This year, Equal Pay Day was yesterday, April 12. Equal Pay Day symbolizes the point in the next year to which a woman must work, on average, to achieve pay equity with men. Put in more concrete terms, to achieve pay equity, women have to work all of 2010 plus almost four extra months, from January to April 12, 2011, to match men’s earnings during the 12 months of 2010.
Women have made remarkable strides in education during the past three decades, but these gains have yet to translate into full pay equity – even for college-educated women who work full time. For the entire full-time U.S. workforce, during 2007, a typical woman earned $35,745 compared with $46,367 for a typical man, a pay difference of $10,622. (In Arizona, these figures were $34,556 for a typical woman and $41,524 for a typical man, or nearly $7,000 less.)
On average, the pay gap of nearly $11,000 a year means $430,000 in lost earnings over a woman’s lifetime. That translates to months of food bills, mortgage payments, rent, utilities, and thousands of gallons of gas lost to American families at a time when they’re struggling and the economy desperately needs their consumer spending.
Equal pay for women is critical to families’ economic security and our nation’s economic recovery. Women’s wages are essential to putting food on families’ tables and keeping a roof over their heads. For the first time, American women make up roughly half of the nation’s workforce: nearly four in ten mothers are primary breadwinners in their households and nearly two-thirds are significant earners. Women should be able to bring home everything they have rightfully earned. Forward-looking employers recognize that eliminating pay differentials makes good business sense and that pay equity can help with competitiveness, worker retention and productivity. Pay adjustments would cost no more than 3.7 percent of hourly wage expenses.
Pay equity is a family issue. Nationally, working families lose $200 billion in income annually due to the wage gap between men and women. If married women were paid comparably to men, they would see nearly a 6 percent rise in their families’ income and their families’ poverty rates would fall from 2.1 percent to 0.8 percent. Single working women would see the greatest increase in family income. If they earned as much as comparable men, their families would have 17 percent more income per year and their poverty rate would be cut in half. Pay equity would help workers become self-sufficient and reduce their reliance on government assistance programs.
A fact sheet of the National Committee on Pay Equity reports a recent study which found that nearly 40 percent of poor working women could leave welfare programs if they were to receive pay equity increases. Pay equity would bring great savings to tax payers at a minimal cost to businesses.
The wage gap has long-term effects on women’s economic security. Women are more likely than men to enter poverty in old age for several reasons. Pay discrepancies continue into retirement when women, with a lifetime of lower wages, have less income to save for retirement and less income that counts in a social security or pension benefit formula. Women’s current life expectancy is approaching 86 years old, which means they outlive men by an average of three years. As a result they will have to stretch their retirement savings-which are less to begin with-over a longer period of time. The median income of older women is almost half of what it is for older men.
The Paycheck Fairness Act was passed with bipartisan support last year by the House, but stalled in the Senate. This proposed legislation would improve the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by providing important legal methods for employees to address the wage gap.
We cannot let this opportunity pass us by. Let Pay Equity Day be the impetus for you to take action. Please contact your elected officials to tell them to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Its passage will result in a financial benefit to women workers in particular as well as to taxpayers and to the economy as a whole.
Bonnie Boyce-Wilson is the former public policy chair of the American Association of University Women of Arizona and president of the League of Women Voters, Northwest Maricopa County.