It is official. Women are still getting short-changed when it comes to our wages. Last week, the government released information on pay and gender.
Even in 2009, we are not receiving equal pay for equal work.
A woman working full time is still paid only 77 cents to a man’s dollar in this country. So a woman has to work all of 2009 and into April 2010 to be paid as much as a man was paid in 2009 for equal work.
Alarmingly, we saw virtually no improvement this year. The wage gap is about the same as last year. The rate of progress is glacial; at the rate of improvement we were seeing before this stagnation, equal pay would come sometime in 2058 – and now the “progress” has slowed down!
The lack of any improvement in closing the wage gap is especially frightening given data showing how badly women need equal pay. The economic downturn has caused enormous job losses, especially among men—meaning that more and more families are solely dependent on the income women are bringing in. When women are not paid fairly, families suffer.
The new data also show that as poverty rates are increasing, women on their own—single women, divorced women, widows—are experiencing very high rates of poverty. Women of color in that group are even worse off. Again, the lack of equal pay has devastating effects for these women and for the families they support.
What keeps the pay gap going? Study after study that controls for factors that go into wages—education, experience, occupation—fails to explain it. The only conclusion possible is that equally qualified men and women are being paid different wages for the same work. In other words, discrimination persists.
And unequal pay begets more inequality. Salaries at a new job often reflect past salaries; retirement benefits are a percentage of salary, as are Social Security payments. So a woman who is being paid less now because of discrimination will probably be paid less at her next job and she will certainly be paid less when she retires.
Most employers have policies that prohibit workers from talking about their wages, which keeps women in the dark about these inequities. To fix these problems, we need the Senate do what the House has done—pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. This new law will make it harder for employers to defend unequal pay decisions, given victims of unequal pay more remedies, and help stop employers from retaliating against workers who share salary information.
Or we can just wait for April 2058.