Women: Running 3 Months Behind…
By: K. L. Medley / April 1, 2015
Each year Americans associate the ides of April with the closing of tax season, but the month also holds another important fiscal marker: equal pay day. National Equal Pay day is a holiday whose date fluctuates to match the calendar day on which the average female income catches up to the average male income from the previous year. According to the Department Of Labor’s website, this year the holiday falls on April 14th. This date means that, based on last year’s statistics, the average woman in America must work for approximately 15 ½ months to earn what a male in her position would earn in 12, a pay gap that only becomes more disparate for minority women.
This gender-based income gap is as old as the country itself, beginning with a historically patriarchal society in the United States, a nation which began during a very male-dominated era. For generations, women were encouraged not to work, or to work in positions of lesser power and pay. Even today, in times where equality and equal rights are championed as ideal, remnants of the old mindsets are deeply engrained in our society. Recent statistics from the Current Population Survey (CPS), put out by Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), indicate the top two fields for women as being education and health services, followed by retail, whereas men tend to be employed in manufacturing, followed by professional and business services. The difference in industries illustrates a situation in which women entering workplace not only face the possibility of unequal pay for equal work, but one in which women often find themselves in lower paying industries. In the real world these pay difference can manifest as loss or gain in many ways: months of food or rent, hundreds to thousands of gas miles, medical care, and the ability to begin a savings, which subsequently impacts one’s ability to acquire an education, buy a home, or start a business.
The problem of gender based pay inequality is even worse, when looking specifically at low-wage workers, according to last year’s CPS Annual Averages Chart. The report reveals that an alarming 4.5% of documented hourly workers (nearly 1.8 million people) make less than the federal minimum wage, and of these underpaid workers, nearly 2/3 are women. These grossly underpaid workers, which are disproportionately women, face the possibility of working full time without being able to become fully independent in meeting even their most basic needs, let alone the needs of their families.
Conscientious citizens, can help the equal pay for equal work cause by raising awareness and boycotting companies with unfair pay practices, and by voting in local elections both for policies and politicians that favor fair pay and a livable minimum wage. Individuals can help protect themselves and others from unfair pay by seeking out and obtaining continuing education, by choosing and encouraging other women to choose higher paying industries (despite any cultural judgement), by researching average pay by industry before accepting a new position or negotiating a raise, but, most importantly, by speaking up about unfair practices. If you or someone you know is the victim of unequal pay, an official complaint can be filed with the government; for more information on filing a complaint visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website.