Wednesday, June 10, 2015

52nd Anniversary of Equal Pay Act

52 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law. The Equal Pay Act sought to eradicate gender-based wage differences as part of President Kennedy’s progressivist New Frontier Program. The Equal Pay Act had a monumental impact on salary disparities between men and women and lead to a rise in women’s salaries from 62% relative to male counterparts in 1971 to nearly 80% in 2004. However, it is clear that the Equal Pay Act’s mission has yet to fully come to fruition.
The United States Department of Labor Women’s Bureau cites that women make some 78 cents to the dollar earned by men, on average. With such data, the average American woman would have to work an additional 104 days to earn what the average American man makes in 365 days. Women lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetime because of unfair wage practices, money that could be put towards retirement, educational expenses, and various other investments which would ultimately stimulate the economy as a whole. This disparity becomes even more pronounced when one considers women of color who earn even less to the dollar than men. African American women make 64 cents to every dollar earned by a white man  while that number drops even lower for Hispanic women who make a meager 56 cents to the dollar of white male earnings. The problem persists in virtually all strata of all occupations, including ones requiring advanced degrees and those where women make up the majority of those employed within it. Such is the case with nursing, where 90% of all registered nurses are women yet female nurses make 12% less than their male nurse counterparts.

While we as a country have come a long way in providing equal pay for equal work, we still have quite a ways to go. We need to continue to endorse programs which actively encourage women to pursue careers in the highest paying, male dominated fields, namely those involving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and reduce discriminatory barriers which exist both in the educational and hiring practices involved in procuring such careers. We need to supplement and strengthen laws which are already in place prohibiting wage discrimination and endorsing pay transparency so that there can exist greater workplace accountability. More efficient and adequate tools must be implemented to make oversight and investigation of wage disparities easier as well as increase penalties for enterprises found to be violating protection laws such as the Equal Pay Act. Nearly half of the United States workforce is women, and in the words of President Barack Obama, “it’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”

- Sarah Maureen Bazir