Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Equal Pay Act. It should be a celebration. But it should also be a wake-up call about how far our country still has to go toward fair pay.
When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, he called the practice of paying women employees less than men doing the same job “unconscionable.” The year was 1963, and Kennedy noted that women were making about 60 percent of men’s average wage.
What was unconscionable then at 60 cents on the dollars is unconscionable now at 77 cents on the dollar, with women of color facing an even greater pay gap. A recent study by the American Association of University Women found that this gap starts early:
“[I]n 2009—the most recent year for which data are available—women one year out of college who were working full time were paid, on average, just 82 percent of what their male peers were paid. After we control for hours, occupation, college major, employment sector, and other factors associated with pay, the pay gap shrinks but does not disappear. About one-third of the gap cannot be explained by any of the factors commonly understood to affect earnings…”
In order words, even after controlling for “choice” factors such as college major – men, for example, are more likely to major in lucrative fields like computer science – the pay gap remains. Women doing the same work as men are still, on average, being paid less.
This discrepancy runs counter to basic ideas of fairness, with implications for almost all other aspects of women’s lives, from long-term economic stability to health and wellness. While 77 cents on the dollar may sound small, over the lifetime women lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because of this gap. It is an injustice that harms not only women, but also their families. And with women increasingly serving as primary breadwinners, the implications for families are compounded. For all of these reasons, PFAW continues to advocate for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would provide women with additional tools to identify and fight back against pay discrimination.
“Equal pay for equal work” has been a women’s rights rallying cry for decades, powerful in its simplicity and incontestable logic. But as a country, we are not there yet.