Published on Tuesday, April 12, 2005 by the Miami Herald
Women Earn Less, Period
by Martha Burk
|On April 19, four days after tax returns for 2004 are due, U.S. women will finally reach the earnings mark that their male counterparts achieved by Dec. 31 of last year. Dubbed ''Pay Inequity Awareness Day,'' April 19 reminds us that the 60 million working women in this country are suffering economically because equal pay still is not a reality.|
Women have made some gains in corporate board memberships -- they're now an underwhelming 13.6 percent, up from 9.5 percent in 1995. And no doubt because women get tired of fighting the 'men and good ol' boys first'' mentality at most companies, new business startups by women are at an all-time high.
But these few successes pale in comparison to the outrageous pay inequity that exists for their sisters in the everyday workforce. The National Committee on Pay Equity reminds us that even though the Equal Pay Act was passed more than 40 years ago, women working full time, year round, still make only 76 cents for every dollar that a man makes. Worse, black women get 66 cents and Hispanics only 55 cents. Even the best-case 24-cent gap adds up to a very unequal scorecard. Totaling more than $300,000 for the average woman's career, it can mean the difference between owning a home or renting, sending your kids to college vs. sending them to flip burgers and a decent retirement vs. penury in old age.
Naysayers claim that there really is no pay gap -- the shortfall is due to ''choices'' that women make: Females just naturally like the jobs with lower pay or less risk. Tell that to the women cleaning toilets at the airport. In reality, in every field, from law and medicine to teaching or clerking at department stores, the women make less for doing exactly the same work as the men.
Another argument is that motherhood -- not discrimination -- is the real culprit. If so, we all need to take a hard look at why the workplace punishes women for being mothers, but fatherhood carries no economic risk.
Shortchanging women means shortchanging men and children as well. Focusing on family well-being, righting the wrongs of unequal pay seems like a no-brainer.
The Fair Pay Act, a bill to level the paying field, has been a perennial on Capitol Hill since 1996. The FPA would outlaw discrimination in pay for jobs that are equal in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions, even if the actual work is dissimilar. Perhaps more important, the bill would require employers to release summary statistics on what they pay women and men, so workers would know where they stood in the workforce.
But why wait for an act of Congress? Corporations that claim to favor fairness in the workplace should be glad to take an honest look at their pay practices and correct disparities now.
Right now, women who suspect pay discrimination must file a lawsuit and go into a drawn-out legal discovery process to find out whether they make less than the guy beside them. With pay statistics readily available, this expensive process could be avoided. Employers holler constantly about ''frivolous lawsuits'' and complain about overregulation. Both would surely stop if employees (including white men) could see up front that they were being treated fairly.
Throughout April, state and local committees around the country are organizing events to call attention to women's lighter pay envelopes. Wearing buttons that ask ''Where's my 24 cents?'' participants will be part of educational forums and speak-outs. Maybe while they're at it, women could ask for a 23 percent credit on their income-tax returns.
Martha Burk is head of the National Council of Women's Organizations.
© 2005 Miami Herald