With approximately 45% to 50% of the workforce comprised of women, human rights leaders express frustration that women continue to make less money than men for the same exact job.
Punctuating this inequality, Equal Pay Day was created to mark the date it takes for women to earn as much money as men in a calendar year. Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), says that means it takes the average women a little more than 15 months to earn the same amount of money a man earns in a single calendar year. Equal Pay Day was marked on April 12 this year.
Despite growing awareness, the fight far from over, O’Neill says. “It is going to be a long time before things really change,” she remarks. “And it makes no sense since 40% of households have women as the primary breadwinner or sole breadwinner. That means close to half of the households in the country struggle with economic security. So even if a family has two incomes and the woman loses her job, the family may not be able to pay their mortgage.”
Disparities in income are well documented to show the distinct gap, with single women faring worse. “While women on average earn roughly 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, single women earn, on average, just 60 cents,” says Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney at Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“As with the pay gap generally, women of color are even farther behind,” Thomas continues. “The average African American woman makes 52 cents on the male dollar, the average Latina makes just 48 cents and the average Native American woman 47 cents. Much of this disparity is due to unmarried women’s overrepresentation among the low-wage workforce, of which they comprise nearly half, as well as lack of access to other benefits, like health insurance and sick days and the absence of which can lead to wage loss at best, and job loss at worst. Nearly 30% of unmarried women are supporting families.”
O’Neill notes many women work in the service industry, which has an enormous impact on income. “Approximately two-thirds of the minimum wage workers are women, disproportionately women of color,” she says. “Add in the entire workforce that relies on tips for income and you are looking at the typical woman making only $6 an hour in gross revenue working at the average American restaurant.”
Thomas notes that while single women seem to be smacked harder with the pay wage gap, being married doesn’t necessarily prevent a woman from wage inequality, or when it comes to motherhood. “Studies show that a woman’s compensation goes down 4% for every child she has, while a man’s goes up by 6%, on average,” Thomas says.
Pat Yosha, member of the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation’s Leaders Network, recently contributed an article to the
New Hampshire Business Review
citing one study that examines males and females with equal college graduation backgrounds and finds that one year after graduation, males earn 7% more than females. Among full-time workers ten years after college graduation, there is a 12% unexplained difference.
Additionally, Yosha references differences between men and women with a high school diploma. “For men and women with a high school diploma, the gap is 23%,” she writes. “For those with less than a high school diploma, the difference is 20%. In other words, the gender pay gap is larger at higher levels of education.”
Tapping into the Core of the Issue
Pay equality proponents in New Hampshire have joined national organizations like the ACLU and NOW in the fight to revise how women are compensated. Mary Johanna Brown, board chair of the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation says her team and she are using national and state-based data to develop a portrait of what it means to be a woman working in a financially male-preferred world.
“We host a number of listening sessions where we invite participants to weigh in on the gender pay gap and provide honest insight and reasoning about what its like to be a working woman,” Brown says.
She says after running listening sessions from 2011 through 2013, with over 220 women and men across New Hampshire, wage gap was one of the top issues for New Hampshire citizens related to gender equality.
“It is seen as a family issue, not only a women’s issue,” she says. “We concentrated a second series in 2013, eight listening sessions with 50 plus participants, statewide just on gender wage gap.”
Brown shared some of the authentic statements made by participants, many who were highly educated, working professionals. Some pervasive observations include the stereotype of the female as caregiver prevailing in the work environment and the husband’s career taking priority over the wife’s, even if the wife makes more money. Some women reported less overt discrimination, but still judgment, assumption and discrimination.
Some direct quotations Brown shares include:
*“What does she need money for; she does not have kids.” (working professional female)
*“I think it all goes back to the female caregiver stereotype.” (working professional female)
*“My husband won’t help with the children at all.” (female lawyer)
*“No overt discrimination, still battling the non-explicit, subversive.” (female lawyer)
*“My husband assumed I would leave my legal career even though it would be easier for him to stay home and I made more money.” (female lawyer)
Throughout New Hampshire, a number of businesses observed Equal Pay Day by charging women 79% of their bill to symbolically demonstrate solidarity. Women are also encouraged to wear the color red on Equal Pay Day to mark the day they are finally “in the red with their pay.”
What Can You Do?
Women’s issues are a top priority during this election, and women should use their vote to influence this historical discriminatory practice; however, O’Neill says staying focused and engaged post-election is what will push the movement forward.
“Make it your business to understand and follow what representatives at the local and state level are doing,” she says. “Be engaged in the issues and be prepared to have an open discussion with dissenters. Maintain a calm, respectful position in order to credibly make your point.” Discussion, not argument, is what moves legislation.
Thomas adds there is legislation pending to strengthen the provisions of the Equal Pay Act, which concerns specifically pay gaps between men and women when they’re doing substantially similar work.
“That legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act, has been stalled for several sessions and doesn’t appear to be moving anytime soon,” Thomas asserts. “In the meantime, a number of states have stepped into the breach to enact their own versions of the statute, making it easier to characterize jobs as ‘substantially similar’ and affirmatively allowing employees to share information about their salaries, which is essential to uprooting discrimination because pay is shrouded in such secrecy now, among other provisions.”
The topic continues to move more into the mainstream as the U.S. women’s national soccer team publicly filed a complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission demanding pay equal to what the male team receives. During an interview on The Today Show, midfielder Carli Lloyd asserted, "I think that we've proven our worth over the years. Just coming off of a World Cup win, the pay disparity between the men and women is just too large."