Today is Equal Pay Day, the day when U.S. women’s average earnings finally catch up with the amount men were paid on average in the previous year. That means that women must have worked more than 600 hours into 2012 to attain the same pay men received in 2011.
Recent reports show that the wage gap is wide for women across the board, regardless of educational level. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women with the same education as their male counterparts and doing the same job as men still earn far less. Just one example of the disparity can be found in a new study by the corporate governance firm GMI Ratings, which shows that women chief financial officers are paid an average of 16 percent less than their male counterparts. Overall, by one estimate, the average woman stands to lose about $400,000 over her working lifetime to wage discrimination. Such pay discrimination compels women to seek higher and higher degrees if they hope to begin to match their male peers in pay — often forcing women into the increasingly costly student loan market.
Women working full-time annually are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to a man, and the gap is significantly wider for women of color. An unprecedented number of women are now family breadwinners due to persistent unemployment rates, making pay equality critical not simply to family economic security but also the nation’s economic recovery.
Thanks to the wage gap, women are more vulnerable during economic downturns, making government action to strengthen pay equity laws more essential now than ever before. NOW calls for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1519/S. 797) and a stronger bill, the Fair Pay Act (H.R. 1493). In the meantime, we call on President Obama to issue an executive order protecting employees of federal contractors against retaliation for disclosing or asking about their wages — an important first step that would reach more than 20 percent of the civilian workforce. Together, these measures can help to create a climate where wage discrimination is not tolerated, employers provide a women-friendly workplace, and government has the enforcement tools it needs to make real progress on ending wage discrimination.