Today is Equal Pay Day. It is a day to recognize the value of work. Not women’s work or men’s work; just work. Because a job well done should not pay based on the gender identity of its doer. Because wage discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual identity should not be something that is paradoxically both criminalized and institutionalized.
In 2014, on the heels of a big push from the White House, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland introduced The Paycheck Fairness Act, which was defeated by a straight party vote in the Senate. Similar bills have been working their way through channels on Capitol Hill since 2009, but haven’t received traction.
It’s high time to pass this legislation. We cannot let one more year go by without wage parity. The bill has recently been reintroduced by Senator Mikulski and Congresswomen DeLauro.
Senator Mikulski says she’s working for middle class families: “Five years ago, we made a down payment towards equal pay by passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to keep the courthouse doors open. I’m fighting to finish the job and stop wage discrimination from happening in the first place.”
A “huge majority” of women support the Paycheck Fairness Act, according to a recent survey conducted by American Women.
But the act is not without opponents. A sticking point? The statistic 77 cents on the dollar (recently adjusted to 78 cents). In an article commemorating last year’s Equal Pay Day, the Wall Street Journal attacked the idea of the gender wage gap, calling it a “myth.” The article systematically debunked the calculation of the 77 cents on the dollar statistic, citing that this statistic doesn’t account for factors such as job type, job risk, educational background, continuous uninterrupted work experience, and “assuming no gender differences in family roles like child care.”
Reading between the lines on articles such as these can be both infuriating and enlightening. For example: “continuous uninterrupted work experience”? Read “baby penalty.”
The statistic 78 cents on the dollar is not wrong. All of the factors that the Wall Street Jounral say render the statistic inaccurate only tell us what every woman already knows. This is the price you pay for being a woman. Institutionalized sexism and inequality are built into the system. You cannot calculate the wage gap statistic without accounting for the systematic disenfranchisement of women that takes place in the workplace, in job selection, in division of labor with childcare, and in workplace advancement.
78 cents on the dollar. For North Carolina women, the statistics are slightly better. We make 82 cents on the dollar on average, but those numbers plummet for minority women: African American women in North Carolina make 64 cents on the dollar, while Latina North Carolinians make less than half of what men make at 48 cents on the dollar.
The wage gap is just a part of the big picture. Gender equality in the workplace has a lot of moving pieces: wages, promotions, hiring practices, sexual harassment, paid family leave, sick leave, and workplace stigma surrounding maternity and paternity leave are all major hurdles in the fight.
Ending gender discrimination in pay benefits us all. Commit to helping make the workplace a fair and equitable environment.
Want to start today? Here are a few advocacy and informational sites to get you started:
- The National Committee on Pay Equity
- The AAUW (American Association of University Women)
- The U.S. Department of Labor
- The White House issues page
- North Carolina Justice Center
Melissa Geil is a freelance writer and English teacher. Although originally from New York, she moved to North Carolina the first time for college (go Tar Heels), and now she is back to stay. She enjoys reading, hiking, and gallivanting around the triangle with her family.