)

The lack of equal pay also showcases the extent of sexism in this country. It’s more than just impacting women’s wallets. It’s a manifestation of how women are viewed in this country. “Oh, she’s just a woman. Pay her less than the man in the office who does the exact same job. If we can get away with it, why not?”

Well, here are a few petitions you can sign to help end this unfair trend in American economics:

Equal pay for men and women was mandated in 1963, with the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Unfortunately, employers found ways to get around this law or outright ignored it. The most recent legislative action taken against pay inequity was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. The first bill President Obama signed, it was the result of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., where Ms. Ledbetter sued her employer for a lifetime of unfair pay due to her sex. While she did not win the lawsuit, the Fair Pay Act ensured that other women in her position would not face the same fate.

Feminists today mostly agree that one of the most effective ways to end equal pay would be if the president would issue an executive order to protect employees of federal contractors against retaliation for disclosing or asking about their wages. This would greatly aid women, since they would be able to ask others about their salaries and learn where they stand as compared to their male coworkers. As far as my research could go, I could not find any information that indicates that Obama signed such an executive order.  

Another way equal pay activists are trying to narrow the wage gap is through getting the Paycheck Fairness Act passed. The PFA would help bring an end to pay discrimination by closing a set of loopholes in current labor laws that make it near impossible for workers to expose and fix pay discrimination. It would ban employer retaliation against workers who seek to expose wage discrimination, make it easier for workers to join together in class action suits to fight it and give victims full compensation and back pay. By signing the petitions that I included the links to above, hopefully the PFA will fare well in Congress. With legislation like the PFA on the books and a presidential executive order announced, our daughters will not suffer from pay inequality the way our mothers did (and do).

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