Today the National Organization for Women and our allies are calling attention to the persistent wage gap between women and men by observing Equal Pay Day. This year we pause on April 24—symbolizing the day that women workers finally "get out of the red" and their 2006-2007 earnings finally equal men's earnings from last year alone.
Why do women have to work an extra 114 days to keep pace with men? Because full-time women workers are paid an average of 77 cents for every dollar men are paid. Women of color are short-changed even more, with African-American women paid only 71 cents and Latinas just 58 cents on men's dollar.
On a yearly basis, the wage gap is alarming. But when you at look at it over the long haul, it is downright criminal," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "The average woman is losing, at minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages during her lifetime, and it starts earlier than you think."
According to a new study from the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, the wage gap affects college graduates too. The disparities kick in shortly after college graduation, when women and men would seem to be on a level playing field. The report, Behind the Pay Gap, reveals that one year after graduating college, women are earning only 80 percent of their male counterparts' wages. Over the next 10 years, women's wages fall further behind, dropping to only 69 percent of men's earnings.
The AAUW report states that "even after controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors known to affect earnings, the research indicates that one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained and is likely due to sex discrimination." The WAGE Project estimates that over 35 years of work, a female high school graduate will make $700,000 less than a male high school grad, and a woman with a college degree will lose $1.2 million compared to a degreed man. The higher the degree, the greater the loss.
"The wage gap affects every woman, from the day she enters the workforce straight through to her retirement," said Gandy. "Day-to-day, women struggle to make ends meet and provide for their families. It hurts their ability to save for a home, for medical emergencies or for retirement. Beyond the dollars and cents, we simply can't quantify the opportunities and potential unrealized due to this injustice."
That's why NOW is supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 766 and H.R. 1338) introduced last month by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), which aims to reduce the pay gap by enhancing enforcement of the Equal Pay Act, training enforcement officials, and permitting employees to share salary information with co-workers without punishment.
NOW also supports the Fair Pay Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), which would prohibit discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, race or national origin, and would require equal pay for jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.
"We need this legislation now more than ever," said Gandy. "The Bush administration is intent on dismantling the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau. They would like to stop collecting data on women workers altogether, rather than following the law and paying women what they're worth."