Feminists Call for Closing of Wage Gap

Equal Pay Day Shows Women Still Behind

by Christina Sciammacco, National NOW Times Intern

Many people are not aware that women still earn considerably less than men, or that a specific day—Equal Pay Day—has been designated to raise awareness of pay inequity. This year Equal Pay Day was observed on April 3, 1998, the date when a typical U.S. woman's full-time earnings for the year, added to her 1997 earnings, equaled what an average U.S. man made in 1997 alone.

In other words: if a man works from January to December to make a dollar, a woman must work from January to December and then January to April to earn that same dollar. Equal Pay Day is organized by the National Committee on Pay Equity, of which NOW is a member, and is based on current census data showing that women earn just 74% of what men earn. The disparity is even greater for women of color (see box below).

"After years of trying to rise up from the sticky floor or break through the glass ceiling, women are still working more than three extra months to catch up with men," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. "When women finally do inhabit the top floors of major corporations, and move into skilled craft positions, the gap will finally close." When a group of 28 women started NOW in 1966, the wage gap was one of their driving concerns, and the organization continues to work to end wage discrimination and promote pay equality between women and men. That gap has closed by an average of half a penny each year since 1966. But much of that narrowing can be attributed to men's falling wages, rather than an increase in women's earnings.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has introduced a bill to strengthen the provisions in the Equal Pay Act. Her Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 2023) would allow compensatory and punitive damages and ease the way for cases to proceed as class actions. DeLauro emphasized that the wage gap affects a woman's livelihood and her ability to support a family. Two out of five women in the paid workforce are the sole providers for their families. "When women win equal pay, their families and communities benefit," said Ireland. "If we can gain economic justice for all, it will mean the difference between poverty and survival for many, especially women and children."
    1996 Median Annual Earnings of Year-Round, Full-Time Workers 
  • Women earn 74¢ for evey $1.00 earned by men
  • African American women earn 67¢ for evey $1.00 earned by men
  • Over 35 years, a woman's earnings have fallen short by an average of $440,047 -- more than $10,000 per year
  • Change in Wage Gap:
    • 1966 . . . When NOW was founded . . . 58¢ to the $1.00  
      1996 . . . 30 years later . . . . . . 74¢ to the $1.00
Source: U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Reports, Commerce Department

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